LAWRENCE — Inside the Kansas basketball program, the traditional idea of a green light on offense can be a little murky. Sometimes, KU coach Bill Self will offer a bright red stop sign to a post player who would like to chuck up a few threes from deep. But mostly, Self lets such distinctions go unsaid. Most KU players know their limitations. And it’s better, Self figures, that a player have confidence in his offensive game — even if that means a few ill-advised threes from his frontcourt.
Such is the case, it seems, with sophomore forward Perry Ellis, who knocked down his third three-pointer of the season in Kansas’ 93-83 victory over Toledo on Monday. It was another sign of Ellis’ growing offensive game — and his burgeoning confidence during his second season at Kansas.
While second on the team in scoring at 13.9 points per game, Ellis has also managed to hit 50 percent (OK, three of six) of his limited three-point attempts. Self and Ellis have never really talked about whether he has free reign to shoot from the outside. But so far, it’s worked out pretty well.
“I’ve never told him whether it’s green or not, because I do want him to shoot it,” Self said. “Because he can shoot. But I don’t want him to think that’s how he needs to earn his money, so to speak.”
That’s fine with Ellis, who says he’s still easing into his role as an outside threat. But the fact that Ellis is starting to stretch defenses to 20 feet certainly bodes well for the future. When the KU coaches were recruiting him out of Heights, they once showed him highlights of former KU star Marcus Morris, a similarly sized power forward who shot 76 three-point attempts during his junior season in 2010-11. Ellis will probably never rifle off threes at that clip, but Self thinks Ellis could get to a point where he’s shooting one or two three-pointers per game.
“I’m working on a lot of those trailer three shots, I’m getting a lot up,” Ellis said. “So whenever it’s open, I’m looking to shoot it.”
That said, of course, the point of showing Ellis those highlights of Marcus Morris was never about the three-pointers. More accurately: The Kansas coaches wanted to show Ellis that there was plenty of room in their offense for a 6-foot-8 forward who can create offense from 10 to 15 feet from the rim. Self says Ellis is best when he can catch at the free throw line and have options, and after a slow start during his freshman year, Ellis has continued his offensive evolution during his sophomore season.
As No. 16 Kansas, 9-3, prepares to face No. 21 San Diego State, 11-1, at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, Ellis is shooting 60 percent from the floor and grabbing 6.7 rebounds per game to go with his point production. Remove the Georgetown game, where he was limited to just 12 minutes after suffering a bruised nerve in his neck, and Ellis appeared to be hitting his stride in late December.
He had 21 points against both New Mexico and Toledo with nearly identical stat lines, and the improved efficiency from last season can be summed up in pretty simple terms: Last year, Ellis struggled to finish at the rim, hitting just 45.8 percent of those shots in KU’s first 30 games, according to Hoop-Math.com. This year, a stronger and more confidence Ellis is making nearly 71 percent of his field goal attempts at the rim.
“It definitely feels a lot easier,” Ellis said. “It’s just coming more natural now. It’s just something you do now.”
Last summer, Ellis says, he focused on more “explosive” lifts with KU strength coach Andrea Hudy. He would do lifts such as the hang clean, adding inches to his vertical jump—anything that would add explosiveness. He didn’t, however, gain much weight.
“My body just feels a lot better now, so that’s all that matters,” Ellis said.
This year, Ellis says, the dunks are coming more frequently, the offense is coming easier, and he’s no longer worried about making mistakes.
“He’s just more aggressive,” Self said. “Even though he’s not as aggressive as we’d like, he’s a lot more aggressive than he was last year.”