Iowa Basketball: Brady Ellingson Starting To Find His Role

After a year and a half of inconsistent play, Brady Ellingson is finally starting to find a role with Iowa basketball.

Throughout his season and a half with Iowa basketball, Brady Ellingson has shown signs of the type of player Fran McCaffery hoped he would become when he recruited him out of Sussex, Wisconsin, but it has come in spurts.

Despite seeing the most consistent playing time of his young career, Ellingson’s play has still been inconsistent.

In 2015-16, Ellingson scored 20 points in the second game of the season against Coppin State. He didn’t score double-digit points the rest of the season and only topped five points eight more times. Ellingson also seemingly fell out of the rotation by the end of the year.

The Hawkeyes needed Ellingson this year with four seniors gone from a season ago. His 23 points against Savannah State, again in the second game of the season, gave Iowa hope that he would be a reliable option off the bench this season. Over the next couple of months, Ellingson topped 10 points three times but continued to be an inconsistent contributor off the bench.

Although, possibly helped by Peter Jok‘s back injury that kept him out of two games, Ellingson has found his footing with the Hawkeyes off the bench over the past week and a half.

The shooting guard exploded for the third-highest scoring mark of his career, 17 points against Ohio State, a couple of weeks ago. Then, last week, he followed it up with six points against Rutgers and 11 points against Nebraska. Less than a month removed from playing fewer than 10 minutes in three of five games, Ellingson has turned into a vital part of Iowa’s much improved bench.

Ellingson has shown more potential this season than just his 23 point game against Savannah State. He leads the Big Ten in three-point shooting at 56.3 percent, yet he averages just two three-point attempts per game. That is the least of any player ranked in the top 45 of three-point shooting in the conference.

Therefore, his high three-point percentage could simply be credited towards not taking a lot of threes like Jordan Bohannon or Jok, but it’s become clear over the past three games that he’s simply a very good outside shooter. Ellingson has made 10-of-14 threes (71.4 percent) over the past three games.

Although, it does highlight the biggest difference in his game over the past couple of weeks — confidence and aggressiveness on offense. Ellingson’s 10 made threes over the past three games are the same amount of threes he made in Iowa’s previous 16 games. In fact, Ellingson made just four three-pointers in Big Ten play before playing Ohio State.

As good of a shooter as Ellingson is, he’s not a one-trick pony on offense. The Hawkeyes tried to benefit on his three-point shooting by sticking him in the corner or only running plays where he shot threes. Doing that led to him only attempting a couple of shots a game and not being able to get into a rhythm, as well as wasting his ability as a playmaker.

Ellingson isn’t Bohannon at the point, but he is nifty with the basketball in his hands. Playing 25, 24 and 25 minutes in the past three games, Iowa gave Ellingson a bigger role on offense, especially when he scored 11 points in the first half against Ohio State.

Playing more with the ball in his hands resulted in Ellingson recording three assists against the Buckeyes and five assists against Rutgers and Nebraska. In comparison, Bohannon only has seven assists in the past three games compared to Ellingson’s 13. Ellingson’s current pace, 4.3 assists per game, ranks second on the team this season.

It’s a testament to his aggressiveness and desire to make plays instead of only looking for an open three like earlier in the season. Sure, it has led to a couple of questionable shots out of his range, but it’s not like Bohannon hasn’t fired up his fair share of ill-advised threes this season.

With the struggles Christian Williams has had running the offense this season, a team-high 4.2 assists per 40 minutes in conference play, Iowa is in need of another ball-handler other than Bohannon. It keeps opposing teams honest on defense and allows Bohannon to play off-the-ball at times.

Plus, Iowa’s fast-paced offense that has hoisted the most shots in the Big Ten and fourth most threes could use another consistent scorer, especially a three-point shooter since they’re only sixth and eighth in field-goal and three-point percentage, respectively, in the conference.

Nicholas Baer and Cordell Pemsl will almost always help the team in some way, but Iowa’s backcourt depth in Dom Uhl and Ellingson has been questionable this season.

Ellingson doesn’t need to continue averaging 11.3 points, 4.3 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game on 63.2 percent shooting from the field and 71.4 percent three-point shooting, but consistent play and being more than a mere three-point specialist is a vital part of Iowa continuing this success.

Also, it would give Iowa another option to give Jok more rest. He played 30 minutes against Nebraska after missing two games. The Hawkeyes need him to be healthy the rest of the season as they make one final push for an NCAA Tournament bid. Therefore not adding unnecessary playing time would help him stay healthier and not have a lingering back issue.

This might just be a small stretch of good games for Ellingson, similar to Ryan Kriener‘s outburst a couple of weeks ago. Although, considering he played 25 minutes against Nebraska despite Jok returning to the lineup, it’s safe to assume McCaffery will ride this hot streak as long as he can and continue to give him more freedom on offense.

The former three-star recruit might have finally found his role on the team, and it’s coming at the perfect time.

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