So far in 2016, we've seen a lot of different looks for the Indiana Pacers as new head coach Nate McMillan gets his feet wet. This is to be expected given the facelifted roster, along with some team-wide inconsistencies. A 3-3 start, while not ideal, is nothing to panic about because frankly, it's November (an unseasonably warm November at that). Throughout some of the games I've seen a few tweets drop with the "Fire McMillan" tag or "Larry did it again", both equally comical. For a comparison, last year's Toronto Raptors started out 8-7 after acquiring several players in the offseason. They went on to win 56 games and were Eastern Conference Finalists. The changes that need to be made are not drastic, but rather focus on utilizing important pieces more effectively. It might not be popular, but it's time to put Monta Ellis with the reserves.
Now, before my Twitter mentions explode let it be known that this move is not a reflection of Ellis' performance. This move would be to strengthen the rotation that McMillan has to work with. In place of Ellis in the starting lineup, McMillan would move in CJ Miles to play the small forward. In effect, this would move Paul George to the backcourt to play the two. The lineup would flow as follows: Jeff Teague, George, Miles, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner as the starters and the first reserves being Rodney Stuckey (Aaron Brooks), Ellis, Glenn Robinson III, Lavoy Allen and Al Jefferson. I've heard the idea of throwing out Brooks and Ellis for the backcourt and moving Stuckey to the three.
The focus here is on the transition from Ellis to Miles to the starting lineup. Miles moving to the three loses a true ballhandler, but moves George into a struggling backcourt for the Pacers. Matchup wise, George at 6'9 is an offensive matchup nightmare to the two guards of the East (thinking DeMar DeRozan and JR Smith). This forces the better defensive hands of say, the Cavaliers and Raptors to slide over to cover George.
With the switch, that spaces out the Pacers offense and leaves a mismatch for Miles, who is currently fifth in the NBA in qualified three point shooting percentage. Granted, the offense never has nor will run through Miles, but it is an option. With the floor flexibility, both Teague and George can be responsible for running the floor, potentially bolstering an erratic Teague early on this season.
Another plus comes with Ellis moving to the second team. We've seen this happen many times with both former coach Frank Vogel and McMillan when it comes to giving the starters a breather. In the second quarter of the Pacers three losing efforts so far, they are being outscored by an average of 11.7 points per quarter. Seems how much of the second quarter is dominated by bench play, it is an alarming number.
Ellis is currently averaging 9.5 points per game, but the numbers are smack in the middle of what he's actually been: feast or famine. He's logged games of 19, 17 and 11 points, but has also been under five points in his other three appearances. In the new rotation, he figures to be the odd man out. Why not save some miles on the 31 year old guard's knees and use him where he can be most effective? Ellis needs to stay healthy and regain his consistency. With him at the helm of the Pacers second unit, he could in theory perform to a higher standard that should be reflected by his almost $11 million yearly salary, as well as solve a plague of a bench that has kept the Pacers from realistic contention.
Take a page out of the Memphis Grizzlies book of 2016. Zach Randolph is the Grizzlies all-time leader in field goals made...and is coming off the bench. His production last year slipped significantly and as he headed into his age 35 season, the Grizzlies decided to move him to the second unit. He has sparkled, averaging about 14 points per game and bringing in over eight rebounds as the main offensive weapon of the bench. He has also had the ability to take over games as he used to as he logged 22 points against the Wizards. His per-36 minutes is 22.6 points and 13.7 rebounds. He's efficient and working for the better of the Grizzlies.
Moving Ellis will take an adjustment period, but it's not like this team is currently set in stone. Moving him to the bench earlier in the season will save him a lot of minutes and be much easier than trying in a few months when the Pacers are making a playoff push. The consistency of this team is living and dying (many times dying) on the play of the reserve unit. Ellis is a wonderful tool to have and has the veteran presence the Pacers should feed off. It's time for McMillan to make a change and it starts with using your tools in the right places.