Detroit Pistons: Wayne Ellington’s amazing re-birth

Detroit Pistons guard Wayne Ellington (8) dribbles the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers during the third quarter. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit Pistons guard Wayne Ellington (8) dribbles the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers during the third quarter. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

Wayne Ellington was a benchwarmer for the Detroit Pistons to start the season. He has quickly transformed himself into a starter and one of the top shooters in the NBA.

It was announced on November 24, 2020, a week before the start of training camp, that the Detroit Pistons had signed Wayne Ellington . His contract was for one-year and $2.56 million, the veteran minimum.

The date of signing and the salary tell two things: The season was about to start and the 6-foot-4 Ellington needed to find a home, and he did not have much negotiating leverage.

How Wayne Ellington has become the Detroit Pistons starting shooting guard and one of the NBA’s top shooters

In the space of two months, things have changed a lot for the 33-year-old veteran, who has been on nine teams (twice with Detroit) during his 12 years in the NBA.

He is suddenly a starter after coming off the bench most of his career. Even though he is an outside shooting specialist, Ellington is making shots better than he ever has before.

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Ellington is averaging career-highs in points (11.9), three-point shooting percentage (50%), overall shooting percentage (51.7%) and effective field goal percentage (71.9%) . And not by a little, Ellington is doing way better than ever before.

One could say if he came in with the second unit, that Ellington was taking advantage of playing against subs. But, he has started eight of the 11 games he has played in, so he is being guarded by starters most of the time.

The Philadelphia 76ers have two great defensive guards in Danny Green and Ben Simmons. But in the first half on Sunday, he lit them up for 15 points and made 5-of-6 three point shots.

Ellington is tied with Paul George for seventh in best three-point shooting percentage. He is 15th in the NBA in three-pointers made.

How season started for Ellington with Pistons

The only time in his career Ellington had been a regular starter, was his brief time with the Detroit at the end of the 2019 season. Going into this year, Ellington had only started 168 games out of 681 games played.

You can congratulate Pistons general manager Troy Weaver for signing Ellington, but the could never have imagined how large a role he has ended up playing.

He was simply insurance for a team that lost most of its top three-point shooters. He was supposed to help provide guidance for all the young players and, if they needed a a quick three-pointer, they could put him on the court.

In the Pistons first six games, he did not play in five of them. Even after starting both Milwaukee games, and averaging 12.5 points, he was back to not playing again (except for four seconds) against Phoenix.

But, much like Christian Wood the year before, coach Dwane Casey soon had no choice but to start Ellington, and the player took advantage of his chance.

Starting guard Killian Hayes hurt his hip and is out a while, moving Delon Wright to point. Then, new starting guard Josh Jackson hurt his ankle and missed a couple of games, putting Ellington into the lineup.

Ellington has really gotten into a groove the past five games. He sank 24 out of 41 three-point attempts, and is averaging 17 points a game. And its not like teams don’t know he is a three-point threat. After all, he has played for about a third of the teams in the league.

What has been most impressive about Ellington is that he has been more than a three-point shooter. He is averaging less than a turnover a game, so his ballhandling and passing skills have been good.

One would think at age 33, Ellington could be taken advantage of, on the defensive end. That has not been the case. Ellington has also been the role leader the Pistons hope he would be for the younger players.

Per Omari Sankofa II:

"“He’s a great example for us,” says Dwane Casey of Ellington. “He’s a great leader, great person and a great shooter. He’s also giving it to us on the defensive end.”"

It is too bad there will be no All-Star Weekend this year, as Ellington would probably be a lock to be invited to the three-point shooting contest.

Can Ellington keep up this pace? The odds that a player in his 12th NBA season would have his best year is kind of an outlier. But, his mere presence in the starting lineup relives a lot of pressure for the rest of the starters, as opponents must respect Ellington’s shooting.

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If Ellington does continue to be an elite shooter, there is a good chance he does not finish the season in Detroit. A sweet-shooting veteran could help a contending team, and the Pistons would receive an asset in return for a guy they signed for the minimum a week before training camp.

How Ellington progresses through the rest of the season will be an interesting storyline for Pistons fans to follow.