When the Grizzlies traded Dante Cunningham for Wayne Ellington this past offseason, it felt like a purely inconsequential move. There was a log jam of big men (y’know, before Arthur went down again), so the Grizzlies needed to get rid of somebody. Cunningham was the odd man out, so they shipped him to Minnesota in exchange for a mediocre backup 2-guard who might not be terrible, but probably wouldn’t be all that good either. Sunrise, sunset.
Six games into the season, and Ellington as thoroughly changed my view of him. I looked at him as another insignificant, interchangeable player. Essentially, he seemed like just another body. Maybe he could hit a few threes for the Grizzlies, but I didn’t think his contributions would be especially important.
Boy did he put me in my place yesterday.
Ellington exploded against the Heat, scoring 25 points, and hitting every shot in sight. It wasn’t just that he was hitting the shots, it was that you knew every shot was going to go in well before it hit the rim. He was just so on yesterday, and after watching the Grizzlies struggle to find a true 3-point threat, it was beautiful to watch.
Obviously, Ellington isn’t going to do this every night. No one, with the possible exception of Steve Novak can shoot that well all the time. With that said, it is undeniable that Wayne Ellington is a meaningful contributor to this team. He’s currently putting up 8.5 points a game, and while that number is slightly inflated by yesterday’s performance, it’s not hard to imagine him averaging something similar to that for the rest of the year.
When Ellington was in Minnesota, he was a decidedly ordinary player. His shooting percentages were decent, but his win shares were regularly below average, and he just felt like one more anonymous, ordinary player on a string of woeful Wolves teams. As it turns out, what he needed was a change of scenery. This is Ellington’s first time playing on a team that has a chance to not only make the playoffs, but actually make a run deep into May.Hhe’s clearly relishing the opportunity, and it’s not hard to see why. In Minnesota, the team’s record was usually so bad that even if he did hit some key shots, it hardly mattered, because the team was already so far back that winning one game wouldn’t do them much again. In Memphis, every game matters, which means every shot matters, which means Ellington is more focused than he’s been at any point in his career.
It’s worth noting that before entering the NBA in 2009, Ellington won an NCAA championship with North Carolina. This means he has experience in big games, and he’s less likely to shrink from the moment in high-pressure situations. When the playoffs roll around, don’t be surprised if Ellington ends up hitting some huge shots. He’s clearly a better player than we could’ve guessed from his play in Minnesota, and he’s going to a be a big part of this Grizzlies team for years to come. Trading Cunningham for Ellington seemed like a minor move, but it might be one of the smartest decisions Chris Wallace has ever made.