While all of the hype lately regarding the surging Miami Heat has been booming from Waiters Island, there has been a slew of new Heat additions having stellar seasons of their own.
There’s James Johnson, a poor man’s LeBron James who is playing key roles on and off the ball while offering the unique versatility to defend multiple positions.
There’s Luke Babbitt, currently ranked eighth in the NBA in 3-point percentage (43 percent).
There’s Willie Reed, injecting the team with a high dose of energy every night off the bench in spelling Hassan Whiteside.
And then, hiding in that swarm of shadows is 29-year-old wing Wayne Ellington, playing for his seventh team and having the most impactful season of his eight-year career. “The man with the golden arm,” as he’s known by Eric Reid on the Heat’s television broadcast, is the Heat’s highest volume 3-point shooter, launching 6.5 threes a game and connecting at a respectable 38 percent.
If Waiters is the cavalry, invading an enemy fortress equipped with nothing but machine guns, grenades and deafening music blaring from his backpack, Ellington is the camouflaged sniper several hundred yards away, picking his targets off with precision. Despite rarely possessing the ball for more than a second or two, his impact has been as big as any Heat newcomer.
Missing a large chunk of the first part of the season, Miami is 6-14 without him and 25-20 with him. He’s been especially scorching in March, averaging 14.2 points over the last five games while connecting on 50 percent of his whopping eight three-point attempts per game.
His coach wants him chucking even more, per ESPN’s Zach Lowe.
“It isn’t enough,” Spoelstra chuckled. “I want him to shoot five more contested, horrible 3s. I tell him all the time to take 10 in a game.”
His shot selection has drastically changed this season, with his three-point attempt rate rocketing up to 68 percent, up from 44 percent for his career. This has been good for his game, considering he’s taking far less long 2s.
For his career, 35 percent of Wayne’s shots have come between 10 feet and the 3-point line — among the most inefficient zones on the court. Under the tutelage of a forward-thinking Heat coaching staff, he’s shaved that down to 25 percent this season, helping produce a career-high .560 True Shooting Percentage.
Lowe also noted that Spo is often utilizing Ellington in the Ray Allen role back when the Hall of Famer was a key part of Miami’s rotation in the LeBron Era, draining bombs after navigating a maze of screens.
Yet a fascinating element to Wayne’s season resides on the other side of the court.
Coming into the season I didn’t expect much from him defensively. I mean here was a guy who by all accounts has been a very good shooter but couldn’t stick with a team, meaning he must be a defensive liability.
Fast-forward to today and Ellington is present on four of the Heat’s five best-two man defensive lineups (minimum of 200 minutes) dating back to January 1. Cutting his body fat in half certainly had to help.
They’ve been a defensive juggernaut with him on the court overall during the same timeframe, allowing just 100.4 points per 100 possessions. That number rises to an abysmal 107.9 when he’s off, per NBA.com, the biggest on/off defensive spike of any Heat player. While many of the Heat’s reserves provide gritty defense, these numbers are hard to ignore, pointing to Wayne being a quality team defender within Miami’s system.
The Heat has a team option for Ellington next season at $6 million, which could equate to a return considering the value of 3-and-D players is at its peak.
While often not the first, second or even third name mentioned amid the Heat’s explosive rise en route to winning 20 of their last 24 games, Wayne Ellington has been a sneaky impactful piece on both ends of the court.
photo via Tyson Kelly