With training camp only a couple of weeks away, NBA rosters are starting to stabilize and the reality of predictions will soon start to materialize. We already know some of the knocks on Monta Ellis and in the eyes of some NBA writers there’s already an unworkable scenario. Perhaps some of them don’t believe anything is going to work in Dallas. But as always, context and perspective are essential.
The Mavericks have been offering a change of scene for a few players who apparently needed one and the hope surrounding O. J. Mayo was certainly that he could return to his rookie and sophomore effectiveness, where he had scored 17.5-18.5 ppg before taking on a 6th man role in Memphis. It was his last two years there that Memphis made the playoffs and in 2012 he played only 23 minutes in the Grizzlies’ 7 playoff games, scoring less than 9 ppg. Coming to Dallas promised to be a revival.
For a time, it may have been but as Vince Carter took over the role of Jason Terry as well as a steadying veteran leadership role, Mayo was often erratic and by the time Dirk Nowitzki was back in form, he had become largely a non-factor. Yet without much reason to focus on him as opposed to alternatives during the off-season, fan interest in retaining him was surprisingly high. Fortunately the front office didn’t share it.
All things considered and for many Mavs fans, the shooting guard position has seemed less of a priority with gaping holes at point guard and center along. It was a resurgent year for Carter, who likely would have been considered for Sixth Man of the Year on a better team. Still, not knowing how long Carter can continue playing at such a high level doesn’t have much implications for the longer term, even if immediate help for Dirk is the focus. Jae Crowder showed promise at the beginning of the season but struggled with his outside shooting much of the year and didn't show as much of the gritty defense the team was hoping for. In any event, there is always some desire to acquire the BEST player available and there were a number of solid at prospects available.
A solid two-way player would obviously have been ideal. The Mavs suffered with defensive issues all last year and while that is often traced back to losing Tyson Chandler, the Mavs defensive prowess during his tenure was not due to his efforts alone. With the savvy Jason Kidd and Caron Butler in the backcourt along with Shawn Marion, followed by DeShawn Stevenson’s shining moments after Butler went down with an injury, Chandler had a lot of help. As the team changed over, Delonte West also earned favor for his defense but by the time 2013 rolled around the Mavs had lost their prowess both on the wings and in the paint.
If the Mavs could have lassoed Andre Iguodala, well known as one of the better guards in the league on both ends of the floor but with his signing in Golden State, the Mavs were left looking at other options for who might fill the role of "Dirk's sidekick." While Carter might fill the bill and has effectively become an upgrade to Terry, adding some inside game and defense, finding another explosive offensive weapon never hurts.
José Calderón himself started as a shooting guard and later became a point guard. He can certainly be used in that capacity on offense but if there was one thing missing from the Dallas offense after losing J.J. Barea, it is was a slashing penetrator who could blow by defenses. Ironically, that was perhaps the one part of Darren Collison’s game that really worked for the Mavs.
While there was considerable buzz that there might be mutual interest between the Mavs and Milwaukee point guard Brandon Jennings (which thankfully never came to fruition), ironically the Buck stopped here in the form of Monta Ellis and Samuel Dalembert instead, while O. J. Mayo himself departed for Milwaukee, also soon to be the home again of Racine native and former Mav Caron Butler after a short off-season stay in Phoenix.
The critics are quick to jump on all of Ellis’ shortcomings and there is no need to deny they exist, most noticeably because they were exacerbated with the Bucks. Paired with an inefficient shooter himself in Jennings, Ellis’ production took a dive as soon as he arrived in Milwaukee. Already down from his career-high 25.5 ppg in 2009-2010 to 21.6 ppg before leaving Golden State, he only managed 17.6 ppg during the part of 2011 he spent with the Bucks. While he ticked back up to 19.6 ppg last year, his shooting fell to 41.6%, only .1% above his career low rookie season and well off of his 45.6% career average.
Everyone knows Ellis is not a great defender and hasn’t been a very good 3-point shooter, although he did improve to 35% after the All-Star break last year. Regardless, he shouldn't feel pushed to take too many shots from downtown as the Mavericks will have some of the best 3-point shooters in the league including last year’s NBA leader, José Calderón.
Ellis doesn’t have great size for a shooting guard but that hasn’t prevented him from having success in the past and as he himself has said, he felt he had to do too much in both Golden State and Milwaukee. Returning to 25 ppg shouldn't be the arbiter of his success and shouldn't be expected or needed, as he’s never been paired with anyone along the lines of Dirk Nowitzki, much less a team of experienced and capable scorers such as Vince Carter, Calderón and Shawn Marion.
As Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News highlighted recently, if you’re looking for shooting guards in the NBA who have performed at a higher level than Ellis, you’re not going to find many. After the elite trio of Kobe Bryant, James Harden and Dwayne Wade, the next level is right where he belongs.
He has some notable attributes to bring to the table; the one most commonly acknowledged is his speed. The Mavericks seemed to lose a step along with their defense-shredding penetration when J. J. Barea left, and while Darren Collison had moments reminiscent of those days, the overall picture was clearly a problem. Where Calderón was a young shooting guard who learned to play the point (and exceptionally well at that), Ellis is the opposite in many ways: a player whose size and physical skills may seem more suited to the point with the added scoring typically found at the 3. Ellis may not be as strong an outside shooter as Calderón nor does he have great PG skills per se but a little role reversal shouldn’t be a problem. Ellis is able to penetrate better than almost any other guard in the league and has averaged close to 6 assists per game for the last several years. Whether or not he gets to the hoop on his own or draws in the defense and kicks it out to one of the aforementioned long-range bombers or perhaps an awaiting big in the lane, there is potential for tremendous success.
And yes, he can score on his own in a number of ways. As DraftExpress noted early in his career: “Gets almost a third of his offense in transition, a testament to his speed. Another third comes from pick and rolls, with the final third coming from spot ups and isolations" and he has generally improved since, although looking at last year one might judge otherwise.
The most encouraging thing for Ellis is the environment he will be in. Last year his running mate was Jennings. This year it will be Calderón. Last year’s cast included some up-and-coming players including J. J. Reddick. It didn’t include any perennial All-Stars, former perennial All-Stars or future Hall-of-Famers. It also didn’t include Rick Carlisle, a coach known for his discipline and defense.
As Sefko pointed out just after the signings were announced, the Mavericks offer Ellis and Calderón their first real stability from a coaching standpoint.
In his last five seasons, José Calderón has played for Sam Mitchell, Jay Triano, Dwane Casey and Lawrence Frank. Monta Ellis? He’s been coached by Don Nelson, Keith Smart, Mark Jackson, Scott Skiles and Jim Boylan.
Nowitzki won a championship and, except for last season, has led a team that is a threat to do lots of damage in the playoffs. Ellis and Calderón? Well, they led teams.
Any chance the inconsistency in styles and demands by their coaches has made it more difficult for Calderón and Ellis?
One of the things the Mavericks are banking on is that Calderón and Ellis will flourish under a stable coaching situation this season….
Mark Cuban: 'obviously, we have a lot more stability here, and they’re going to have a lot more trust and commitment just because they know we have a history of success.'
This is the primary reason to believe that, like Sefko and Hoopsworld’s Lang Greene, that critics may be underestimating this marriage.
Yes, Ellis flamed out in the two stints he had at being a franchise player in Golden State and Milwaukee. But early in Ellis’ career, with the Warriors, he was more than solid in a secondary role behind guys such as Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson.
Ellis may very well turn out to be what most are predicting him to be in Dallas, a player who will keep fans in attendance at home games and a provider of many high scoring nights while not contributing much to winning. But games aren’t played on paper, in barbershops, talk radio or in preseason prediction columns. Maybe, just maybe, Ellis is what the doctor ordered for a Mavericks franchise who missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2000 campaign.
Rick Carlisle and a Mavericks team with a lot of veteran leadership managed to turn around a team with a significant deficit in the win column and by the latter part of the season was winning most of its games with a crew significantly less capable than the current roster. Ellis will benefit from being under Carlisle as well as intelligent veteran players such as Dirk, Calderón, Carter, Marion and Devin Harris. He should be able to concentrate on his strengths and has already stated he feels more comfortable not having to shoulder the same burden he did earlier in his career. If he wanted to continue being relied upon so heavily, one would assume he would not have opted out of an $11 million payday next year for a smaller one in Dallas.
Only time will tell if the situation will work out but if critics are worried about the same old Monta being allowed to shoot indiscriminately and disrupt the flow of the offense for any length of time, they don’t know much about Rick Carlisle. Dallas stands to see the best of Ellis in a system with better coaching and better players or he will find himself in a different role—or on his way to a different team—in short order.