Looking for answers concerning #22.
So with a little under five seconds left and the Heels trailing by two Ty Lawson took the inbounds, drew the attention of three Clemson defenders and found Wayne Ellington who drilled the game winning three in OT to knock off the Tigers. It was a seminal game for Ellington in many ways and on this blog I readily declared that the missed three versus Georgetown, which could have sent UNC to a Final Four, had finally been redeemed. The 36 point performance at Littlejohn was an exclamation point on what most considered to be Ellington living up to expectations during the first two months of the season. Gone were the questions which swirled around Ellington in 2007 and the various doubts which were fodder for blog and message board alike largely disappeared along with Clemson’s hope of beating the #1 Heels.
With the 3-14 shooting performance versus Duke this week, Ellington is once again facing those questions thought to be buried at Clemson. And while the doubts seemed to come to life with the spotlight on him versus Duke, the pattern of poor shooting had been there for several games. So far UNC has been able to get by with the exception of the Maryland game and now Duke where the lack of offensive production from Ellington in both games was a significant factor in UNC losing. The frustrating aspect about all of this, and for him it is probably to the point of wanting to pull hair out, is how the shooting just went south after the Clemson game. This was exactly the opposite of what most of us thought would happen. Everyone assumed the 36 point outburst would give him confidence and be the spark that would make him one of the most dangerous shooters in the ACC. For whatever reason that has not been the case as the stats have shown.
As odd as this might sound, the Clemson game seems to have had some kind of negative impact on Ellington’s offensive game. The most logical explanation is UNC opponents began keying on Ellington more following the outburst at Cemson which in turn lead to a serious reduction in offensive efficiency. Even beyond that I wonder to what extent the success at Clemson robbed Ellington of his primary motivation and that is redemption for the Georgetown miss. Ellington, as much as any other Tar Heel, took the failure in the regional final on a personal level. With the success against Clemson, Ellington lost the Georgetown game as a motivation since it was accepted he had finally found redemption for the loss. Obviously this is completely impossible to prove and something Ellington himself can answer. Increased defensive scrutiny is the more plausible reason but I personally think some of the fire sparked by the loss to Georgetown was doused a bit with the performance at Clemson. And it is also possible, Ellington is also hurt by the loss of Bobby Frasor who was there to push Ellington and spell him with solid defense. Without Frasor, Ellington finds himself playing more minutes but also giving more focus to his defense, which on one level is great, but also might be impacting his offense.
The question is: What can be done? The answer: Not much. Sitting Ellington does not really work since there is no one who can step up and play his slot without shifting other players around in the lineup. If Frasor were healthy, Roy could play him more beside Lawson until Ellington finds his shot. Then again, it is not like Ellington has a bad attitude or is slacking on the court. I think he is giving it all he has but the shots are not falling and against Duke, his shooting was beyond dreadful. Some of what happened against the Devils had to do with shot selection and an off night. Resolving the former might go a little ways towards solving the latter.
I have heard it said that a shooter in a slump just needs to shoot his way out of it. Maybe the Duke game was rock bottom and Ellington will start warming up in response to this extensive multiple game slump. Unlike last season where clear options were available with the personnel to reduce Ellington’s minutes in favor of more productive players, this season that is not on the table. Personally, I think his body of work in the first 15 games of the season illustrates an ability to be that shooter from the outside UNC needs. In light of that, he may have earned a little grace to work it out. In the end the lack of personnel and the fact we know what he can do means this is something UNC has to ride out. The one great hope is when the time comes, Ellington will be more Donald than Shammond with the season is on the line.