Set for free agency after having opted out of the final season of his contract with the Dallas Mavericks, the Indiana Pacers are rumored to be among the teams expected to show interest in Monta Ellis when free agency opens on July 1, reports ESPN's Chris Broussard:
Source: Monta Ellis will not opt-in to the final yr of his contract & will thus become a free agent this summer. Indiana & Miami interested— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) June 24, 2015
Petulant. Self-absorbed. Moody. These are but a few of the words that have emanated out of Dallas when describing Monta Ellis, the teammate. Yet, no matter the knocks against him as a leader off the court, replacing (or, in the case of the Pacers, finding) his productivity on the court is a tall order. Speaking strictly statistically, the player oft-pegged as mercurial got his groove back with the Mavericks. Last season, he led the team in scoring (18.9), assists (4.1) and steals per game (1.9).
While his demeanor may not have been a fit in Dallas, his game was. Would it be in Indiana?
3 Numbers to Like:
8.3: The number of times per game that Monta Ellis drove to the basket during the 2014-15 season, 2.6 more times than any player on Indiana's roster, per NBA.com's Player Tracking data. Constantly in attack mode, Ellis has a real knack for spacing out the opposition's defenders with his ability to create easy looks for himself at the rim as well as his teammates on the perimeter. Seemingly unfazed by the teeth of his opponent's defense, the perennial All-Star snub embodies the concept of drive-and-dish, converting 49.0% of his drives (good for fifth in the league among players with at least 600 total drives) and creating 10.2 points off assists per game. With speed as his greatest asset, adding Ellis would be a perfect fit for an Indiana team looking to play with greater pace next season.
148: Ellis' total number of steals on the season, good for fifth in the NBA. Though he has never been known as a lock-down defender within a team's system, Monta is more than capable of making plays on the ball, per The Dallas Morning News:
"He has a great knack for anticipation," Carlisle said. "He's geared back his gambling. When he was with Golden State, they were a gambling-type team. They were doing that liberally to try to create pace. And Milwaukee was a little more conservative, and we're a little more conservative than Milwaukee was the year he was there.
"He has bought into playing in a more conservative system, but putting himself in a position to make plays on the ball. If you can do that, you can get steals from a position of strength, rather than a lot of swinging and missing, which causes problems."
For a team that oftentimes struggles to score in the half court, the Pacers would benefit from utilizing Ellis' thievery as a means to get out on the break and run.
2: The number of games missed by Monta Ellis since the 2011-12 season. Ravaged by injuries during the 2014-15 season, the Pacers could have used a dose of Monta's durability when the team was applying for hardship exceptions simply to stay afloat.
3 Numbers that Should Make you Wary:
32.4: The j-challenged guard's catch-and-shoot field goal percentage, per NBA.com's Player Tracking data (only Al-Farouq Aminu shot a lower percentage on catch-and-shoot opportunities for Dallas last season). With such a poor conversion rate off the catch, the Blue & Gold, should they pursue him in free agency, would not be able to use Ellis as a spacer next season.
Pairing Ellis next to Hill would not the Splash Brothers make. Slash Brothers? Maybe, but it would require sacrifice from the Hometown Hero. George Hill is a reliable 3-point shooter (35.8%) and has proven himself capable of playing off the ball, but do the Pacers really want to force this version of Hill to play off the ball, again, in order to accommodate another ball dominant shooting guard?
30: Ellis' age in October. Which means the very skill that makes him an asset to the Pacers (his speed) may not be sustainable for long. In fact, ESPN Dallas' Jean-Jacques Taylor voices this very concern here:
Ellis' game revolves around speed. He turns 30 in October. How will Ellis' game translate as he ages and younger, faster players enter the league?
When he loses a step, will his game follow? It's not as if Ellis is going to hang around the perimeter and shoot jumpers.
112: Monta Ellis' defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions). Dallas was a bottom-10 defense last season and nearly every player outside of Tyson Chandler was a big part of the reason why. Ellis, as his steals stats would suggest, does an admirable job at playing passing lanes and getting out on the break, but his defense within a team's system is oftentimes sub-par at best. Hanging out in the paint and not even hedging against a 40% 3-point shooter, as he did against Jason Terry and the Houston Rockets in the playoffs, is not a great look for a player that, should Indiana pursue him, would be joining a largely defense-first roster. Mavs Moneyball does a great job diagramming some of Ellis' defensive breakdowns here.
Monta's detractors suggest he may not have the temperament to be a team's best player, but in Indiana he wouldn't have to be -- that title already belongs to Paul George. His age as well as his ball dominance might bring reason for pause, but there is no doubting his toughness or competitive spirit.
In a 92-86 loss to the Phoenix Suns, the Mavericks continued to rely on Ellis, though he finished the night with only 11 points connecting on just 4-of-22 shot attempts. The next night, as if he were thumbing his nose at all his naysayers, Monta poured in 38-points in a home win over the Spurs.
Ellis ticks off many of the must-need boxes for Indiana's transitioning style. Uptempo (check). Fast (check). Dynamic (check) .The only real question is which Monta would the Pacers potentially be getting and, more importantly, for how long.