For SuperSonics swingman Dale Ellis, the NBA's alltime leader in three-point field goals, making a three really isn't all that difficult—it's getting open that's tough. "All I need is one step to get my shot off," says Ellis, who has 1,528 treys over his 15-year career, "but sometimes you have to work hard for that one step."
Ellis, like Steve Kerr, Reggie Miller, Glen Rice and other long-range specialists, must constantly battle dogged defenders intent on denying him an open look at the basket. It takes guts, guile and deception—and maybe a screen or two from a teammate—before he can get the ball on his own little Ellis island. "Some guys do a lot of holding to try to keep you from coming off picks," Ellis says. "It can be frustrating, to say the least."
At such times the key for Ellis is to remain patient. Although Seattle coach George Karl will occasionally call a play designed to get him the ball at a certain spot on the floor, Ellis must usually wait his turn behind the team's top scoring options, point guard Gary Payton and forward Vin Baker. "I just try to keep moving, and I never take my eyes off the ball," he says. "In our offense any player can get a shot off any play. We might have a play designed for Vin to score on the block, but if the defense doubles on him or makes a mistake, he'll kick it out to the open man. It's my job to be ready."
Occasionally, Ellis will also create a shot for himself while face-to-face with a defender, using a jab step to throw his man off balance. "You always jab in the opposite direction you're going," he says. "If you can throw him off for even a half second, it allows you to get the step you need to get into your shot." And if the defender doesn't bite on the fake? "Then you just take it to the hole for a layup," Ellis says.
Another way Ellis gets good three-point looks is by spotting up in transition. "I love trailing on the fast break, where my teammate will take the ball to the middle and dish it out to me on the wing," Ellis says. "Sometimes I might even let the guy on the other wing run out ahead of me to draw the defense toward him. That way I've got a wide-open shot on the opposite side."
Conventional wisdom might dictate putting a rangy defender on a three-point specialist to keep him from getting a clear view of the rim, but the 6' 7" Ellis doesn't buy that approach. "I can get open a lot easier against taller, slower guys, either by going around them or running them off screens," Ellis says. "Smaller, quicker guys do a better job denying me the basketball, but I can shoot over them."
Ellis, who was mainly a post-up player at Tennessee and in his early NBA years with the Mavericks, has learned the perimeter game well. At week's end he was burying a league-high 49.3% of his three-point attempts, including 31 of his last 45. Try to keep him from getting open? That's a long shot indeed.