Following a postseason where the Lakers and their fans watched 3-pointers clang off the rim time and time again, their focus on improving their scoring from long-range was very clear in free agency. It made sense, then, that one of the first names they called was Wayne Ellington, a former Laker and one of the league’s most experienced 3-point specialists.
The Lakers officially announced Ellington’s signing on Friday, securing the type of shooting depth on the wing that did not exist last season in Los Angeles.
The Lakers just officially signed Wayne Ellington pic.twitter.com/iBzJSA62aO— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) August 6, 2021
Ellington’s time in Los Angeles was short — just one season in 2014-15 — but as part of a “loveable losers” era of the rebuilding Lakers, he was looked upon fondly. His connection with Kobe Bryant both on and off the court helped keep him a fan favorite among the Laker faithful.
But it wasn’t simply good sentiment that landed Ellington back in Los Angeles. The 33-year-old is coming off one of the best seasons of his career as a 3-point shooter, knocking down 42.2% of his six attempts per game. For context, that mark would have finished first on the Lakers last season.
Ellington’s shot profile, though, is what makes him a more valuable commodity than a player like Ben McLemore from last season. While McLemore had a pair of big performances against Brooklyn and Dallas, he still finished the season as a league-average shooter at 36.8%, with 93 of his 114 attempts being catch-and-shoot jumpers.
In Detroit, spot-up was the most common possession type for Ellington, but he also had a fair amount of off-screen and hand-off possessions, ranking in at least the 70th percentile in all three play types. His high efficiency came despite having a poor shot quality as one of the main offensive threats for a bad Pistons squad.
2020-21 @The_BBall_Index 3PT Shot Making & 3PT Shot Quality grades for Lakers in/out:— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) August 4, 2021
Baze: A, A
Nunn: A, B
Ellington: A, D
Melo: A, F
Monk: A, F
Ariza: D, A
KCP: A, A
Kuz: A, D
AC: B, A
Wes: F, A
Schröder: F, B
Kieff: F, B
Trezz & Drum: non-shooter
Another separator between Ellington and other traditional 3-point specialists is his creation ability. Per 36 minutes last season, Ellington averaged 2.4 assists per game. It’s not a remarkably high amount, but it’s just enough to make him slightly more versatile on offense than a one-note shooting specialist.
There's more: Ellington's passing feeds off of & completes his off-screen game.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) August 3, 2021
Compared to the 123 Off Screen Shooters in our 2013-21 database, Ellington's Playmaking talent grade is higher than 94% of them and the quality of looks he generated for teammates was higher than 98% https://t.co/LRvStdetfq
The catch to all this is the other end of the court. On a bad Pistons team, Ellington had the third-worst individual defensive rating at 114.2. Detroit also ranked four points better per 100 possessions defensively with Ellington off the floor vs. when he was on it.
But when considering the contract he came in on, Ellington is still a valuable player. He will provide the Lakers with not just improved 3-point shooting, but an improved variety of shooting that did not exist last season. Per Synergy, Ellington alone ran 3.1 off-screen and hand-off possessions combined per game last season in 22 minutes a contest, while the Lakers as a team averaged just 9.2 per game of the two combined play types,
Only Kentavious Caldwell-Pope graded out at a higher percentile than Ellington in either play type. In the right situations, Ellington will be a valuable commodity to the Lakers.
At the same time, Frank Vogel’s defense-first approach will likely limit his minutes. With follow new addition Kent Bazemore providing more value defensively and Malik Monk offering more offensive versatility, Ellington will likely come in with an uphill battle to get minutes. But improvements on the margins are where the Lakers have (generally) excelled, and Ellington represents another victory in that regard. He can serve a useful role when called upon, even if it’s a fairly one-dimensional one.