Status upgrade: Wayne Ellington’s ‘golden arm’ goes platinum as Pistons shooting star heats up

Wayne Ellington, long known as “The Man with the Golden Arm,” has gone platinum. Ellington, who’s spent the past week smashing Pistons and personal records with his 3-point marksmanship, deserves the status upgrade.

“I really haven’t even grasped what he’s doing until people said it to me,” Delon Wright said of his backcourt partner earlier this week. “We want to keep giving him the ball. He’s a great shooter. He helps our offense flow and it’s great to have him out there with us.”

Ellington has put together an astounding seven-game run, making four or more 3-point baskets in all of them, becoming merely the eighth player in NBA history to do so. It’s a list that includes Steph Curry, James Harden, Damien Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

His perimeter shot has been Ellington’s carrying tool since he was a five-star recruit in the 2006 high school recruiting class, signing with North Carolina over offers from the usual smorgasbord of blueblood programs.

He spent three years in Chapel Hill, culminating with the 2009 NCAA title game win at Detroit’s Ford Field in a runaway win over Michigan State, averaging in double figures every season on a loaded roster that included six other future NBA players on the ’09 title team alone. A first-round pick of Minnesota, Ellington has played for nine NBA teams and shot worse then 35 percent from the 3-point arc in only one of his 12 seasons.

But even by his standards, Wayne Ellington is hot. He’s scored 15 or more points in seven straight games, a career long. He’s so hot that when he hit 4 of 8 from the 3-point arc in Cleveland on Wednesday, his 3-point percentage actually decreased. After Thursday’s 6 of 9 performance to spearhead a big win over the Los Angeles Lakers, Ellington is shooting 53.2 percent from the 3-point line and 55.2 percent for January, topping the single-month best in franchise history held by Joe Dumars at 54.3 percent.

Shooters can be as zealous about keeping routines sacrosanct during hot streaks as hitters in baseball when hits are falling in or golfers when balls are finding greens in regulation. Ellington is less superstitious than intensely focused on maintaining the habits that have allowed him to thrive for a dozen years.

“Just keep the same preparation, continue to do the same work,” Ellington said amid his torrid stretch. “Nothing different. You keep on doing the same thing, playing the same way. Trying to play the right way. I always tell guys, there’s a karma to this game.”

Included in that preparation is meticulous care for his body and a relentless dedication to physical conditioning. It’s the only way someone whose success depends on constant movement to utilize screens and get himself open to launch 3-point attempts with a hair trigger can survive.

And when Casey talks about veteran leadership, it becomes more than a fuzzy concept when he has Ellington to point out in film sessions for his perpetual motion to free himself from hounding defenders.

“And not only in film sessions,” Casey said. “We purposely put him with the young guys in shooting drills. He reminds me of a guy like Dirk Nowitzki (whom Casey coached in Dallas) or Ray Allen (Casey had him in Seattle). Ray would hate practice but loved shooting drills at the end. Wayne goes as hard and as fast. It’s a great example to Saddiq (Bey) to speed up his motion. All the young guys that work with him – work as hard or you’re going to look like you’re not working hard at all.

“I can’t have enough good things to say about Wayne. Not just shooting – defense, he gets after it. He leads with his energy. He’s the one in the huddle talking stops. So many things he brings to the table. More than you could put a finger on.”

Ellington didn’t play in five of the season’s first six games as first crack at rotation spots went to young wings like Josh Jackson and Svi Mykhailiuk, but Casey turned to him as the starter at shooting guard when slow starts to games began to plague the Pistons. Ellington, as Casey knew he would, was ready to handle the battlefield promotion. For a roster with nine players 23 or younger and so many of them still needing to establish their place and with uncertain roles, it was a graphic example of the eternal coach’s mantra to always be prepared.

“He was ready every time,” said one of those young players unsure from night to night what’s in store for him, Sekou Doumbouya. “When the coach called him, he was ready. I’ve just got to be like him – be ready any time and be sharp.”

Jackson has settled into the role as Ellington’s backup at shooting guard. In style, the two are more dissimilar than alike – Jackson rangy and hyper athletic with an unproven perimeter shot, Ellington more reliant on savvy and shooting acumen. But Jackson says he studies Ellington for all the ways he’s worth emulating.

“You can pick up a lot from Wayne,” Jackson said. “That’s one of my favorite parts about being on the Pistons this year. We’ve got some really good vets who’ve been around the league a long time. That’s something that early in my career, I haven’t had that opportunity. Wayne, D(errick) Rose, Blake (Griffin) – it’s been really good for me. Every day I come into practice and talk to these guys and pick their brains and learn.”

Ellington, the eldest Piston at 33, is in his second tour of duty in Detroit, choosing the franchise over multiple offers from contenders two years ago when he was waived by Miami in a move to avoid luxury tax payments. Casey quickly grew to admire the veteran and was a major fan of adding him in free agency before this season – especially for the needs of a roster injected with so many new, inexperienced faces for the examples he would set.

“How he gets his rest, how he eats, how he conditions, how he carries himself, how he’s trying to help everybody next to him,” Casey said. “A lot of us are moody from day to day, minute to minute. But Wayne Ellington, when he walks in, the room lights up. He’s the same each and every day. I’ve been with him for two years now. I haven’t seen him have a bad day.”

When it comes to shooting the basketball from anywhere on the other side of the NBA 3-point line, nobody else has, either.