In a series of articles leading up to the start of the Lakers’ preseason on October 3rd, we’ll be looking at the best options for the team’s starting shooting guard and what those options could bring to the lineup. This is the third and final article of the series (we previously examined Kent Bazemore and Talen Horton-Tucker as options) taking a look at Wayne Ellington and why he could be an option for Frank Vogel to use at the starting two spot.
Russell Westbrook. Carmelo Anthony. Dwight Howard. Rajon Rondo. Those are some incoming Lakers that have some names with heavy weight to them. All four are probably on their way to hall-of-fame enshrinements and all four could cause other acquisitions from the Lakers’ offseason to be overlooked. This can happen even if players like Howard and Rondo may not have that much impact on the Lakers’ games this season. Because of that, players like Wayne Ellington can be glossed over despite the fact that they have more opportunities for minutes than those future hall-of-famers.
Aside from those big names, Ellington may have an opportunity to play more than a lot of people on this roster due to his shooting as well as his position. The Lakers have plenty of power in the frontcourt as well as many combo guards that can interchange between point guard, shooting guard, and small forward. But Ellington is the only true shooting guard on the roster that brings veteran experience as well.
Whether Anthony Davis is at the five or not, his true position could bode well for him to fit perfectly in a starting lineup that would see him alongside Russell Westbrook in the backcourt with any sort of combination forming their frontcourt. He’s nearly the exact archetype of one Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the player who spent most of the time starting at shooting guard for the Lakers over his four seasons with the team. The Lakers may see this themselves, as it was reported by The Athletic on Monday that Wayne Ellington will likely start at shooting guard after Anthony Davis “emerged as the expected starting center”.
And speaking of the position “shooting guard”, this man can shoot the lights out of the gym. He nearly had a career-best three-point percentage last season, making 42.2% of his 6.0 three-point attempts per game (the best was his 42.4% clip in the 2013-14 season but he only took 1.3 attempts per game that year). He’s shooting 38.2% from deep over his 12-year career, so although last season was special for him, it’s definitely not an outlier compared to the rest of his career.
He’s especially lethal on above-the-break three-pointers (attempts taken above the part of the three-point line that starts to “break” into corner attempts), making 46% of those attempts last season. This puts him in the 96th percentile of the entire NBA on those types of attempts. You can see his full perimeter shooting metrics below, which surprisingly includes poor three-point shooting out of the corner, courtesy of B-Ball Index.
One item of note in the statistics above is the “3PT Shot Quality” as well as the other metrics regarding how open his three-pointers were. Ellington played for the Detroit Pistons last season who were ranked 26th in the entire NBA in Offensive Rating. It’s obvious to say that the Lakers should be much better on the offensive end this season than they were last season (24th in ORTG) with the addition of Westbrook and a healthy duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It’ll be interesting to see if Ellington’s three-point attempts are generally more open than last year, especially considering he made 45% of his “wide-open” three-pointers (closest defender 6+ feet away) compared to 39.7% on “tight” attempts (closest defender 2-4 feet away). With improved shot quality, Ellington might even improve on the 42.2% clip he notched with the Pistons.
Ellington’s fit in the starting lineup makes even more sense given the Lakers’ desires to get out on fast breaks. Last season he was in the 98th (!!!) percentile of the entire NBA in terms of transition points-per-possession.
Imagine it’s opening night. LeBron James corrals a defensive rebound, turns around and is already throwing the ball to a sprinting Russell Westbrook before the other team can even start running back. On the other side of the break is Ellington, sprinting to a spot on the wing where he can take an above-the-break three. The transition defense gravitates towards Westbrook, opening a passing lane to Ellington for a beautiful, nothing-but-net three-pointer to get the crowd going early (I really want basketball to return).
However, the key part of that enchanting hypothetical is first getting a stop on defense. That’s definitely not an arena that Ellington will assist in as he will be one of the worst defenders on this 2021-22 Lakers team. He grades poorly in nearly every advanced defensive metric used today, most notably in the 3rd percentile for D-LEBRON, 59th percentile of Defensive Real Plus/Minus, and the 24th percentile in Defensive RAPTOR (per B-Ball Index). The Lakers’ starting backcourt of Westbrook and Ellington would be a stark contrast to the above-average defense from the Lakers’ backcourt last season of Dennis Schröder and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Obviously the pros and cons I’ve presented on Ellington starting mean nothing if Monday’s report from The Athletic is true. Although the report also states that Talen Horton-Tucker is expected to compete for a starting role in training camp, Rob Pelinka’s strategy this offseason alludes to a player like Wayne Ellington getting the starting nod over a player like THT or Kent Bazemore. He’s a lights-out shooter (arguably the best one that the Lakers will have in LeBron’s entire time on the team) that will definitely take this offense to another level, and if there’s one thing that Pelinka’s actions have gravitated towards, it’s offense.