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Perry Ellis Is Back: The Revival Of Kansas' Best Player

Perry Ellis drew criticism for struggling early on this season, but has experienced a revival over the past six games after Bill Self made adjustments to put him in better positions offensively.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Although Kansas head coach Bill Self has spent the season adjusting to a roster without a dominant big man, he's been consistent in one respect. He wants junior forward Perry Ellis to be the team's best player. Self identified Ellis as the team's go-to player back in December on a podcast with ESPN's Andy Katz. "I'd turn to Perry. I'd put the ball in Perry's hands in some way, shape or form," Self said about important situations.

Ellis, though, hadn't played like the team's best player and critiques started to roll in. His effective field goal percentage-a statistic that gives a boost for 3-point shooting-has declined by nearly 10 percent this season. The criticism peaked when Ellis finished with seven points on 1-for-8 shooting in the Jayhawks' 67-57 victory over Oklahoma State in mid-January.

Self stuck by the junior. Days later, he called Ellis "just a fraction away," saying "I think he's got to be our go-to guy and I don't think he's far off." Self, as usual, was right. Although Kansas would lose at Iowa State, Ellis responded with 19 points and 11 rebounds in the 86-81 defeat. In the six games since his coach reaffirmed his commitment to playing through Ellis, the big man is posting numbers much more similar to last season while averaging 15.0 points per game.






Last 6 Games












One of the key adjustments Self has made is to focus on the strengths of his best player. "If you watched us play, historically, we want to play inside-out early, but this is not an inside-out team. So we want to play through Ellis as much as we can, maybe as a perimeter player to work back inside off the drive or whatnot," he said after the Jayhawks' win over Kansas State. Let's take a look at how Kansas is using Ellis over the past few games to get a feel for how Self has adjusted.

As Self mentioned, one option is to give Ellis the opportunity to play as a perimeter player where he can face up and drive against his defender. Ellis has good ball-handling skills for a big man and is often going to be quicker than the man guarding him. In this instance, Ellis is able to use his quickness to get past Kansas State's Thomas Gipson for a high percentage shot.

Self has also used Ellis in pick-and-pop situations to create the same effect. Here, Ellis is able to face up against Oklahoma's TaShawn Thomas and drive to his right where he finished with a nice running hook shot.

The next wrinkle that Self has used is to include Ellis in his patented weave motion along the perimeter. In this first example, the penetration of point guard Frank Mason creates space for Ellis to take an in rhythm jumper from the left elbow where he is shooting 45 percent this season, per

Ellis can also deliver for his teammates from the weave as he did on this following possession, hitting Landen Lucas in the post for an easy bucket.

Finally, Self is allowing Ellis to shoot from beyond the 3-point line more often this season. In 13 less games, Ellis has already doubled his 3-point attempts this season. While his percentage is down, he's still a very serviceable 3-point shooter at 35.3 percent and showed off the ability to hit a trailing 3-point shot without hesitation against Iowa State. Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress noted that skill be important for Ellis' draft stock.

Self has called the past few games an "uptick" for Ellis. For his part, Ellis says he's still growing and learning. Some analysts might ascribe the improved play to an ambiguous concept like effort or confidence, but Ellis is finally playing like the Jayhawks' best player in large part because Self is doing more to get him the ball in positions where he is more comfortable. His ability to space the floor creates driving lanes for the Jayhawks' wings, gives room for players like Cliff Alexander to operate, and provides Ellis with plenty of chances to score. If Ellis can maintain his level of play from the prior six games, Kansas has an opportunity to make a deep tournament run come March.