Game Genie

Wayne Ellington Isn't Just Shooting Well, He's Shooting Game-Breakingly Well
Issac Baldizon
by Couper Moorhead
HEAT.com

Wayne Ellington is trying to get away with saying he doesn’t know what a cheat code is and Tyler Johnson is not going to let him get away with it.

“He knows what a cheat code is,” Johnson says with a laugh. “He’s 30. He’s not super old. He knows what a cheat code is.”

The term came up following Miami’s 107-89 victory over the Orlando Magic in which Ellington shot 6-of-10 from three, 4-of-5 in the fourth quarter, just days after setting a career high with eight threes against Dallas. The Magic, once leading by double digits in the third, were left flummoxed by the barrage.

“ . . . What can you do with Ellington? He’s a cheat code,” Jonathan Issac said. “You can be with him the entire way and he’s going to shoot it, you’re going to foul him or he’s going to make it.”

The description is apt. When Ellington is shooting like this, and the days when he isn’t have been few and far between, his presence on the floor completely alters the fabric of the game. No matter what had been happening on the floor, he can fix it. HEAT having a poor offensive game? Put some Wayne on it. He is the character everyone wants nerfed in the next patch. He is Up-Up-Down-Down-Left-Right-Left-Right-B-A. He is the Holdo Maneuver.

Spoelstra has said at times this season that his roster is full of ignitable players. None of them so perfectly fit that mold as Ellington, who is tied for third in the league with nine games of five or more threes, trailing only James Harden and Eric Gordon. And that’s while playing just 22.7 minutes per game.

Per 100 possessions, nobody is making more than Ellington’s 6.3 threes a game.

Opponents have taken notice, and they’re taking no half measures in trying to stop him. Ellington has seen everything from long, tall defenders that can contest his quick release to short, quick guards that can navigate Ellington’s labyrinth of off-ball screens and invade his personal space. They try to seamlessly switch those screens, they try grabbing him and they try attacking his passing lanes. Ellington has seen so many different types of coverages – he’s in such good shape from the incredible workouts that Spoelstra has often referred to that Ellington can often simply outlast a defender in a single possession – with all of them so geared toward taking away the three that he’s more than happy to take the two if that’s the read.

“I’m sure I haven’t seen them all but I have a feel for a lot of them,” Ellington said of different coverages.” That’s what I try to do early. I don’t want to be aggressive and take bad shots. I try to get a feel for how a team is guarding me. It’s different for me now. I have to evolve and learn.

“It shows in how teams guard me. They really try to take me away from the three-point line. You have to say its respect. You have to say its respect when teams focus in on you.”

If teams weren’t respecting Ellington like an elite shooter, you would have to question if they’ve been paying attention. Elite is exactly what he’s been.

Among the 71 players that have attempted at least 100 catch-and-shoot threes, Ellington ranks No. 6 with an effective field-goal percentage of 68.7. He's also not taking the same shots as any old shooting specialist. Of those same 71 players, Ellington ranks No. 62 in Shot Quality (expected eFG based on shot location and defender proximity, per Second Spectrum), which is right around Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.

So Ellington not only makes a lot of his shots, he’s taking shots that are as tough as those taken by the Warriors’ stars. Only three players in the league out-perform their expected eFG by at least 15 percentage points, and they are Ellington, Thompson and Kyle Korver.

That’s the type of company he’s keeping this season.

There’s more. It matters how many shots Ellington is taking, too.

As of Wednesday, Ellington is attempting 14.5 threes per 100 possessions and he’s making 43.3 percent of them. The only player to do that, ever, over the course of an entire season was Curry in his first of two MVP seasons in 2015-16. Curry took nearly twice as many threes a game that year so Ellington isn’t quite on pace to break the record for threes in a season, but just consider that for an extra beat. When Spoelstra puts Ellington in the game, the HEAT have been getting MVP Curry-esque shooting performances.

What else is there to say?

“I’m not going to say anything,” Johnson said. “I’m just going to let him do what he’s doing.”

We might as well, too. Shifty and clever as Ellington can be as he darts and swerves around the court, there isn’t too much to breakdown here. There are no secrets, just a man at the top of his craft. Teams know and see what’s coming and they can’t stop it.

Logic and reason would lead us to believe that he’ll cool off eventually, but maybe Ellington won’t and will end up having one of the best shooting seasons of all time. If that happens, that’s as close to a walking cheat code as you can get.

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