Perry Ellis cultivated the new weapon slowly, year by year, layer by layer, the confidence building over time. When Ellis was a freshman, he attempted just three three-pointers on the season. He was a reserve power forward then, a 6-foot-8 freshman, and while he made two of those three shots, to gun from deep would have been an audacious play for a young big man.
The next season, as a sophomore, the process continued. Ellis hoisted 17 three-pointers, hitting eight of them. He used the three sparingly, and he used it efficiently. But an Ellis three-pointer was more novelty than true offensive weapon.
Last year, as a junior, Ellis nearly tripled his three-point attempts again, hitting 18 of 46 from behind the three-point line. As a senior, it appeared that Ellis’ outside game would take another jump. He would further incorporate the three into his repertoire, Kansas coach Bill Self said before the season, and he would evolve into an All-American candidate. It’s taken some time, but after No. 2 Kansas’ 70-57 victory over San Diego State last Tuesday, it appears Ellis is finding comfort in his outside game.
Ellis drilled two of three from three-point range against San Diego State. He’s now shooting 46.7 percent (7 of 15) for the season. And the numbers suggest that Ellis may be wise to unleash the three-pointer more often. In his fourth season, Ellis is a career 43-percent shooter from three. On a team with three players (Frank Mason, Wayne Selden and Brannen Greene) shooting better than 50 percent from three, Ellis can certainly hold his own from deep.
“I’ve been working hard on that part of my game,” Ellis said. “And when opportunities come, I try to knock it down.”
Ellis has done that, and a little more, since Self publicly challenged him to play to his All-American potential. The request came on Dec. 17, two days before KU took the floor against Montana at Allen Fieldhouse. In the Jayhawks’ last two games, Ellis is averaging 19 points and six rebounds while shooting 54.5 percent from the floor.
“He obviously played very well,” Self said, “and it helps when you make shots from perimeter. But I thought he was much more aggressive, attacking the basket.”
For the season, Ellis is now averaging 15.2 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting better than 53 percent from the floor. Self has designs on getting Ellis more touches in the paint. But his three-point shooting has added a new dimension. And when viewed as a whole, his season numbers make all that talk of a slumping Ellis feel a little premature.
According to advance metrics, Ellis is having the best season of his career. Ellis’ offensive rating — a number that focuses on efficiency — is now 121.2, and his effective field-goal percentage — a number that takes into account the value of threes — is 56.7, the highest of his career.
Self has long stated his belief that Ellis has the potential to push for All-American and Big 12 player of the year honors. In two games, Ellis has pushed closer to that ceiling.
“I just was attacking from the get-go,” Ellis said, “and I’m going to continue pushing forward and doing that.”
On Sunday afternoon, Ellis was back inside Allen Fieldhouse, taking part in Kansas basketball’s annual holiday clinic. The Jayhawks returned to Lawrence on Saturday night, held an evening practice and then returned to the practice floor on Sunday morning, two days before facing UC Irvine at Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night. As Ellis emerged from the tunnel, he was greeted by a wave of kids, looking for autographs and photographs. A few minutes later, Self, celebrating his 53rd birthday, took the microphone and joked that Ellis was in his seventh season at Kansas, calling him the program’s “old man.”
Ellis smiled at the comment and shrugged his shoulders. Two weeks ago, Ellis wasn’t happy with his play, either, saying he needed to be more active. For the moment, he appears to have found a spark heading into 2016.
“The thing was just, we (had) to win the road game,” Ellis said, speaking of Kansas’ victory at San Diego State. “And if you think that way, good things are going to happen. You don’t want to think about individual things.”