BOWIE -- In little more than a year, Pervis Ellison has gone from a big question mark to a giant exclamation point.
Proclaimed a bust after being the first player selected in the 1989 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings, Ellison has become the cornerstone of the rebuilding Washington Bullets while also making a strong bid for All-Star status.
The 6-foot-10 center has posted impressive statistics across the board. He ranks seventh in the league in rebounding (12.4), and averages 19.6 points and 2.14 blocked shots. Among NBA centers, only David Robinson, Brad Daugherty, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon and rookie Dikembe Mutombo are outscoring Ellison.
In his last outing against the Boston Celtics on Monday night, he showed the range of his potential, registering career-highs in points (30) and rebounds (18).
"Pervis has really been consistent this season," said Bullets coach Wes Unseld, who has pushed and prodded his fellow Louisville alumnus into being more assertive as a scorer and rebounder since acquiring Ellison in a three-team deal in June 1990 that sent high-scoring guard Jeff Malone to the Utah Jazz.
"Last season, he'd have good moments and good games, but would tend to lose his concentration," Unseld said. "This year, he has really stayed focused on what he's supposed to do out there."
Ellison, who began his NBA career with Sacramento on the injured list after surgery to remove bone spurs on his right foot and ankle, is the only Bullet to have started all 14 games.
His durability and the size of his heart were questioned by Kings coach Dick Motta, when Ellison appeared in only 34 games his rookie season, averaging 8.0 points and 5.8 rebounds.
Kings personnel director Jerry Reynolds suggested Ellison was nursing injuries and not getting involved with the team during his rehabilitation. The day of the trade, Reynolds said of Ellison, "We won't miss him."
To this day, Ellison said he is mystified by the negative reaction of Kings management.
"I'd hear a lot of things being said about me during that [1989-90] season," he said. "All kinds of negative stuff would appear in the paper, but no one from the front office or coaching staff ever said to me, 'You're doing this wrong.' The Kings were never straightforward, not even about wanting to trade me."
Ellison said he feels fortunate that he was traded to Washington, and is playing for Unseld, a Hall of Fame center who is especially adept at developing big men.
"Wes is a player's coach," said Ellison. "He'll keep after you all the time, but it is only to motivate you and make you excel."
Ellison never has been coddled by Unseld. He did not become a full-fledged starter until February, but he showed flashes of his potential by averaging 15.3 points and 9.4 rebounds over the last 37 games.
"Not handing him a starting job last year was the best thing Wes did for Pervis," said Bullets assistant coach Bill Blair.
"The game comes easy to Pervis. He has good basketball skills, but he had a tendency to fade in and out of a lot of games. When he got lazy, Wes would bust his butt. Wes told him why he wasn't getting a lot of minutes. By midseason, you could see a big change in Pervis' attitude. He really wanted to go out there and prove something."
But Ellison said he is not seeking revenge against the Kings.
"I don't let those things bother me," said Ellison, who seldom shows his emotions. "The Kings did what they had to do. Now, I'm in a better situation, and I'm just trying to stay healthy and be the best player I can be."
Ellison's principal asset remains his quickness and agility, giving him the advantage against more ponderous centers such as Portland's Kevin Duckworth, Seattle's Benoit Benjamin and Utah's Mark Eaton, who will be rivals on the Bullets' current Western trip.
"My game has always been to think pass first," said Ellison. "But now I'm attacking the basket and also taking the open shot. I want to be dictating to my defender, not the other way around.
"I'm not trying to bang with bigger guys inside. I'm using my quickness to beat them to the hole. Playing with a guy like [point guard] Michael Adams opens up a lot of things for me. He forces defenses outside with his three-point threat, but he also creates easy shots with his penetration."
This season, Ellison also has avoided his habit of getting into early foul trouble, picking up cheap fouls.
"That has a lot to do with listening to the officials," he said. "When I was a rookie, I'd ignore them when they warned me not to do this or that guarding my man. Now, I listen, and it's kept me in the games."
But earning a reputation also creates respect by the officials and rival players. And Pervis Ellison's name is no longer followed by a string of question marks.
VS. L.A. CLIPPERS
* When: Tonight, 10:30.
* Where: Los Angeles Sports Arena.
* Radio: WTOP-AM (1500).
* Outlook: This is the start of a four-game Western swing for the Bullets, who were 8-20 against Western Conference rivals last season. G Michael Adams, who leads Washington in scoring (26.7) and assists (8.9), is expected to test the dislocated finger on his left hand. The Bullets won both games with the Clippers last season and have won six straight at the Sports Arena. Clippers coach Mike Schuler has been fighting rebellious players. Los Angeles has a new look with the addition of C James Edwards and G Doc Rivers. F Danny Manning leads team in scoring (16.9). First-round draft pick LeRon Ellis of Syracuse has seen limited action.