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Is CJ Elleby Going To Stick In The NBA?

Maybe, I guess. Let’s keep watching.

Portland Trail Blazers v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

Charles James Elleby has started in double digit games for the Portland Trail Blazers this season — a sentence not one Blazers fan would have anticipated reading in October.

But injuries and a new roster direction left the re-tooling Blazers in dire need of any warm bodies capable of manning the wing positions.

Selected with the 46th pick in 2020, the relative unknown Elleby was less than an afterthought at the draft. I distinctly recall our draft expert Steve Dewald hurriedly sifting through his notes that night, trying to offer a rational reason as to why the Blazers might have selected the former Washington State Cougar.

He wrote:

Overall, Elleby is a high-motor player that warrants attention from opposing defenses on the perimeter. In the realm of second-round picks, those are two attributes that often translate to a roster spot. The Blazers have a proven development system, and Elleby’s willingness to work inside the margins could earn him praise from coach Terry Stotts’ staff.

Elleby’s two-year college career proved he was able to hit the long ball, averaging 16.6 points on 36 percent three point shooting, 7.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.4 steals. And at 6-6 and weighing roughly 200 pounds, he was that archetypal wing — still so much in demand by NBA teams — comfortably able to split his time between shooting guard and small forward.

But how was Elleby, the player, going to translate when he squeezed that hair through an NBA jersey?

Well, aside from 15 surprise points scored on an injury-riddled Blazers team in Philadelphia in February 2021, Elleby was pretty much given the usual Terry Stotts rookie treatment his first season.

But unlike teammates Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little and Gary Trent Jr., Elleby’s expectations were considerably lower — given a much more low-key spruiking from his drafter Neil Olshey on his arrival in Oregon. Consequently, there were few surprises when after one season, Elleby had played in a lowly 30 games, averaging an uninspiring 6.4 minutes, 2.3 points on 20 percent three point shooting to go along with 1.1 boards.

As we approached the start of the 2021-22 season, it probably wasn’t a stretch to assume that Elleby was unlikely to get another contract after his current deal came to an end this summer. Especially given the same number of players sat ahead of him on the Portland depth chart with his only likely minutes coming alongside Keljin Blevins, Trendon Watford and Greg Brown III in junk time.

You also had Chauncey Billups hoping to get his coaching career off to a positive start and the Blazers into the playoffs, unlikely to trust the 21-year-old with the team's mission to the top of the standings.

Elleby didn’t help his case either. In the rare minutes he did see, he lacked composure, making regular unforced errors while rarely seeing his shot drop.

But suddenly, a series of roadblocks put a premature end to the Blazers playoff aspirations. Namely, Damian Lillard’s abdomen, CJ McCollum’s right lung, Nassir Little’s left shoulder, Cody Zeller’s right patella, Larry Nance Jr.’s right knee, and, you know, COVID 19. Oh yeah, and Neil Olshey being shown the door for generally despicable behavior.

Enter Interim General Manager Joe Cronin and his mission to white out Olshey’s rap sheet, re-calibrating the roster to compete no earlier than next season.

Pathways previously closed to Elleby were now open with the wing soon playing 25-plus minutes a night. And with more court time came more opportunity leading to increased scoring, better defense, hustle plays, composure and an overall improved feel for the game.

Since Elleby has joined the rotation, he has yet to score more than 11 points in a single game and is shooting under 15 percent from downtown. But perhaps his true value hasn’t shone in the box score with those hustle plays, aggression and second and third efforts, demanding the viewer, at least, take another look.

Just to be clear, none of the above translates to Elleby necessarily being a legitimate NBA Player. He still lacks polish and one standout skill, but at least the NBA universe has a better understanding of who he is.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to the headline question. But I’m definitely more intrigued and have to acknowledge the genuine kick I get every time an energetic Elleby play comes off.

I still expect him to miss whenever he pulls up from beyond the arc and I’m still not surprised by the careless unforced errors, but I’m enjoying the show a whole lot more. Whether he’s still in the NBA next season is a mystery but it only takes one team to see something.

I just honestly don't see it being the Portland Trail Blazers.