2018-19 Season in Review: Wayne Ellington
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
Dwane Casey’s first season as Pistons coach delivered them to the playoffs after a two-season absence. The Pistons have 11 of the 15 players who finished the season either under contract for next season or holding team options to retain them.
With the No. 15 and 45 picks in the June 20 draft and the mid-level and biannual exceptions available to supplement the roster, there will be several new additions on board when they gather in September to open training camp.
But as Casey said after the Pistons were eliminated by Milwaukee in the first round, “We’re going to have to grow from within. We have a lot of talent with our young guys, but they have some areas they can get much better.”
Blake Griffin emphatically returned to All-Star status, Andre Drummond likely would have joined him there had the Pistons not slumped during injury-riddled months of December and January, and Reggie Jackson bounced back from two injury-plagued seasons. They again figure to be central to the 2019-20 Pistons.
Then comes the group of young players that played major roles during the playoff stretch drive: rookie Bruce Brown and former lottery picks Luke Kennard and Thon Maker, the latter acquired in February from Milwaukee. The Pistons also will have two other 2018-19 rookies who did most of their work behind the scenes, in practices and the G League in Khyri Thomas and Svi Mykhailiuk.
In our 2018-19 Season in Review series, we’ll take a look at the key players returning for the Pistons in Dwane Casey’s second season.
PLAYER: Wayne Ellington
PROFILE: 6-foot-5 shooting guard/31 years old/10 NBA seasons
2018-19 STATS: 12.0 points on .373 3-point shooting in 27 minutes a game
STATUS: Ellington will become a free agent on July 1
DID YOU KNOW?: Ellington was the third-leading scorer on the 2009 North Carolina national championship team that would send seven players to the NBA. The Tar Heels won the NCAA championship with an 89-72 win over Michigan State in the title game held at Ford Field in Detroit. Ellington scored 19 points on just 12 shots in the game, hitting all three of his 3-point attempts.
A LOOK BACK: Since being the 28th pick of Minnesota in the 2009 NBA draft, Ellington has played for eight franchises, spending three seasons each with Minnesota and Miami with stops in Memphis, Cleveland, Dallas, Los Angeles (Lakers) and Brooklyn. Miami included him in a February trade with Phoenix primarily motivated by shedding Tyler Johnson’s contract to reduce its luxury-tax liability. After negotiating a buyout before ever suiting up for the lottery-bound Suns, Ellington was pursued by several NBA title contenders, including Golden State and Boston, but chose the Pistons. He became a full-time starter, playing a career-high 27 minutes a game over the 28 games he played with the Pistons and averaging a career-best 12.0 points. Ellington took 77 percent of his shots with the Pistons from the 3-point arc. Because the Pistons had traded away Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson at the trade deadline, Ellington was required to spend the majority of his minutes defending bigger players at small forward and even played at power forward when Dwane Casey went to four-guard lineups during games when Blake Griffin sat with a left knee injury late in the regular season and the first two games of the playoffs.
A LOOK AHEAD: While Casey’s use of Ellington is the strongest case for a reunion in free agency, the Pistons needs and their roster construction might argue against it. The Pistons have no shortage of in-house candidates to take minutes at the wing – Luke Kennard should be ready for an expanded role and rookies Bruce Brown, Svi Mykhailiuk and Khyri Thomas all are held in high regard by both the front office and Casey – but logically need someone with more size than Ellington in an ideal world. Yet even when Casey had more options on the roster before the deals that shipped out Bullock and Johnson, he often chose to use 6-foot-3 Langston Galloway at small forward. And Ellington held his own even against premier small forwards with distinct size advantages over him. It’s not out of the question that if the Pistons can bring back Ellington at a reasonable price – for two-thirds or less of their $9.25 million mid-level exception, for instance – and that allows them to funnel more money to address depth issues elsewhere, maybe he’s back. Another factor that could argue in favor of Ellington’s return: Ish Smith, Zaza Pachulia and Jose Calderon are the other Pistons headed for free agency and that leaves Blake Griffin as the only player 30 or older on the roster and, more meaningfully, those players arguably were the most important voices in the locker room after Griffin and Andre Drummond, valued for their professionalism. Ellington would help fill that void in addition to his value as a 3-point shooter in an offense heavily predicated on volume 3-pointers.
MONEY QUOTE: “Everything has been amazing. The fit’s been great. When I looked at this situation, I didn’t know it would be this good, honestly. I knew it would be a great opportunity and was very appealing, but it’s been every better than I could imagine so far.” – Wayne Ellington late in the regular season of his decision to sign with the Pistons