Monta Ellis was the consolation prize for the Dallas Mavericks this offseason. The oft-criticized shooting guard wasn’t the prize Mark Cuban had in mind when free agency opened and he had cap space to burn. Despite this, the Mavs are a perfect fit for Ellis, and he is primed to play the best basketball of his career.
First, they tried to sign Chris Paul and failed. Then they created an epic video pitch to land Dwight Howard that apparently wasn’t epic enough. They were minutes away from signing Andre Iguodala until the Golden State Warriors swooped in. The Mavs also missed out on Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum, which left Monta Ellis as their big free-agent signing.
Some, like Tim McMahon of ESPN, have criticized the move. Those detractors have some valid evidence for that opinion.
Ellis is terribly inefficient gunner who shot 41.6 percent from the floor last year. He is a shooting guard in that he shoots a lot, but he doesn’t do it well.
Of the 17.5 shots per game that he attempted last year, just about half of them were long two-pointers (16-23 feet) or threes according to HoopData.com. That was despite shooting just 32 percent from those spots.
Even worse, he’s an unapologetic chucker who might not know that he takes bad shots, based on what he told Jeff Caplan.
Monta says he'll get criticized no matter what he does: "I'm gonna play Monta-ball."— Jeff Caplan (@Caplan_NBA) September 30, 2013
But there are a number of factors that suggest he won’t repeat such horrific inefficiency. And if he isn’t repeatedly clanking low percentage shots while playing listless defense, he can be the shot in the arm that Dallas was looking for.
For starters, he has never played with an offensive savant quite like Dirk Nowitzki.
Nowitzki is still one of the best scorers in the NBA, and he opens things up for his teammates with the defensive attention he commands—even for an offensively minded, trigger-happy and undersized shooting guard.
No, I’m not talking about Monta Ellis—even though the description fits. I’m talking about Jason Terry.
Terry is like Ellis in many ways, although their methods of scoring differ. Terry is a shooter, while Ellis is a slasher. Playing with Nowitzki was extremely beneficial for Terry, who saw his efficiency increase during his tenure in Dallas.
With the Atlanta Hawks for the first five years of his career, Terry’s highest True Shooting percentage (TS%) was 54.9. Over his first six years as a Maverick, his TS% never fell below that number. The same is true for his offensive rating, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Like Terry, Ellis will benefit from playing with Dirk Nowitzki. He’ll have more space to attack and hit shooting percentage will increase as a result. The Dallas Morning News reports that Nowitzki has already expressed his excitement about the potential for their two-man game off pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop plays.
Another big reason for Ellis’ success will be Jose Calderon. The list of point guards that Ellis has played with is short: Baron Davis, Stephen Curry and Brandon Jennings. They’re all great players, but they are also all scoring point guards.
Calderon is just the opposite.
How Will the Monta Ellis Signing Look in Three Years?
HoopData.com shows that he led the league in assist rate (which measures the rate of assists against possessions used) and assist:turnover ratio last season. While Ellis has had to battle his previous point guards for shots, that won't be an issue with Calderon, who has never attempted more than 10 shots per game in any season.
Calderon is the consummate facilitator, and he will help Ellis in two ways.
Firstly, he is a shot creator and he’ll get Ellis high percentage shots. Secondly, Calderon will keep the ball out of Ellis’ hands which will save him from his itchy trigger finger.
The combination of Nowitzki and Calderon will find good shots for Monta Ellis and they’ll also save him from himself.
Head coach Rick Carlisle completes the trifecta of people who will allow Ellis to unleash his talents in a positive way. Carlisle is one of the best coaches in the league, and he’ll provide stability to a player who has had five head coaches in the last four years.
In addition, the Dallas Mavericks are an organization that has a culture of winning, and victory is the priority. It’s a philosophy that is present in every aspect of the team, starting with the owner, and that’s the only statistic they care about.
That’s a new environment for Monta Ellis, and his career is at a point where it’s time to sink-or-swim. He is finally on a team where “playoff expectations” means more than just making the playoffs.
He has a head coach who consistently brings out the best in his players and has a defensive mentality. He has a superstar who can take the pressure off him. He has a point guard who wants nothing more than to set him up to score.
The stage is set for Ellis to play the best basketball of his life.