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Malik Ellison returns confident for his sophomore season

“I’ve been putting in a lot of work,” says the 6’6” sophomore wing.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Marquette vs St. John's Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

After the rough introduction to college coaching that was Chris Mullin’s first season at the helm of St. John’s men’s basketball, there is only room to improve. And despite big names in Shamorie Ponds, Bashir Ahmed and Marcus LoVett joining, possibly the most intriguing player to watch is entering his sophomore year is the talented wing Malik Ellison.

Malik Ellison had a down and up freshman year, struggling to shoot (and reluctant to take shots) early on in the season, but with more of an offensive touch after returning from injury. Not only did his shooting improve, but his late season surge showed us a totally different player.

“This offseason, I've been putting in a lot of work,” said Ellison, speaking to the Rumble this week at St. John’s Media Day. “I was trying to make sure my confidence level was in the right place. I'm very confident in my team and I feel like it's going to be a big year.”

According to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports, Ellison is being regarded as the most improved player on the roster since the end of last season by Mullin’s staff. And a big part of being “improved” will simply be playing time.

“Honestly, I had an early injury last year and it kind of messed up my rhythm,” said Ellison. “But when I came back and I got a couple of games under my belt, the coaches just kept telling me that you have to be confident, keep attacking and just play your game. It got to the point where I got comfortable with the speed of college basketball. Towards the end of the season, everything just came together for me.”

Still, if that natural comfort is going to lead to more production this season, Ellison will need to make serious leaps in all departments, putting some polish on his raw game.

The most glaring issue is that Ellison has the tools to get to the rim, but missed makable shots once he reached the basket; he shot just 39.5% from inside the arc. And the 32% shooting from outside the arc needs improvement as well.

St. John's vs Georgetown 1-14-16
Malik Ellison drives to the bucket
Wendell Cruz

The ability to get to the basket was apparent in the number of attempts he got at the free throw line. He had 101 attempts, good for second best on the team despite only playing in 24 games - that is a 78% ratio of free throws taken to shots taken, which is very high rate in the NCAA. But Ellison shot just 65% from the line last season, and his shooting numbers everywhere else weren’t any better.

Ellison showed the ability to be a secondary ballhandler, but he turned the ball over at an alarming rate. Although he had promising games, leading the team in assists seven times, his assist to turnover ratio was mediocre, a 1:1 ratio (63 turnovers to 62 assists). That should drop tremendously with Marcus LoVett coming in and taking over the ball-handling duties, but between the turnovers and shot-selection, it shows that a lot of Ellison’s progression this season will depend on studying film and applying what he learns.

On defense, Ellison also knows he has much room for improvement. Improving his concentration, lateral quickness, as well as his strength, have to be a priority for Ellison to not be a defensive liability, despite the shot blockers behind him.

“We have a lot of confidence in our big men to make the play if we get beat,” said Ellison. “But obviously we don't want to rely on them too much, that's why we're getting our concepts right and making sure our guards are in the right spots.”

“I want to win this year,” added Ellison. “Last year was a rough season for everybody. I look forward to showcasing my talents and everything I worked on this summer. “

Should he remain healthy and play with more poise, his efficiency could skyrocket and match his potential. If he truly is St. John’s most improved player since last season, Ellison could have a breakout sophomore year.

It’s all on him.