DeAaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis perfect for Keon Ellis

When Keon Ellis signed with the Sacramento Kings as an undrafted rookie free agent in the off-season, he joined a team that was mediocre. The Kings had not posted a winning record in 16 years. They failed to make the postseason during that stretch, the longest playoff drought in NBA history. But as soon as the season began, it didn’t take long for Ellis to realize that there was something unique about this team. Led by players like De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, and with a new head coach in Mike Brown, this team was out to accomplish something special.

With the final half of the regular season approaching and De’Auron Fox and Domantas Sabonis leading the Kings to snap their playoff drought, Keon Ellis reflected Back on Vibe he looked like a rookie.

“It’s been good, everyone’s enjoying it, everyone’s been fine for a long time,” Ellis told ClutchPoints. “Everybody knows about the whole playoff thing. But we’re doing really well this year. The vibe around this team is great, everyone is having fun. And we are locked in what we need. It’s good for the team and the city.

It wasn’t always the smoothest road to the NBA for Keon Ellis. He was a standout high school player in Florida where he led Leesburg High School to back-to-back state championships. As a high school senior, he averaged 12.7 points, 11 rebounds and two assists per game. He initially agreed to play college basketball at Division 1 Gardner–Webb University, but instead opted to play in the junior college ranks at Florida Southwestern.

The popularity of junior college basketball has grown largely due to the highly successful recent seasons. Netflix Documentary Last Chance You which centered around the East Los Angeles College men’s basketball team. But it was not always like this. While there have been players who have made it to the NBA from the junior college ranks, the road ahead can be a tough one. While Ellis eventually transferred to SEC powerhouse Alabama and Nate Oates looks back fondly on his junior college days.

“It was cool, you can’t look at it as a setback. I went into Zuko with an open mind, knowing that if I do my two years I’ll get an offer somewhere. I didn’t really thinking I needed offers as soon as I arrived on campus,” Ellis said. “But the years went by and I managed to pick up a couple of offers. I was never really worried and always worked hard day in and day out. The team was winning and I think the success of the team brought with it everything that came with it.

When Keon Ellis arrived at Alabama, he moved into a crowded wing rotation that included future NBA players Herb Jones and Joshua Primo. Though he managed to make an impact. As a junior he ranked second on the team in three-point percentage at 38.9 percent and showed potential to be a tough defensive-minded guard. In the 2021 SEC Championship Game against LSU, he dropped 14 points and hit some clutch shots to help secure the win.

As a senior, Ellis started all 33 games and increased his production to 12.1 points and 6.1 rebounds while shooting 43.9 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from the three-point line. He was also named to the SEC All-Defensive Team. He declared for the NBA draft after that season but did not hear his name called on the night of the draft. With a strong performance in the Summer League, he had to cement his place in the Kings roster. He was rewarded with a two-way contract, meaning he would split his rookie season between the Kings and their G League affiliate, the Stockton Kings.

While Keon Ellis spent most of his rookie year in the G League, he played in 13 games for the Kings. He has received plenty of behind-the-scenes advice from Kings stars such as De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis. One of the main things that stood out to Ellis about Fox, a fellow SEC guard, is his ability to stay calm no matter what happens on the court.

He’s just got a balance throughout the game, like he doesn’t go too high or too low when things happen and whatnot. He always shows up to every practice and works hard,” Ellis said. “Everybody on the team, Domas and all the stars we have, top to bottom of the roster, everybody’s locked down. Looking at it as is, I think that’s all I need.”

In the NBA, Ellis’ best projection is probably as a 3 and D wing, but he also has the potential to be a combo guard. He had plenty of ball in his hands, being trusted to make plays in the G League. In 23 games with the Stockton Kings, he averaged 16.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists on a shooting split of 51.7 percent from the field, 43.6 percent from three-point range and 78.4 percent from the free-throw line.

Over the years, the G League has grown in terms of NBA teams using it as a de facto development system. What used to be seen as a form of punishment is now welcomed by players, especially younger players, as a means of getting live rep when minutes with their NBA team are not readily available.

Behind Ellis, the Stockton Kings climbed to the top of the G League Western Conference standings and earned a bye into the first round of the playoffs. According to Ellis, it has been a solid situation for him to learn and grow in.

Ellis said, “It’s been cool, the things you learn up there, you can bring to the G League.” “You’re getting reps so you can keep your game sharp. It’s definitely been good and we’ve been winning so that’s always a plus.”

At the end of the day though, there’s no real substitute for learning on the fly from stars like De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis. The final of the G League is going to end before April. 16. The first round of the NBA playoffs is set to begin in April. 15. Even if the Stockton Kings reach the Finals, Ellis should be back in time to rejoin the Kings for their post-season run.

Led by De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, the Kings have their eyes set on much more than just making the playoffs. Ellis probably won’t see much playing time during the post-season, but just being out there and getting it done is an experience in itself.

Ellis said, “It’s been good, just learning in both phases whether I’m live or with my NBA team.” “Wherever I am, I’m just taking it in and learning. I’m just enjoying the experience.”

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