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Getting Open With Dale Ellis

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.


COLOR PHOTO: ROCKY WIDNER [Dale Ellis in game]