Perry Ellis thrived for Kansas in the shadows of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid last season.
Those shadows have vanished, as Wiggins and Embiid parlayed their star power into NBA contracts, and the Lawrence limelight will hit Ellis in 2014-15.
Well, not exactly.
Bill Self inked a pair of elite recruits: Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre. Both freshmen will start for the Jayhawks from Day 1, drawing NBA scouts to Allen Fieldhouse from November through the end of the season.
Alexander is a 6’9” beast, packing 240 pounds of muscle. He’s a force inside. Just watch him swat shot after shot into the stands.
Oubre is a “very good athlete” and an “effective scorer inside the arc," according to Draft Express. The reputable scouting site lists Alexander (No. 2) and Oubre (No. 12) as lottery picks in its most recent 2015 mock NBA draft. But for all the hype that Alexander and Oubre will bring to Kansas, they will also bring youth.
Ellis, on the other hand, has two seasons of high-major experience circulating through his 6'8" frame. He also impressed several college basketball pundits at the LeBron James Skills Academy in early July.
Perry Ellis. And I thought he was very good last year. RT @smithers513: most improved player you've seen out there?— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) July 10, 2014
Perry Ellis is playing at another level right now. Doing all of the intangibles. #LeBronJamesSkillsAcademy— Coach John Lucas (@CoachJohnLucas1) July 10, 2014
Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star wrote that Ellis focused on his defense at the camp. At times last season, Dodd writes, Ellis struggled defending skilled power forwards.
If Ellis can mitigate that deficiency, he will have a special junior season for a Jayhawks team that will appear in the preseason top 10.
Entering his third season at Kansas, Ellis will be counted on to lead Self’s latest reloading project. Self believes Ellis can compete for first-team All-Big 12 honors, and the trip to Las Vegas offered Ellis an extended look at some of the top players from around the country.
Ellis, a third-team All-Big 12 honoree last year, has already displayed the tools to be an effective scorer at college basketball's highest level. He does most of his damage from inside the arc—he converted eight of his 17 three-point attempts in 2013-14—and he is one of the nation's most efficient offensive players.
Only two returning high-major players used in at least 20 percent of their team's 2013-14 possessions posted higher offensive ratings than Ellis' 123.6, according to KenPom.com, and Oregon's Joseph Young and Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky aren't bad names to be associated with in basketball circles.
In the video below, you can see complete highlights of Ellis' 20-point performance against Iowa State. Watch the variety of ways in which he scores: post moves, jumpers, cuts to the rim.
According to Hoop-Math.com, 54.3 percent of Ellis' 317 field-goal attempts came at the rim in 2013-14. He converted 65.1 percent of those shots, a few points higher than Wiggins' 63.6 percent.
Ellis' putback numbers illuminate his dexterity around the rim.
Hoop-Math.com defines putbacks as "shots taken by a player within four seconds of getting an offensive rebound." Just 25 of Ellis' 172 at-rim shots were putbacks. He converted 61.9 percent of them, which is fine, but the percentage isn't as important as the proportion of putbacks to total at-rim shots.
Hoop-Math.com does not calculate personal transition percentages, and Ellis undoubtedly netted several at-rim shots in the open court. Nonetheless, the putback numbers suggest he doesn't just thrive while the defense is in disarray.
How far will the Jayhawks go in 2014-15?
Though Ellis proved he has range beyond the three-point line, he launched the majority of his jumpers from inside the arc.
Those mid-range jumpers accounted for 40.4 percent of his field-goal attempts last year. He nailed 42.2 percent of them. Of the 10 Jayhawks to shoot 10 or more two-point jumpers, only Naadir Tharpe (47.6 percent) buried a higher percentage.
Tharpe asked for his release from the program, leaving Ellis as the team's most effective mid-range shooter. That's important because Ellis' ability to stretch the floor will create space for Oubre and Wayne Selden to operate. And for all Ellis' offensive prowess, don't forget he's also Kansas' leading returning rebounder at 6.7 per game.
Of course, Ellis is not the only key player as Kansas vies to redeem last year's round of 32 exit.
Can Frank Mason sufficiently run the offense? How much has Selden's game developed in the offseason? How quickly can Alexander and Oubre adjust to the college game?
We'll learn the answers to those questions in time, but for now, we know what Ellis brings to the table: offensive efficiency, improving defense and veteran leadership. Mix that in with Kansas' young talent, and the Jayhawks will contend for the 2014-15 national title.