Following the deadline deal that sent Reggie Bullock to the Los Angeles Lakers on February 6, the Pistons were barren of any consistent shooting from the outside. Without cap space or any reasonable assets that could be used in a trade, it seemed as if the available options were underwhelming at best. Meanwhile, Wayne Ellington was bought out by the Phoenix Suns shortly after being traded from Miami and had his fair share of suitors.
Everyone knew Ellington could seamlessly fit into Bullock’s role, but with playoff teams such as the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets looking to add him, it seemed like a long shot that Detroit could land him. However, in the end, Ellington opted to sign for playing time to earn one last multi-year deal instead of signing with a contender, and surprisingly made the decision to come to Detroit.
Following his signing, the 31-year-old was brutal through the second half of February, although the Pistons were able to withstand his struggles by going 4-2 during that stretch. In March, Ellington was able to figure things out a bit more, and at times was Detroit’s only source of shooting from the outside.
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Ellington was able to show off the full extent of his sweet shooting during a two-game stretch between March 18 (Cleveland) and March 21 (Phoenix), sinking 13 threes and scoring 48 points between the two contests. Just a week later in a home victory against Orlando, he nailed seven threes again; with 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting (7-of-13 from three_ along with three steals, Ellington finished with his most efficient and overall best game as a Piston:
While Ellington proved to be a solid fit for Detroit in terms of offense, his all-around game is far from perfect. He was at his best shooting off a pass or receiving a hand-off from Blake Griffin in what became a staple in the team’s offense. However, that was basically the full extent of what he did for Detroit. He’s never been known as a ball handler or a playmaker – 60.2 percent of his total made field goals this season came after zero dribbles – nor was he all too effective driving to the rim. He wasn’t relied on or supposed to play those roles, however, and filled the one he was asked to adequately in most games.
Ellington also failed to replicate Reggie Bullock’s defense impact (who isn’t necessarily a stout defender himself) and was consistently hidden on the opposing team’s worst offensive player. He showed that while being a valuable threat to light you up on offense, his inability to do much more with the ball in his hands or play any sort of defense should limit him to a bench role. The Pistons were without other options though, especially with Luke Kennard being suited best as a sixth man.
When the Pistons struggled their way into the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed and found themselves matched up against the league’s winningest team in the Milwaukee Bucks, Ellington was again relied on as Detroit’s best shooter. The combination of Milwaukee’s suffocating length on defense and their gameplan to key in on the Pistons’ lone consistent threat from deep resulted in struggles for him. Ellington played big minutes in each of Detroit’s four playoff losses – averaging 32.8 minutes per game – but failed to record double-digit points in all but one of them. He shot a disastrous 31.4 percent from the field (31.8 percent from three) and unsurprisingly was ineffective in other aspects of the game.
Despite being expected to be a half-season rental, Detroit will at least make an offer to Ellington to return to the team. Any team – especially the Pistons – could use his marksmanship, especially if he doesn’t command too much in this summer’s free agency. The Pistons likely would’ve found themselves in the lottery without Ellington’s contributions, for better or worse, and he could continue to be a valuable contributor in the future – hopefully off the bench.
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