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It took one viewing of Class of 2015 guard prospect Malik Ellison to see his versatile skill set and potential, but it was the third viewing of Ellison this year in which he was finally able to put his entire game together. The junior wing from Life Center Academy (N.J.) had a big game against Maryland commit Jared Nickens and Westtown on Saturday as he exploded for a very efficient 22 points.
He outplayed Nickens in the game and certainly caught his attention.
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“He played really well,” Nickens said. “It was a fun challenge, a nice matchup to go against. He’s definitely one of the better guards I’ve played against this year.”
The first thing you notice about Ellison is his professionalism. As the son of a former NBA player, Ellison knows how to approach the game, and no stage seems too big for him. Going up against Nickens may be intimidating to some young players, but for him, it was nothing new. (“I never back down against anybody,” Ellison said afterwards.) He’s very calm and collected on the court and has an advanced understanding of the game.
Ellison considers his biggest strengths to be his size at guard, his scoring ability and his high basketball IQ. He stands close to 6 feet 5 and has grown up playing the point guard position. His current role at Life Center is more of a combo-guard type, however, although he looks to pass and handles the ball a lot.
His game at the next level seems to fit best as a small forward or, more accurately, a point-forward. Ellison is expected to grow at least another inch or two, so he should have the height for the position, and he’ll need to spend time in the weight room to be able to play the position.
Ellison’s style of play matches what the Terps are trying to do offensively very well. Maryland is progressing into more of a four-out, one-in offense as it tries to compose a lineup possible of putting three to four ball handlers on the floor at a time. Ellison would thrive as one of the bigger ball handlers in these lineups, and he’d complement the incoming shooters with his ability to drive and create perfectly. Ellison is the prototype for a dribble-drive offense.
His ability to slash to the rim is one of his best qualities. He has a terrific first step and really makes driving to the rim look easy. His offensive skill set is so versatile and he can transition from scorer to facilitator so easily that it never looks like he is forcing anything out on the court. He reads defenses well and is able to get to the hoop off the bounce from the top of the key without a ball screen. Everything seemingly comes easy to him.
Finishing at the rim on a more consistent basis will come with added strength, but more important, Ellison will have to work on his mid-range game. He’d be smart to add a pull-up game, and it’s something he’s acknowledged that he must improve to be a more consistent performer. He could even do some damage in the high post in the future as he grows physically. In terms of explosiveness, he’s very bouncy around the rim and has been known to finish a few lobs on backdoor plays.
Ellison is a good shooter — maybe even great, when he’s set — but he’s not a high-volume shooter from outside. His shot is a little flat, and he takes his time getting squared up for his shot. He’s the kind of player who should shoot high percentages from the free-throw line and from deep, but probably won’t be a first option off the ball as a spot-up threat because of his release.
Defensively, Ellison really struggled the first two games to guard without fouling. He seemed like a much different defender on Saturday, moving well laterally, pressuring the ball and making sure he stayed on the court. He’ll need to show he can stay out of foul trouble more consistently. Ellison has the tools to be a turnover-forcing threat in college with his ability to block shots and play the passing lanes. He’s a big-time leaper with great close-out speed, enabling him to get tough rebounds and chase-down blocks in transition. Toughness is something he can continue to focus on and show more of.
Reports from other sites of a Maryland offer to Ellison were premature, but an offer has now been extended by coach Mark Turgeon.
“I was happy,” Ellison said. “I found out because [Turgeon] told my dad. I talked to the coach, I stay in touch, so I was very excited.”
Maryland is going after him as hard as anyone — right up there with Syracuse (which hasn’t offered) and Miami. Ellison says Maryland is “up there,” although he doesn’t have a list. However, according to teammate Trayvon Reed, there is one caveat.
“He said he doesn’t want to go where his sister is at, but he would like to play on the same team as me,” Reed said.
Ellison’s sister, Aja, is a Class of 2014 Maryland signee, and his mom is a Maryland grad. His family seems very close-knit — attending all his games — and his thought process may very well change after spending a year away from his sister. I think his parents both have enough wisdom and experience to give him a clear picture. Reed does, too: He hasn’t given up on his pitch.
“I’ve been talking to him,” Reed said. “That would be a good move for him, I feel like. He’s a good player, and I feel like that’d be a good fit.”
Reed plans on attending Maryland’s game Wednesday against Miami, and I’d imagine that Ellison will be with him.