Monta Ellis has gone on the record as saying he has been passing too much this preseason, which may just be the most Monta Ellis thing ever said by Monta Ellis.
Ellis is fourth in the NBA with 43 assists, but his turnover numbers have been creeping up in recent games, including an unsightly six yesterday against Atlanta. And, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com, Ellis believes that overpassing could be to blame:
There's a lot of shots that's been there and I've been making the late pass...I think the majority of my turnovers come because instead of me taking that shot or making the layup, I try to pass. I've got to get out of that.
Is this a selfish statement by Ellis—a player with a reputation for on-court selfishness? Absolutely not. Ellis should take more shots...but he should also be careful to take more of the right kind of shots.
Over Ellis' past few seasons, two numbers have begun slowly rising: his assists per game and his percentage of three-pointers taken. Those trends would be a good thing coming from a guy like Stephen Curry, but they do not help a player like Ellis. Ellis is not a point guard, and he is not a three-point shooter.
And any coach who tries to turn him into either does so at his own peril.
Ellis' preseason average of 6.1 assists per game is perfectly in line with the season-and-a-half he spent in Milwaukee, where he was offensive option 1A on a Bucks team that also featured shoot-first point guard Brandon Jennings. That combination was so toxic that both players wound up on other teams this past offseason. (Jennings is now in Detroit.)
Ellis' best season as a pro came in 2007-08, when he was with Golden State, and a few numbers from that season stand out in stark relief against the backdrop of his total career. First, he did not put up high assist numbers—his 15.8 percent assist rate was the second-lowest of his career. What he did exceptionally well, however, was take care of the ball; his 10.9 percent turnover rate was by far the lowest of his career.
The other thing that made the 2007-08 Ellis better than the current model is the percentage of three-pointers taken. This preseason Ellis has shot 23 three-pointers among his 71 overall field-goal attempts, a rate of .329 three-pointers per field-goal attempt. For a subpar shooter like Ellis (.318 career three-point percentage) that is far too many threes. In 2007-08 Ellis shot a mere 52 three-pointers among his 1,227 field-goal attempts, a rate of .042 three-pointers per field-goal attempt.
Monta Ellis is classic slasher, in the mold of Dwyane Wade and Tony Parker, in that he cannot shoot threes well, but he can wreak havoc by getting into the paint. Nobody understands this better than Mr. Mav himself, Dirk Nowitzki, who, in the same ESPNDallas.com piece, recently compared Ellis to Parker:
Really, it starts with [Ellis] being aggressive and looking to score. Then if it's not there, the pass is always an option, but we need him to get in the lane. We need him to be aggressive. He's so good at it.
An aggressive, slashing Ellis should work well when paired with Nowitzki, the greatest stretch-4 of all time and a guy who excels in pulling his defender away from the paint. As the opposing bigs become preoccupied with guarding Nowitzki away from the basket, Ellis should have ample opportunities to attack the rim.
This will never happen, however, until Ellis turns back into the kind of player he was earlier in his career—not a point guard, not a shooter, just a scorer.