SACRAMENTO KINGS

Keon Ellis continues to prove why he belongs in Sacramento’s rotation

Mar 14, 2024, 6:52 PM | Updated: 9:16 pm

Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks is fouled by Keon Ellis #23 of the Sacramento King...

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 12: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks is fouled by Keon Ellis #23 of the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on March 12, 2024 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The NBA is filled with players with inspiring life stories that are a credit to the individual’s work ethic and determination. Sacramento’s Keon Ellis is trending towards being included in this discussion.

Think of Caleb Martin, who nearly was a crucial member of the Miami Heat’s NBA Finals run last season after going undrafted in 2019. Or undrafted Alex Caruso, who has carved out starting roles on their respective teams and was named to first-team All-Defense last season.

Ellis started his collegiate basketball journey at Florida SouthWest State Junior College, where he blossomed into their leading scorer (18.1 points per game on 53.6/40.1/80.7 in year two) before moving on to Alabama.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t until his transfer that Ellis embraced the defensive side of the ball to earn playing time on a talented roster at Alabama. Despite not hearing his name in the 2022 NBA Draft, Sacramento was the first to call Ellis and his agent after the draft’s completion, leading to a two-way agreement.

Most of his rookie season was spent with Stockton in the G-League, where he played 35 games under former head coach Bobby Jackson. During that time, Ellis worked with the staff to improve his ball handling and distribution, intrigued by the idea of him sparingly playing point guard down the line.

His collegiate efficiency remained during his tenure with Stockton. He converted 41.8 percent of his 4.4 three-point attempts per night while averaging 16.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists.

In 2023-24, his second NBA season, Ellis got an opportunity to show his capabilities early. During a blowout road loss to the Houston Rockets, head coach Mike Brown emptied the bench, which included Ellis. Fourteen minutes and 26 seconds of run is all it took him to convince the coaching staff to expand his role.

Keon Ellis played the next six games, including two starts, while De’Aaron Fox was unavailable with an ankle sprain before the DNP-CDs returned. It had been up and down until his start against the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 1st, once again in a game where Fox was unavailable.

He’s played upwards of 13 minutes in each of the Kings’ last five showings. Keegan Murray was unavailable for Tuesday’s action against the Milwaukee Bucks, and Ellis was presented with his first opportunity to start as a shooting guard.

Kevin Huerter was sidelined with an injury the following night, and Ellis again got the nod. It was two of Sacramento’s best defensive performances of the season, each featuring Ellis for 27-28 impactful minutes.

“He’s just stayed ready, and he’s been as steady as he could be. I’m happy for him,” Brown said after Tuesday’s win. “I’m happy that he’s stepping up. I’m happy that we rewarded him with a regular contract, and he’s showing that he’s more than worth what we gave him.”

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Those showings were no easy task for the 6’5 guard. Against the Bucks, he was assigned to future Hall of Famer Damian Lillard. When the Los Angeles Lakers came into town the following night, Ellis was tasked with slowing down one-time All-Star D’Angelo Russell. And he succeeded in doing so on both occasions, with the Kings improving to 6-0 in his starts.

His combination of length, anticipation, awareness, defensive intelligence, and desire to win have been apparent and effective.

Keon Ellis tallied six steals (three in each) and countless deflections throughout the back-to-back. “When Keon is on the court, I think good things just happen,” Fox said.

“The way that he plays and the way that he guards, it’s not normal,” he continued. “The way that he’s able to get through screens, or if he’s guarding someone that we consider ‘hot,’ there are times where he’s able to slide under and still get in front of the ball and still be able to contest shots.”

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Fox’s initial sentiment that ‘good things happen’ when Ellis is on the floor seems to be a common belief amongst Sacramento’s staff and roster. It sounds simple, but Ellis is a winning player who puts effort into the details.

“I just go out there, try to be in the right spots, make the right plays, and not try to overdo anything,” he said. “Just going out there and trying to execute whatever the coaches are telling us and letting everything take care of itself.”

Mike Brown said he has no plans to start Keon Ellis when his team is fully healthy, but that doesn’t limit the 24-year-old’s opportunities. “It just adds to what is already a very, very good bench,” Brown said after defeating the Lakers.

If Ellis can continue to make a defensive impact and fill his offensive role by knocking down shots and maintaining the ball and player movement that is essential to their success, his opportunities could continue to increase. But keep in mind that he’s a second-year player, and growing pains are a typical part of the process.

Players such as Caleb Martin, Alex Caruso, Luguentz Dort, Gary Payton II, Jose Alvarado, Torrey Craig, and Royce O’Neale have laid out the blueprint for finding NBA success despite going undrafted, and Keon Ellis is working his way closer to belonging in conversations as one of the better stories from this season.

When is the next Sacramento Kings game?

Sacramento will continue its six-game homestand on Saturday night when they face All-Star guard Jalen Brunson and the New York Knicks at Golden 1 Center.

Last season, the Kings secured a 122-117 win over the Knicks at home in front of a national audience on TNT. Domantas Sabonis posted a triple-double (24 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists), while De’Aaron Fox’s 24 points helped Sacramento close things out in crunch time.

Be sure to tune in right here on Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Knicks coverage, beginning at 5:30 PM PST on Game Night before a 7:00 PM PST tip-off from downtown Sacramento.

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Upcoming Schedule

  • Saturday, March 16th – Sacramento Kings vs. New York Knicks – 7:00 PM PST
  • Monday, March 18th – Sacramento Kings vs. Memphis Grizzlies – 7:00 PM PST
  • Wednesday, March 20th – Sacramento Kings @ Toronto Raptors – 4:30 PM PST
  • Thursday, March 21st – Sacramento Kings @ Washington Wizards – 4:00 PM PST
  • Saturday, March 23rd – Sacramento Kings @ Orlando Magic – 4:00 PM PST

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