Evolved Monta Ellis Finally Finds Success as 2nd Option Behind Dirk Nowitzki

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Evolved Monta Ellis Finally Finds Success as 2nd Option Behind Dirk Nowitzki
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Nine points on 2-of-7 shooting to go along with seven assists probably wouldn't be a significant stat line for many NBA players or teams—and certainly not for a guy who averages 19.4 points for his career.

For Monta Ellis, that line is what he did against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, and it's further evidence of a fascinating evolution happening with the Dallas Mavericks' starting shooting guard.

Ellis earned the reputation of an unabashed gunner during his time with the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks. But under the influence of Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle, Ellis has grown, even if his role as a scorer has shrunk:

The assists are the most obvious way Ellis is contributing outside of scoring this season. Against the Thunder, he tied with point guard Jose Calderon for the team lead. On the season, he leads the Mavericks with 5.8 a game, while playing alongside someone who's traditionally been a pass-first 1.

His desire to pass is also evidenced by the fact that he's shooting the ball just 15.2 times a game, his lowest average since the 2007-08 season, when he was deferring to the older Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson.

This season, Ellis is showing that deference again, often to Dirk Nowitzki. That's something his history suggests he can't do.

After biding his time, and becoming the alpha dog in Golden State, Ellis didn't want to take on a smaller scoring responsibility behind anyone.

When the Warriors drafted Stephen Curry in 2009, The San Jose Mercury News' Tim Kawakami asked Ellis how he felt about the potential combination:

-Q: Can you see yourself playing with Curry in the backcourt?

-ELLIS: I can’t answer that. Us together? No.

-Q: Why not?

-ELLIS: Can’t. We just can’t.

-Q: Too small? Too similar?

-ELLIS: Just can’t.

-Q: The Warriors say you can.

-ELLIS: They say we can? Yeah. If they say it. But we can’t.

-Q: You wouldn’t want to give it a shot?

-ELLIS: I just want to win. That’s… not going to win that way.

Granted, it was a different situation. Curry is a guard, Nowitzki is a big. It makes sense he'd jell a bit better with his current teammate. But it's not like Ellis hadn't played with a scoring guard before Curry. Golden State's point guard prior to the '09 draft was Baron Davis. 

He was just less willing to bend about his role back then. Now, he's drawing a hard line on more admirable things:

This is a guy who wants to play through sickness, when once he was lying about moped accidents. He's happily playing second fiddle to a future Hall of Famer, when once he was taking 22 shots a game.

Ellis has evolved, and he's better off for it. 

His field-goal percentage of 45.3 is his highest since, you guessed it, the '07-08 season. Fewer attempts have meant better attempts for Ellis.

Had he stayed in Golden State and continued to compete with Curry for shots, we might never have seen this evolution. 

The San Francisco Chronicle's Bruce Jenkins said:

The tension was palpable, almost suffocating at times. Their careers were entwined so awkwardly as teammates, all hints of cohesion gave way to discord. It's not that Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis were sworn enemies; they simply weren't meant to coexist in the same Warriors backcourt.

In Dallas, Ellis is not only coexisting with another star, but he's also thriving.

The Mavericks are 40-27 and on the cusp of an eight-game homestand. They have a legitimate shot at a 50-win season and maybe even a first-round upset in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. After all, they could be matched up with an Oklahoma City team they just trounced 109-86.

Their chances of doing so will be heavily influenced by the ever-evolving game of their formerly trigger-happy guard. A player who now knows, and demonstrates, there's more to basketball than scoring.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of Sports-Reference.com and NBA.com and are current as of March 16, 2014.

Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.

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