Perhaps no one player signals the intent and focus of the Lakers this offseason than Wayne Ellington. After a miserable shooting performance in their one postseason round, the franchise shifted its focus from one end of the court to the other, trading in some of its elite defense for improvements on the offensive end.
Ellington wasn’t the only player signed this summer that indicates that change in philosophy, but as one of the league’s best 3-point specialists, he is one that highlights it the most. A former Laker early on in his career, Ellington’s game has evolved into a more singular focus on his long-range scoring.
In shifting that focus, Ellington has studied some of the elite shooters in the game’s history to improve various aspects of his game, including his off-ball movement.
“It’s always been something I’ve worked on my entire life, but as I’ve continued to evolve, my game has evolved and I’ve gotten to be a better shooter,” Ellington said during his introductory press conference. “That’s something that I’ve been really locked in and focused on. And I think that’s also something that I can bring to this team, that ability to run, to continue to move and run this way, understand how to drag the defense with me to open up spaces and gaps for the likes of Bron, Russ and AD, that’s all really important.
“Those things are just as important as making a three,” Ellington continued. “Some people don’t really realize that, but some of the guys I really watched and paid close attention to in terms of moving without the ball are Ray Allen, Rip Hamilton, Reggie Miller, those would be my top favorite guys, and I watched them and I tried to steal a lot from those guys and their games, and the way they move and the way they get open. The way they realized that if they faked this way and go that way it would drag the defense.
“You might not even be in the play, but you run your route hard and it opens up a lane over there for guys to get downhill. So all those little things that people don’t really realize is what I bring to the game and what I’m excited about, especially for this team.”
Much of the focus on the Lakers’ offseason has been a negative response to their age, but this type of mindset reveals an area where it could be a positive. Learning to sacrifice for the better of the team is not a common trait among young players when they first enter the league. However, veterans have learned firsthand the need to sacrifice. A willingness to do so has been a common theme among the Lakers this offseason.
While offense has become more of a focus this summer, the team won’t completely abandon their defensive principles, especially with a defense-first head coach in Frank Vogel. Ellington spoke on the importance of defense being a baseline for a team with title aspirations and how he complements the current roster of players.
“Obviously defense is what wins championships at the end of the day,” Ellington said, “and when you’ve got the length, and the size and the athleticism that this team has, it will be easy to defend. You’ve got help all over the court. You’ve got guys with experience that know how to communicate and talk to each other... and then you’ve got forces like Dwight and AD back there swatting stuff around.
“So that will be something where we’ll all be able to complement each other, and as far as threes, I think it’s needed and necessary. Three-point shooting is at a premium in the league right now. You’ve got all these guys that are attackers that can get into the paint that create so much attention, you’ve got to have a guy like myself to kick it out to, to spread the floor and move the defense and keep guys honest. So I feel like my game and that 3-point shooting complements this team very well.”
Last season, Ellington shot 41.9% from the 3-point line, one of the best seasons of his career. For a Laker team that can create open 3-point looks based on the attention drawn by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Ellington’s proficiency will become even more appealing.
On open looks with Detroit last year, Ellington shot 48-for-117 (41%) while shooting 36-of-80 (45%). He will certainly have many open looks this season, some created through his years of diligent work studying some of the greats and some as a result of playing with three superstars. However they come, though, Ellington’s arrival helps signal a change in approach for the Lakers this summer.