The narrative surrounding Octavius Ellis is one wrought with complications. He has gotten caught up in a handful of on-court scuffles, most notably the brawl during the 2011 Crosstown Shootout and his ejection from an NCAA Tournament game against Purdue last year. In light of these incidents, there are those on both sides of the fence when it comes to Ellis, with some calling him a "common thug" and others defending him as an aggressive and emotional player with a troubled personal history.
Attempting to pigeon-hole Ellis, or any player, into a specific stereotype based solely on a few moments of erroneous judgement is a path bursting with racial and cultural implications that runs far deeper than basketball. It is a path I am woefully unequipped to tackle, particularly without any real personal knowledge of Ellis or his past.
What I can say with certainty is that Ellis is a fantastic basketball player. The highlight reel alone makes that clear.
With a long, 6-foot-8 frame and the type of hops that make him seem capable of jetting into the rafters, busting through the arena roof and gliding into the stratosphere, Ellis is the ideal fit for Cincinnati, a team that puts all its chips into molding raw athletes into basketball wunderkinds. Ellis is all that and a bowl of Cincinnati chili.
In 2015, he led Cincinnati in scoring (9.9 ppg), rebounds (7.2 rpg) and blocks (2 bpg). He scored in double figures in 18 games, grabbed at least 10 rebounds in eight contests and recorded three double-doubles. He also rejected at least three shots in 14 games, including a six-swat block party against East Carolina. In the fantasy basketball realm, he would be a roto-player's dream, cramming the stat sheet to capacity.
But let's dive a little deeper. Just because you put up stats doesn't necessarily mean you are performing well, Just look at Evan Turner's production on the Philadelphia 76ers. Luckily, Ellis is not just a garbage time stat grabber. He is an explosive finisher at and on the rim and also worked in a solid mid-range jumper complete with off the bounce capabilities. His offensive rating of 110.2 was a cut above most players on the Cincinnati roster and his efficiency stats were the tops on the team, as he posted a PER of 23.0 and an effective field goal percentage of .557, both team highs. Ellis is one of the rare Cincinnati players who knows his limitations on offense and plays within them.
One limitation that Ellis can't exactly shy away from is his less than stellar showing at the free throw line. It is far from an individual problem, as it has been noted that Cincinnati as a whole struggles at the charity stripe. However, for a player that makes his living banging his way to the rim, Ellis could really elevate his game by making more than the 68.9 percent of foul shots he did last season.
Now let's talk rebounding. Ellis grabs boards in bunches and he does so despite not playing the prototypical forward spot. He may not be a 3-point threat, but he is a swingman at heart, so he is rarely posted up in the paint just waiting for missed shots to fall into his hands. He really works at getting good position and outworking others for loose balls, both on the glass and the floor. His offensive rebound rate (12.8 percent) was second to Gary Clark, as was his defensive rebound rate (18.3 percent).
Another thing Ellis has in common with Clark is how good he is at blocking shots. In fact, he was better than Clark in that regard by a notable margin. Ellis is a fantastic help defender and probably the best one-on-one guy on the team because of his ability to guard multiple positions. He is just as comfortable smothering an outside shooter as he is battling a big man on the block. He rotates well, fights for every inch and plays excellent transition defense. Then, when he gets on the fast break the other way, he is difficult to slow down or stop at all.
Last season, for all his stat-sheet stuffing, Ellis was named to the All-American Conference second-team. It remains an injustice to this day as he was worthy of being a first-teamer. That injustice will be rectified this season and in a big way, as Ellis is a bonafide AAC Player of the Year candidate. Constructing that narrative isn't complicated at all.