In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, this time, we examine Washington State wing CJ Elleby.
Despite being a member of a Pac-12 conference featuring some of college basketball’s most historic programs, Washington State is not a school known for sending many basketball players to the NBA. The last Cougar to be drafted was Klay Thompson way back in 2011. In fact, there have only been three players total drafted out of Washington State since 1989.
But as is common knowledge, later picks in the NBA draft are the ultimate international manhunt for overlooked talent. No matter the program a prospect attends, if you excel, scouts and organizations will certainly take interest.
CJ Elleby was listed as one of the 105 players in the initial potential combine invites and may just break that very draft streak. Does he have what it takes to join Thompson and the undrafted Aron Baynes as current Cougars in the NBA?
Elleby had slightly differing freshman and sophomore seasons, in which his shooting efficiency dipped from year one to two in tandem with an uptick in shot volume. He went from 17.1 points on 14.0 shot attempts per 36 minutes in 2018-19 to 19.9 points on 16.8 attempts per 36 minutes in 2019-20, but married that with a minor slide from 53.1 TS% to 51.9 TS%. Across both campaigns, he shot 44.3% from two, 36.7% from three, and 74.9% from the free throw line.
Charles James “CJ” Elleby is a 6’6”, 200-pound shooting guard who can space the floor and handle the ball for stretches. He averaged 32.2 minutes per game in 64 contests, and was a major focal point for the Cougars’ offense over the last two seasons.
While he possesses a good enough handle to get himself free for shot opportunities, his most projectable offensive skill is his spot up shooting. If he can dial back his overall usage — 28.2% for his career — and become more consistent moving without the ball and finding open areas of the court, he can put that catching-and-shooting skills to great use at the next level.
He is among the best in the country when pulling from deep when the defense isn’t yet set in semi-transition, like below.
Elleby was more than just a spot up guy at the collegiate level, however. He kept afloat a poor Washington State offense that ranked 140th and 182nd in adjusted efficiency per Kenpom with his control of the offense.
He used his dribble to navigate into the paint at times and keep defenses from sitting on his jumper. This allowed him to draw contact and get to the line at a decent clip with a career FT/FGA rate of .307. In addition, he finished fairly comfortably with either hand around the rim.
Still, he more often chose to pull up and shoot off his live dribble. He can create space with his crossovers and step backs like in the clip below.
While didn’t show a ton playmaking for others, a career mark of 2.73 assists per game undersells his passing ability a bit, as he can whip impressive passes around with either hand. Unfortunately, those passes found the hands of teammates on a sub-.500 team in conference for each of the last two seasons, which helps to explain that gap in production.
Elleby has a great motor on the defensive end. He can be seen constantly on his toes with his head on a swivel and practically dancing around when locked in on defense. He is a willing and productive helper all over the court, ranging from sideline to sideline when needed. For these efforts, he managed to cause a good bit of havoc at 2.3 steals plus blocks per 36 minutes over his career.
First, an example of a steal and finish.
Then, for good measure, a chase down block in transition.
He’ll chip in on the boards, as well, using his great activity to pull down 8.4 rebounds per 36 minutes, including 1.6 on the offensive side. For his accomplishments in his sophomore season, Elleby was named to a spot on the 2019-20 All Pac-12 team. All in all, Elleby has shown flashes of all the tools required of a complementary player in the 3-and-D mold at the next level. If the consistency and decision-making can continue to improve, he may surprise some people as a true NBA contributor going forward.
CJ Elleby’s shooting numbers dipped in sophomore season, as detailed above, in large part because his shot selection can swing wildly from game to game and even possession to possession. He doesn’t do a good job finishing in traffic or shooting while closely contested and can quickly toggle into chucker mode if his shots aren’t falling.
Similarly, Elleby is not a particularly good finisher in the paint, shooting just 44.3% on two-point attempts across two seasons. He doesn’t possess a floater or a push shot in his arsenal, and generally only looks comfortable pulling up in full jump shot form from anywhere outside the restricted area.
A lot of this can be chalked up to his sub-optimal athleticism when projecting to the NBA level. Elleby doesn’t seem to trust that he can alter his shot form when needed. To that end, he also often settles for low percentage mid-range shots off the dribble when ran off the three point line as opposed to continuing downhill.
It’s not a huge weakness as he’s shown an ability to shoot fairly efficiently when unguarded, but his shot mechanics are less than conventional. Elleby has a funky left handed shot that he launches from over his head and slightly from the right side. His feet aren’t always lined up to the basket when he shoots and his legs tend to flare out on the release. Occasionally, he’ll put up an awkward attempt off the dribble while fading to one side.
Another drawback is that he’s just not a good pick and roll ball handler at a paltry 0.725 PPP — points per possession, per Synergy — on 80 possession in career. NBA teams ask their wings to orchestrate side pick-and-rolls more and more these days, and Elleby didn’t quite rise to this task in college.
He’s not an overly physical defender, and can get caught deploying a type of matador defense and fail to sacrifice his body for stops.
Again, he largely contributes to the defense with his activity away from the point of attack, especially out near the wings and corners. But he just didn’t show much of an ability to lock down skilled players in isolation situations. Certainly these flaws can be mitigated by slotting him into the right system going forward, but again his average at best athleticism will cap his ceiling in that regard.
Possible fit with the Hawks
Elleby profiles as a potential two-way or 3-and-D wing at the NBA level, but it requires a level of squinting in observation. He helped a frankly mediocre 2019-20 Washington State team elevate to a .500 overall record before the premature conclusion of the college basketball season, but will have to transition into a player who can operate without the ball in his hands to find success.
The Hawks have a bevy of young wings due to the significant amounts of draft capital they’ve invested in acquiring recently. Elleby deserves a fair amount of consideration with the 50th pick in such a weak draft, but the redundancy with the current roster likely pushes the Hawks away from this particular selection. Still, there’s hope he can catch on — potentially in the form of a Two-Way contract — with a team in the league, contribute, and just maybe his ridiculous mop top can one day be the darling of NBA Twitter.