Kansas Basketball: Why Perry Ellis Is Jayhawks X-Factor

Ryan CuriFeatured ColumnistNovember 17, 2013

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 23:  Perry Ellis #34 of the Kansas Jayhawks drives to the goal against Adrick McKinney #24 of the TCU Horned Frogs at Allen Field House on February 23, 2013 in Lawrence, Kansas. Kansas won 74-48. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Perry Ellis' freshman season averages were 5.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.3 blocks and 0.4 steals in 13.6 minutes of playing time. Ellis shot 48 percent from the field and 74 percent from the foul line, while committing 1.3 fouls as a reserve forward.

Though only a small sample size, Ellis appears to be one of the most improved players in college basketball, making a major sophomore leap.

Through two games this season, Ellis is averaging 18.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 block and 1.5 steals in 32 minutes of action. He is shooting 67 percent from the floor and 79 percent from the charity stripe, while committing 2.5 fouls with his increased workload.

Though Ellis appears older than his sophomore status, he plays beyond his years with a high motor and great basketball IQ.

Ellis came to Lawrence as the 24th ranked player in the Rivals class of 2012. Only top-ranked class of 2013 star Andrew Wiggins has scored more points than Ellis through two games, while Ellis leads the squad on the boards. In Tuesday's win over Duke, Ellis, not Wiggins, was the star, scoring 24 points and grabbing nine rebounds.

While Ellis has clearly improved and become more assertive, his increased production shouldn't be too much of a surprise. Last season, Ellis played behind senior bigs Jeff Withey and Kevin Young, while also competing with current Jayhawk Jamari Traylor for minutes off of Bill Self's bench.

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 12:  Jabari Parker #1 of the Duke Blue Devils drives between Perry Ellis #34 and Frank Mason #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks during the State Farm Champions Classic at the United Center on November 12, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo b
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Jayhawks also lost their trio of starting guards from the 2012-13 team, Ben McLemore, Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson, leaving Ellis as the team's top returning scorer and rebounder. While being overshadowed by Wiggins and freshman Wayne Selden Jr., it's not crazy to think Ellis could indeed lead KU in scoring, rebounding or both.

Traylor, highly touted yet raw freshman Joel Embiid and Memphis transfer Tarik Black will all play alongside Ellis in the frontcourt this season, hoping to bring home a tenth straight Big 12 title. With plenty of talent and NBA potential on this roster, Bill Self has formed a mini dynasty during his decade at KU.

According to NBADraft.net, Ellis is currently projected to be picked 19th overall in next June's NBA draft. Despite being a fringe lottery pick, Ellis is actually the fourth Jayhawk projected to be selected, after Wiggins (1st), Embiid (4th) and Selden (12th). Black is also slotted at 46th, a second-round selection.

While it's clear Ellis has the upside necessary to play in the NBA, it's too early in the college basketball season to truly project who will be gone and who will be back a year from now. Should Ellis return to Lawrence, he and Cliff Alexander, who committed to Kansas on Friday afternoon, would form arguably the nation's top frontcourt in 2014-15.

The Jayhawks next play this Tuesday against Iona. The team's nonconference slate is far from easy, as KU will play Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Georgetown in succession during December. Ellis will continue to have opportunities to show the college basketball world, as well as NBA scouts, that he is the most important player to Kansas' success.