Sounds like some time as a Small Forward is in Perry Ellis' future
Through his first three seasons as a Jayhawk, we've seen KU forward Perry Ellis do just about everything.
He's been good in the post and hit from the outside. He's shown the ability to put the ball on the deck and create for himself and score by hitting the offensive glass. His mid-range jumper (particularly from the baseline) is as smooth as butter and he's a career 74 percent free throw shooter.
When he started his four-year journey back in 2012 we knew that Ellis had all of the raw tools to develop into that kind of player. But they did not all show up at once. Little bit little — game to game, week to week and even year to year — Ellis unveiled new parts of his game that almost always took him to another level.
Remember the 2013 Big 12 tournament, where he helped carry the Jayhawks to the title and landed a spot on the all-tourney team? That was the first time Ellis showed consistent willingness and ability to be a force around the rim. And he never took a step back from there, even if asserting himself and his personality remained a work in progress.
Remember the end of the 2013-14 season and start of the 2014-15 season, when Ellis showed that he was both able and willing to shoot more three-pointers? He took 46 and made 18 (39 percent) over the course of his junior season and never looked anything but comfortable doing it. Those numbers doubled his career totals from his first two seasons.
Remember Ellis' insanely productive stretch during the 2014-15 season before he got hurt, when he improved his point total in six straight games and topped 18 points in five of them? That included a 28-point, 13-rebound explosion in a home win over Texas and seemed to indicate that Ellis finally understood that he could dominate games. He got hurt in the very next contest and he was not quite the same the rest of the season.
That stretch, perhaps as much as anything, may have been what led Ellis to decide to return for his senior season at Kansas.
It's not necessarily that he had anywhere to go nor was he deemed a lock to succeed in the NBA. Far from it. Instead, it seems logical that the most productive stretch of his career reminded Ellis just how much more he could improve and served as all the feedback he needed to believe that, with a return to KU, he could hone certain skills and better showcase his abilities in hopes of landing a spot in the NBA in 2016.
Time will tell how likely a prospect that last part is. But both Ellis and KU coach Bill Self believe it can happen and that will be a crucial driving force this offseason.
Talking after Monday's team banquet, Ellis pointed to things like better ball handling, improving on the perimeter and becoming even quicker, particularly defensively. Those specifics point to a guy who realizes that his 6-foot-8, 225-pound frame is not power forward material in the NBA and his only path to achieving that dream is likely as a small forward.
While it's logical to think that Ellis, with his skills, work ethic and determination, can get there, it's also important to point out who some of the top small forwards in the NBA game are today — LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Jeff Green, Josh Smith, Draymond Green and Luol Deng.
Ellis has a long way to go before he's on the same level as any of those guys, but you don't have to squint too hard to see it happening, at least in terms of him being able to compete at their position. Draymond Green was a power player for the Michigan State Spartans during his college career and he's now another one of those perimeter weapons for the Golden State Warriors. Leonard was among the conference leaders in rebounding during his days at San Diego State but now looks like one of the most dynamic offensive players in the game.
Ellis will never be as good as Leonard or Green. But the one delivered by Green, who stands 6-7, 229 pounds, is the perfect type of transformation for Ellis to aspire to have. Think Poor Man's Draymond Green on the end of some NBA bench. Sound a little underwhelming? I bet Ellis would take it in a second.
If Self and the Jayhawks can land a couple of big men in this recruiting class — say Cheick Diallo, Mike Thorne Jr., and/or Stephen Zimmerman — that will give Ellis more freedom to hone those small forward skills, much in the same way Marcus Morris was able to do it during his time as a Jayhawk.
If not, well, what's Ellis have to lose by returning to school and passing on a draft that might not have had a spot for him anyway?