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.”

YouTube video

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.”

YouTube video

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.

YouTube video

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

Thank you for reading Follow us on Twitter and Google News, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.


Sacramento Kings

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 23: Drew Timme #2 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs reacts to a play against the UC...

Brenden Nunes

Drew Timme says his agency has been in talks with Kings

Decorated Gonzaga alum Drew Timme joined The Drive Guys Tuesday afternoon. "I'd love to be back there," he said.

15 hours ago

Sasha Vezenkov #7 of the Sacramento Kings poses for a photo at Sacramento Kings Practice Facility o...

Frankie Cartoscelli

Sasha Vezenkov waived by Raptors, will to return to EuroLeague

Former Sacramento Kings forward Sasha Vezenkov is leaving over $6 million on the table and will leave the NBA for the EuroLeague.

22 hours ago

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 26: Sacramento Kings head coach Mike Brown (left) and assistant c...

Brenden Nunes

Mike Brown says Kings will making coaching hire “when the time’s right”

From Vegas, Kings head coach Mike Brown talked about how having his assistants get jobs elsewhere is both a dream and a nightmare.

1 day ago

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 25: De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings is guarded by Buddy Hiel...

Frankie Cartoscelli

Buddy Hield on joining the other side of Kings vs. Warriors

Former Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield opened up on joining the Golden State Warriors in NBA free agency.

2 days ago

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 12: Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jordan McLaughlin (6) during an NBA basket...

Frankie Cartoscelli

Jordan McLaughlin says the Kings were ‘a perfect fit’ for him in free agency

Sacramento Kings guard Jordan McLaughlin sat down with The Drive Guys to discuss why he decided to join the Beam Team in free agency.

5 days ago

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 24: USC Trojans guard Boogie Ellis (5) during a college basketball game ...

Brenden Nunes

Drew Timme and Boogie Ellis reflect on their Summer League experience

After what's expected to be their final Summer League games, Boogie Ellis and Drew Timme reflected on their experiences with Sacramento.

5 days ago

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