SALT LAKE CITY – Wayne Ellington is not your NBA household name. He was drafted 28th overall in 2009, played for six teams in his first seven years and has averaged more than 10 points a game once.
But when Ellington hit free agency last summer, the Miami Heat were well aware of his game.
After all, few players seemed to save their best for the Heat like Ellington.
“I think he was auditioning all those other years,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Ellington needed just two games to show the Heat he can torment other teams like he did the Heat for so many years. In just his second game after missing more than a month with a deep thigh bruise, Ellington had one of the most impressive shooting performances of the season by a Heat perimeter player in Denver Wednesday, knocking down four fourth quarter three-pointers while helping Miami rally for 106-98 victory. Ellington finished with 22 points and made 5-of-9 from beyond the circle.
“Wayne just gives us a different dimension,” Spoelstra said.
Ellington signed a two-year free agent contract this summer and will earn $6 million this season. He started four games in the preseason before taking a knee to his thigh in final game, an injury that was much worse than first appeared. After missing the first 16 games, he finally was able to make his Heat debut Monday and scored nine points in 27 minutes.
As we found out 48 hours later, that was just a tease.
Ellington came off the bench and missed his only shot of the first quarter. He had seven points at the half and 10 after three quarters.
Then the Ellington the Heat have seen the last seven years emerged. After missing his first shot of the fourth quarter, Ellington drilled three three-pointers in a 4:46 span. The Heat went from down five at the start of the quarter to up five on Ellington’s third three. His fourth three-pointer of the quarter came with 2:25 to play and gave Miami a 101-91 lead.
Ellington was surprised with the room he was given by Denver’s Wilson Chandler.
“I got two open looks (late in the third quarter and early in the fourth) and I missed them,” Ellington said. “I told Tyler (Johnson) the next time we were running a play look at his shot first but watch me in the corner because sometimes Chandler’s falling asleep. And he did that and he hit me and I knocked that one down.
“As a shooter, man, once you get rolling and knock one, two down in a row, that’s when you feel pretty good.”
Ellington wasn’t the only one feeling good. Spoelstra has been on the other side of those kinds of performances a few times. Three times Ellington has scored at least 20 points against the Heat (with three different teams), yet he was averaging just 7.1 points in his career entering the season.
Ellington’s career high is 28, which came against Washington in 2015, but he has 25- and 26-point games against the Heat. His is averaging 11.1 points against Miami in his career, more than against any other opponent.
If Ellington can give the Heat any outside shooting, it would be a huge boost to an offense that has had to rely so much on the inside scoring of Hassan Whiteside.
“When we make shots, we’re a different team,” Ellington said. “That gets contagious, honestly. Once one guy starts hitting threes, then the next guy starts wanting to get involved and the next guy, so it’s like a trickle effect, because it goes down the line
“And that’s the way it needs to be for us. For our team to be successful, we’ve got to have that aspect.”