2020-21 Rewind: Wayne Ellington’s golden arm gave Pistons a shot to take down NBA elites

Wayne Ellington
Wayne Ellington shot 42.2 percent from the 3-point line for the season and made more than 50 percent of his attempts in January for the Pistons
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Wayne Ellington had one of the greatest months any Pistons player has ever had from the 3-point line in January when he made more than half of his attempts and put himself in the NBA history books.

Along the way, he led wins over two teams among the handful of favorites to win the 2021 NBA title, the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers, going 6 of 9 from the arc in each game to lead a pair of 15-point decisions. For the month, Ellington made 52.2 percent from the 3-point line, hitting 48 of 92. In a March win over Toronto, Ellington hit 8 of 11 from three, scoring 25 points to pace a 24-point rout of the Raptors.

Here’s a look at Ellington’s season:

PROFILE: 6-foot-4 shooting guard, 33 years old, 12 NBA seasons
2020-21 STATS: 9.6 points in 22 minutes per game, 44 percent 3-point shooting
STATUS: Ellington, signed to a one-year contract last November, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer

DID YOU KNOW: Ellington’s connection to Detroit goes back to the 2009 NCAA Final Four held at Ford Field. A loaded North Carolina team that went 34-3 and finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll rolled to the national championship, beating Villanova by 14 points in the semifinals and Michigan State by 17 in the title game. Ellington, Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson – all of them first-round picks in the 2009 NBA draft – were named to the All-Tournament team with Ellington being named Most Outstanding Player after scoring 39 points in the two Final Four wins and hitting 9 of 16 3-point shots.

A LOOK BACK: Ellington was considered a consensus top-10 recruit in the high school class of 2006 out of the Philadelphia area, committing to North Carolina after his junior season at Episcopal Academy. In three seasons at Chapel Hill, Ellington’s Carolina teams went 101-14, reached the Elite Eight all three years and played in two Final Fours. Ellington averaged in double figures in all three of his seasons before declaring for the 2009 NBA draft and being selected by Minnesota with the 28th pick. He spent his first three seasons with the Timberwolves but has played for eight other franchises since then, including two stints with the Pistons. Ellington chose the Pistons in 2019 after being bought out by Miami – a move strictly motivated by a desire to avoid luxury tax payments – and helped them to the playoffs in Dwane Casey’s first season as head coach. He signed with the Knicks in free agency for 2019-20 but returned to the Pistons as a free agent in 2020. Ellington has come off the bench for most of his NBA career, starting 197 of 727 career games, and has always been valued for his 3-point shooting – not just his marksmanship as a 38 percent career shooter but his ability to get them off at high volume and under duress.

THE SEASON THAT WAS: Ellington was one of the last additions made by first-year general manager Troy Weaver after an intensely busy week in November that saw Weaver swing multiple trades, draft four players and delve into free agency. Casey was a major proponent of adding Ellington based on his experience with him during the 2019 playoff drive when Ellington provided a stabilizing influence and invaluable 3-point shooting to help replace what was lost in the trade of Reggie Bullock to the Lakers. Ellington didn’t play in five of the season’s first six games, but started the seventh and became a rotation fixture, when healthy, the remainder of the season. He finished shooting 42.2 percent from the 3-point arc, just off his career best of 42.4 percent with Dallas in 2013-14 – though that came on low volume, 1.3 attempts per game compared to this season’s 6.0. Ellington’s 3-point rate of 81.4 percent – the percentage of his shots taken from the 3-point line – was in line with his past five seasons and well above his career rate of 57 percent. Ellington became just the eighth player in NBA history to make at least four 3-point baskets in seven straight games with a hot streak in January in which he shot 60 percent from the arc.

A LOOK AHEAD: In need of 3-point shooting and in love with everything Ellington meant – from being a mentor to rookie star Saddiq Bey to his general aura of extreme professionalism on a team that ended the season with 11 players 24 or younger – you can bet the Pistons are going to kick the tires on running it back with Ellington for 2021-22. He’ll be 34 a month into the season, though, and Ellington surely will be on the radar of contending teams who are always on the lookout for veterans who can thrive off the bench in sporadic minutes and provide the 3-point punch Ellington offers. A chance to compete for an NBA title to finish his career with a championship as he wrapped up his college career could prove too much to resist for Ellington despite his clear affinity for Casey, Detroit and the Pistons organization.

MONEY QUOTE: “You can’t get too many Wayne Ellingtons on your team. He is the NBA. His leadership, his approach to the game, his professionalism – he’s a great example for all of our young guys to see, each and every day. He doesn’t have an off day. He’s the same each and every day with his approach and that’s what you’ve got to have when you’re building a team.” – Dwane Casey speaking after one of Ellington’s typical performances during the 2020-21 season.

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