Keon Ellis

Brown, Kings players amazed by Ellis' ‘unique' defensive impact

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Mike Brown has been in and around the NBA for more than three decades, coaching some of the league's greatest players.

From Tim Duncan to LeBron James to Kobe Bryant, the Hall of Fame list goes on and on for Brown's coaching resume. Still, somehow, Brown doesn't know if he has ever seen or been around a player quite like Kings second-year guard Keon Ellis.

"I was talking to one of my coaches a couple of days ago and I was trying to figure out who he reminds me of defensively, and I'm not sure yet," Brown told reporters Wednesday after Sacramento's 123-89 win over the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena. "His skill set is unique. His arms are a lot longer than what you think, his anticipation and his feel for a young guy, [I've] never been around it. Not for a second-year guy that played in the G League his whole first year and got limited minutes so far.

"I've been in the league 30-something years and I can't fully grasp it because he's so young, but he plays like an old soul. His feel is like an old soul. But he's probably a little quicker than you'd think, a little bit more athletic than you think, arms are a little bit longer than you think, and his feel, anticipation, hands -- it's early, but they might be second to nobody. I'm not sure, it's going to take some time to really figure him out but he's doing a hell of a job for us."

Not only is Ellis now 7-0 as a starter after filling in for the injured Kevin Huerter in Wednesday's win, the undrafted guard out of Alabama is making the most of any opportunity he gets on the floor -- regardless of the role.

In Ellis' last five games (three starts), he has accumulated 17 rebounds, 13 steals and eight blocks. His five blocks in Sacramento's win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday were the most by a guard in Kings franchise history, and his seven rebounds in that same game made him the first guard in NBA history to record five-plus blocks and seven-plus rebounds off the bench.

And he's getting it done on the other end of the floor, too.

Since March, after the Kings converted his two-way contract into a standard, multiyear NBA deal, Ellis has proven exactly why he deserves to be in the NBA after spending a majority of the last two seasons with Sacramento's G League squad.

Ellis recorded 19 DNPs (Did Not Play) to start the season and averaged just 3.4 points on 41.3-percent shooting from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range, with 1.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.4 steals and 0.4 blocks in 11.4 minutes in 34 games.

But he now is making a real impact for Sacramento, and in his last five games, he's averaging 7.4 points on 53.8-percent shooting from the field and 50 percent from deep, with 3.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 2.6 steals and 1.6 blocks in 28.7 minutes.

Since the young guard has earned a more consistent role in Brown's rotation, unsurprisingly, Sacramento's defense is starting to click. Ellis, however, won't take all the credit for the Kings being able to turn things around on the defensive end of the floor and shared a humble response to how he believes the team has managed to do so.

"I think more communication. Guys being in their spots," Ellis said Wednesday. "And then with us knowing playing better defense leads to easier points, I think we've locked in more on the defensive end just so that way if you get a stop, get a turnover, you just create easier points for the team, so that way we're not always in the half-court and trying to create a lot of pressure for [De'Aaron] Fox and [Domantas Sabonis] to kind of create for us.

"So I definitely think it's just talking, helping each other out and everybody being on the same page."

Just like Brown, Kings veteran forward Harrison Barnes is impressed with Ellis' defensive prowess.

But he's not surprised by Ellis' newfound success at the NBA level.

"I remember one of the very first days that Keon was with us in camp as a two-way [player], and I saw him play a little bit and I was like, 'He's going to be an NBA player. Hopefully, it's here, but he's definitely going to be an NBA player,' " Barnes told reporters. "And I think he's been preparing, waiting for this moment to show on a consistent basis what he can do.

"And there are some things he does out there, some of the steals he makes, the blocks he makes -- it's only things that he can do. So it's been great to see him continue to do that and show that consistently."

As the Kings sit in sixth place in a very wobbly Western Conference with just 14 regular-season games remaining, Ellis' impact will be crucial for Sacramento down the final stretch of the season and into the NBA playoffs.

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