In my experience, Perry Ellis is one of the more criticized players by fans of the Kansas Jayhawks. It's not that fans don't think he is good. But to steal a quote from Bill Self regarding Andrew Wiggins, it's that Ellis "leaves you wanting more."
It's easy to understand why. As a local product growing up and playing in Wichita, KS, fans have been following his career for quite some time. He finished his prep career as the state's all-time leading scorer (a record promptly broken by KU teammate Connor Frankamp a year later). He was 4-time state player year. A McDonald's All-American. Fans definitely had lofty expectations.
Coming in as a freshman, many figured he would start alongside Jeff Whithey down low. Somewhat disappointingly, Ellis could not out-perform journeyman and fan-favorite Kevin Young for the starting role.
As a sophomore, many expected big things from Ellis. Along with junior point guard Naadir Tharpe, Ellis was the one of two returning players with substantial playing time under his belt. Ellis finished last season second on the team in points (13.5 ppg) and rebounds (6.7).
Yet sometimes, the dreaded four-letter word crept into the conversation about Ellis's play: soft. His defense was lackluster. He had difficulty finishing against contact. Fair or not, he was perceived by many to not have the necessary toughness for the position. It didn't help that Self had "the bruise brothers" of Jamari Traylor and Tarik Black spelling minutes in the post, both of who possess physical games that contrast with that of Ellis.
To be sure, Ellis is in a different mold than that of a prototypical power forward. Perhaps the best description of him would be a "tweener". A hybrid 3/4. He typically isn't going to bang down low and get 15 rebounds per game. Or back his man down and overpower him on the way to the rim.
But once we accept that, we can perhaps appreciate the immense talents that Ellis provides. He is a gifted scorer with range. In addition to an assortment of post moves and an impressive mid-range game, Ellis added the three point shot to his repertoire last season, connecting on 8 of 17 attempts (47.1%). He can also attack his man off the dribble.
Earlier this month Ellis had pretty much everyone at the LeBron James skills camp heaping praise on him. While earlier in the series I said that Wayne Selden was an early favorite to lead the team in scoring, given Self's preference to play inside-out, I think the favorite is Ellis.
We've seen other power forwards make "the leap" in their junior seasons before: Thomas Robinson and Markieff Morris most notably. I think that is the expectation for Ellis - to take the next step. For Ellis, that might mean shoring up his defense, or becoming more of a force on the glass. Perhaps forming some special chemistry with whoever starts alongside him down low.
If he can do one or more of those things, I think you'll notice the sound of his critics begin to fade considerably.
It has been fun to watch the development of Jamari Traylor. While his physique drew immediate comparisons to Thomas Robinson once Traylor arrived on campus, most saw him as a project. Many wondered whether he would ever be a meaningful contributor at an elite level program like Kansas. Some thought Self had only brought him in as a ploy to entice IMG Academy teammate Deandre Daniels to come to Lawrence. Others thought he was just an athletic body that Self was reaching on to fill out the roster in the wake of other recruiting misses (Kaleb Tarczewski was the big man Self was reportedly "all in" for that year).
Traylor has come a long way from being the fringe/marginal player many saw him as in 2011 when he arrived on campus only to have to sit out a year as a partial qualifier. To go from that, to being one of the players that saved the team from what would have been an embarrassing defeat at the hands of No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky in the opening round of the NCAA tournament a year is truly impressive. In that game, Traylor scored 17 points and grabbed 14 rebounds off the bench.
No longer simply a player who scores all of his points on garbage baskets (put-backs and the like), Traylor has added to his arsenal a respectable jump shot from out to 12 feet or so, as well as possessing the ability to put the ball on the court and drive the lane.
On defense, he is usually a bit smaller to effectively guard more skilled post players. He is good for a highlight reel worthy block once per game though.
Traylor figures to have a similar role as he did last year, and that is the first big off the bench. The challenge for Traylor will be to maintain or improve his effectiveness in the absence of Tarik Black, with whom he had developed a special on-court chemistry.
I haven't forgotten about prized freshman Cliff Alexander, but I'll go more in-depth on him in the final article of this series.
Prediction: No-brainer - Ellis retains his starting position in the post. Traylor subs in as the first big off the bench.