The most important thing every team trying to compete in the modern NBA needs is shooting. Sure, star power matters a ton, as does coaching. But without multiple legitimate threats from the outside on the floor at the same time, even the most creative offenses will undoubtedly sputter.
It’s simply where the game finds itself at the moment. And it’s why a player like Wayne Ellington will be so coveted this offseason.
The Man with the Golden Arm, as he came to be known in South Florida, had a career resurgence since joining the Miami Heat prior to the 2016-17 season. Before that campaign, Ellington was a career 7.1 point-per-game scorer, while knocking down merely one triple nightly as a professional. As a member of the Heat and under the tutelage of head coach Erik Spoelstra, Ellington upped his per-game scoring to 10.9 points nightly to go with an impressive 2.7 triples per outing.
What’s more, Ellington’s game has elevated to the point that over the past two seasons, the North Carolina product ranks 11th in total three-pointer made, but first overall – by over 40 triples – when looking at players with fewer than 4,000 minutes played in that time span. Ellington’s shooting has gotten so pristine, in fact, that the sharpshooting 2-guard set the league record for most three-pointers made off the bench last season with 227.
That’s why, despite the fact he may not be a household name, Ellington should have a strong market this offseason, primarily among playoff teams looking to use their mid-level exception to acquire more outside shooting.
Below, we break down a few potential free-agent landing spots for the 2009 NCAA champion.
Although his two best seasons came as a member of the Heat, Ellington had one other year where he averaged double-digit points. It came in 2014-15 with the Los Angeles Lakers, when he put up 10 points nightly while shooting 37 percent from deep.
The Lakers front office, at the time, was being led by another former Tar Heel and new Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak. And the Hornets, after back-to-back seasons of missing the playoffs despite having a pretty healthy payroll, are currently in need of a high-volume three-point shooter. Charlotte finished 2017-18 eighth in three-point accuracy (36.9 percent), but just 21st in attempted triples (2,233).
Ellington would help improve both marks, as he has knocked down 38.6 percent of his looks from deep over the past two years while attempting more three-pointers than all but 10 players, all of whom played way more minutes than him.
With Charlotte paying their best player and an All-Star caliber stud in Kemba Walker just $12 million for one more season, maybe attempting one more playoff push with their current core could be the savvy move. (That is, unless, they opt for an immediate rebuild in Year-1 with Kupchak at the helm, which can’t be ruled out.)
Thus, using their mid-level exception (MLE) on a free agent like Ellington, who’s a North Carolina guy (through collegiate affiliation, at least), would make a whole lot of sense. Playing off Walker/Dwight Howard pick-and-rolls, Ellington’s outside shooting could make him a fantastic complementary piece for the Hornets.
As far as the financials go, all Charlotte would be able to offer the Heat shooting guard is the standard/non-taxpayer MLE, which is projected to be worth roughly $8.6 million. A two-year, $17.2 million deal between the Hornets and Ellington could be enough to get things done, and may help Charlotte make the playoffs for the first time since 2015-16. The gravity Ellington creates as a shooter could be that impactful for a Hornets offense that requires more punch to go from decent to great.
Another team with a high payroll in need of more shooting that’s also set to be under new management, the Detroit Pistons could also make sense as an Ellington landing spot.
As of June 13, the Pistons haven’t hired a new general manager, but have, at least, filled their head-coach vacancy with former Toronto Raptors lead man, Dwane Casey.
Casey makes our look into Ellington’s free agency interesting because he appears to be a coach who only just realized the importance of three-point shooting in modern basketball. Between 2016-17 and 2017-18, the Raptors went from 22nd in triples attempted to third overall, which then, in turn, helped them enjoy their best offensive season ever.
Using Ellington in the 2017-18 CJ Miles role, i.e., a bench wing who you can build the offense around for stretches of the game and who has the ultimate green light to let it fly from deep, could appeal to Casey. Plus, with the return of a healthy Reggie Jackson to run pick-and-rolls with Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, putting an elite shooting wing around the team’s Big 3 is going to be a necessity. And unless Casey and Co. are certain sophomore-season Luke Kennard will be up to the task, going after a more established option like Ellington could be the safer bet.
