From Feb. 21 to March 12, Wayne Ellington was a "real basketball player." Playing in eight games, he averaged 6.4 points in 14.3 minutes a game, shooting 53 percent from the floor and knocking down 10-of-20 of his 3-pointers.
And then, despite scoring 11 points in 13 minutes against Utah on March 12, he didn't play more than six minutes in a game the rest of the season when Jae Crowder re-earned his role as the backup wing.
Maybe it was deserved. Crowder's strength on the basketball court is a strange one that's hard to see -- he plays well with other players. There's no other explanation for Crowder to constantly have huge +/- swings when he's on the court compared to when he's off. The stats are very clear: when Crowder comes into the game, the Mavericks usually outscore their opponents for the duration of his playing time. Crowder isn't a good shooter -- really, his only offensive trait that's positive is that he moves the ball -- but for whatever reason, he's perfect as a team player.
Ellington, on the other hand, has some very visible, discernible strengths. He's a shooter. At practice one afternoon, I watched Dirk Nowitzki go "around the world" shooting five 3-pointers from five spots on the arc (corners, wings, straight-away). When he hit 22-of-25, I thought he easily would have the top mark at practice that day -- and then Ellington one-upped him with 23-of-25. That's his strength. He's a knock-down shooter, and despite having only one stretch of games all season to get in a "rhythm," he still shot 42.4 percent on 3-pointers and 90.9 percent from the line this year.
That's part of why it was so frustrating to see Jae Crowder take his minutes and then bring shots that Ellington could have buried. But despite a reputation for being a pretty decent defender, Ellington is probably still learning. His on/off court slashes are pretty horrible, a complete opposite of Crowder. The Mavericks' defense posted a hideous 114 defensive rating when he was on the court during that eight-game stretch he played right after the All-Star Break, compared to a slightly more respectable 105 when he off the court.
The offense also suffered (107 on, 111 off), although I'm less willing to trust that until I know how much of Ellington's time during this stretch was played with a Dirk-led lineup.
In most instances, the eye test is a viable way to analyze and understand basketball, but we've reached a point in the game that sometimes you just have to trust the stats that are put in front of you (or, like I'm sure Rick Carlisle and his coaching staff did, look at the stats and then go confirm what they show with actual film). Ellington is the better individual player, but brings less to a five-man lineup than Crowder did.
2013-14 Player Grade: C
Contract: $2.7 million in 2014-15
Make no mistake -- even if I finally, for the first time, admitted that Crowder deserved those minutes over Ellington, I still really like what Wayne brings to the table. He's the classic 3-and-D guy that the Mavericks haven't utilized over the years, and I'd love to see him carve out a role in the rotation next year.
It's hard to tell what sort of role it might be until we see the offseason moves shake out, but you'd hope a full season and, now, offseason with Rick Carlisle would help him improve as a team player. He's surprisingly young to be a Maverick at just 26, and he obviously still has room to grow as he enters his sixth season.
Carlisle brought him up in the exit interviews, saying that he "actually really liked Ellington," so we're not talking about someone who's already guaranteed to spent another year at the end of the bench chatting it up with Ricky Ledo. I think the team would like him in the rotation as much as I would, but we'll just have to see how it develops.
But if all else fails, we'll always have #MakeItWayne.
I previewed what Wayne Ellington could bring to the team way back when the season started.
Josh Bowe and Andytobo talk about Jae Crowder and, inevitably, about whether Wayne Ellington would be better in his place late in February.
That's it. Not much to write about Ellington when he doesn't play. But Samuel Dalembert is tomorrow by Hal Brown, so be ready for that.