Monta Ellis or Rodney Stuckey?
Larry Bird needs to pick one because he can’t have both. The team doesn’t need two combo guards who need the ball in their hands, who shoot a low percentage from deep, who struggle defensively, and who have injury issues. It’s time to show one, or both, of them the door.
The Pacers are going to be good next year, really good. I have my doubts about whether they’re talented enough to beat the Cavs at this point, but they certainly have an excellent opportunity to at least make the Conference Finals. The one issue still holding this team back is its lack of shooting.
Shooting reigns supreme in the NBA, it’s something you can never have too much of. Great shooting can neutralize even the best defensive game plan, suck the will out of opponents, and make any coach look like a genius. It’s the easiest way to level the playing field when faced with a talent deficit, but at this point it seems the Pacers are content to continue to fight uphill.
Jeff Teague, Ellis, and Stuckey are all fine players individually but their games do not complement each other well. Teague is the best shooter of those three, but he isn’t dangerous enough to where teams fear him. Ideally the Pacers would slot a young, long, pure shooter next to Teague. Someone who can knockdown open three’s off kickouts when Teague or Paul George drives, someone whose defender has to constantly be in his jersey.
Neither Ellis nor Stuckey fits those descriptions. Ellis shot 30% from deep and Stuckey shot 24%, so both do their best work driving to the lane. Unless something dramatic happens Ellis will be Teague’s backcourt partner during the season though Stuckey will get some minutes too. Head coach Nate McMillan has the tough task ahead of him of crafting an offense that keeps Ellis involved while still letting Teague captain the ship.
Last year it was easy since Ellis was the primary ball handler and the one who initiated the offense most of the time. Now? Except for a few possessions, Teague or George should be the ones to initiate the offense. Still it’s dumb to just stick Ellis in a corner and just have him wait for someone to pass it to him. That neutralizes his best attribute as a player, and because of his poor shooting from behind the arc teams are going to ignore him in order to help clog driving lanes.
Some players can use that inattention to cut to the hoop for easy looks. Andre Roberson mastered this for OKC in the Golden State series, leveraging that inattention into backdoor cut after backdoor cut. It's an effective way to keep defenders on their toes. However, Ellis rarely cuts, only 2% of the time, so it seems unlikely to be a major part of his game.
Bird seems to recognize the redundancy of Ellis and Stuckey as word got out this past weekend about a possible trade with the Kings that would send one or both of them in return for Rudy Gay. Gay would be an interesting fit for the Pacers. He’s an iso heavy player who loves to hold the ball for 5-7 seconds before deciding what he should do. He’s an OK three point shooter, and he does shoot a solid 46% from the field. His size allows him to play the four consistently though he isn’t quick enough to stay with point guards so you can’t switch him on screens. The other player that came up in those trade talks was Ben McLemore, and while I like the idea of getting McLemore out of Sacramento’s wasteland and seeing what he could do with some stability he is a porous defender with an inconsistent shot.
Regardless of whether Bird works out a trade with the Kings or not it will be interesting to see what he does with Ellis and Stuckey. I would imagine he’d prefer to deal Stuckey over Ellis since Ellis was his big free agency signing last year and it would seem a little premature to move on from him after one season, even despite his poor showing in the playoffs. The rumors of a Lance Stephenson reunion further shows that Bird doesn’t have supreme confidence in his #2 guards. Whether Stephenson is the answer to anything is questionable, and whether Bird can find an upgrade out there for a reasonable price is also questionable. Just because the team needs an upgrade doesn’t mean there is one available. Free agency may be winding down but it is by no means over, let’s see what Bird has up his sleeve.