Additionally, although the Pistons did place fifth in three-point accuracy last season, they were a mediocre 16th in attempts. Detroit will absolutely need to add more shooting to the roster this offseason, chiefly due to the fact they have a frontcourt that won’t even pretend to space the floor from deep.
Like Charlotte, the Pistons will only have the standard MLE to offer Ellington. Even so, that should be more than enough to make a competitive offer on the 2-guard, as most playoff teams project to be capped out this summer. If Detroit felt the need to make the contract look more enticing to Ellington, they could always look to add a third year to the deal, making a three-year, $25.8 million offer to the three-point sniper.
Considering Ellington will be nearly 31 by the time next season rolls around, he may have a hard time passing on a three-year deal, especially one with a healthy annual average value like the proposed Pistons offer.
Golden State Warriors
At the Golden State Warriors championship parade on June 12, general manager Bob Myers mentioned wanting to put together a younger supporting cast next season. It stands within reason that he may have been specifically talking about the team’s frontcourt, as NBA vets David West and Zaza Pachulia will be 38 and 34 respectively by the time next year rolls around. But another player, one who’s not a member of the frontcourt, also won’t exactly be a spring chicken in 2018-19 – and that’s Nick Young.
No matter how fun it was to watch Young celebrate his first career championship…
…he didn’t exactly cover himself in glory during Golden State’s successful postseason run. He was brought in for his shooting, yet only hit 37.7 percent of looks from deep in the regular season, and an even paltrier 29.8 percent in the playoffs. Further consider that he’ll be 33 next season and you can easily surmise why the Warriors may want to find an upgrade at the backup 2-guard spot.
Though he may not be the one-on-one scorer Young is (and even then, does Steve Kerr want Young iso’ing, like, ever with the team he has?), Ellington has been a way more consistent player over the past two seasons. With Ellington, you know what you’re gonna get – a player who’s going to run around screens, spot up for threes and, often times, knock them down. Considering how much of Golden State’s offense is predicated upon setting up players coming off of screens for open shots, Ellington could be a legitimate perfect fit for the Warriors’ bench.
For this union to work, though, it’s going to require for Ellington to be willing to take a pay cut, as all the Warriors will have to offer him is the taxpayer MLE, worth approximately $5.3 million. That may not be totally out of the question, especially not if the nine-year vet wants to chase a ring to go with the one he earned as a member of the Tar Heels in 2009.
Sometimes players covet certain things more than others, and if Ellington wants to go after team glory at this point in his career, what better place to do it than in Golden State?
Despite how much money they have going out to members of their backcourt in 2018-19, including Goran Dragic ($18.1 million), Dion Waiters ($11.6 million) and Tyler Johnson ($19.3 million), the Heat reportedly want to keep Ellington around heading into next season (via the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson):
“With the start of NBA free agency looming on July 1, one thing has become clear:
Wayne Ellington, an impending unrestricted free agent, and the Heat would like to find a way to keep him on the team next season, according to multiple people with direct knowledge.”
In the article, Jackson details various ways Miami could strike a deal with Ellington at a fair price (possibly up to $10 million annually over multiple seasons, according to the Miami Herald reporter) without dipping into paying the luxury tax for a team that likely won’t be a contender. Moreover, if anyone has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to knowing how to skirt the tax, it’s Heat general manager Andy Elisburg.
Nevertheless, that’s a whole lot of money for a team to be paying four guards, none of whom possess the size to play on the wing for extended stretches, and a lot could change between now and when free agency opens up on July 1.
Thus, keep an eye on Ellington’s free agency; he’ll have plenty of suitors thanks to his three-point prowess, and Miami simply may not have the means to keep him around, no matter how badly they may want to.
Follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @FrankUrbina_.
HoopsHype’s Alberto de Roa contributed to this article.