Wayne Ellington Again Finds Himself In Kobe’s Shadow

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It wasn’t always this way for Ellington, but at the crossroads of his career, the answer to his future may be in his roots.

The year was 2006 and Wayne Ellington was a McDonald’s All America at Episcopal Academy in Merion, Pa. The proximity to Lower Merion High School and the hype surrounding both Ellington and teammate Gerald Henderson (who also was a McDonald’s All America and played at Duke), led to whispers that he was the best prospect from Philadelphia since Kobe Bryant.

By accepting a scholarship to play at the University of North Carolina, Ellington was following the road paved by former prep stars, who then spring boarded to NBA stardom. He contributed right away, averaging double figures all three years at UNC, including his junior year where he averaged 15.8 points a game for the National Champion Tar Heels in 2009. He was a big part of  the team, but scouts had concerns when evaluating him for the NBA. At 6’4″ he was an undersized two guard and not the athlete Gerald Henderson was. No matter the blue chip pedigree, players of that ilk typically struggle.

Ellington, though rated higher than Henderson coming out of high school, was drafted 16 slots below him in the 2009 Draft, going 28th to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves were in the rebuilding chaos that was the David Kahn years. In Ellington’s three seasons with the team, the ‘Wolves won 15, 17, and 26 games, while getting swallowed in a poorly balanced roster. Going into the 2012-2013 season, he was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies where he failed to distinguish himself for a team that needed his shooting. He was traded to Cleveland mid season, where he had the best stretch of his career under the tutelage of a similarly undersized former two guard, Head Coach Byron Scott.  Ellington averaged 10.4 ppg, scoring in double figures 22 times in 38 games with the Cavaliers. Scott was fired at season’s end and Ellington signed with the Dallas Mavericks.

At this point in his career, after 5 seasons and 4 teams, Wayne Ellington is considered a journeyman and a shooting specialist. He isn’t a cautionary tale of a too much too soon talent that underwhelmed in the pros because of off the court issues. He is the classic overachiever who achieved accolades at a young age because of his work ethic, developed skills, and professional approach. His skills offset his physical limitations, and in that sense Ellington has accomplished much to be proud of.

As he approaches his 27th birthday, Wayne Ellington enters the 2014-2015 with the best opportunity of his career. He has as his coach, someone with whom he has experienced his greatest professional success, he joins a high profile team in need of his skill set, and he has in Kobe Bryant a familiar face that he has always used as a competitive measuring stick. Despite the logjam on the wings, Ellington has a great chance to solidify his reputation this season. Just like Jodie Meeks signed to the veteran’s minimum and was able to use his time in Los Angeles to improve weaknesses and earn a big pay day, so to does Ellington have an opportunity to reconstruct his career.

The Lakers will have to restrict Kobe Bryant’s minutes this season, who better to give those minutes to but the one time “next Kobe” and a player that understands what’s at stake. Someone who needs to fight for his career.

Two Philly guards on the same roster at the same position? Training Camp will be interesting. We may finally get to see the real Wayne Ellington. That player might not be a star like he was hyped to be, but he can be a shooter the Lakers need, a competitor the Lakers covet, and familiar face for Bryant amongst strangers in this “us against the world” season about to begin.

The Philadelphia guard survives with mindset over talent. That might be the metaphor for the entire Lakers’ season.