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The Invincible Man: Why Monta Ellis’ durability defies logic

When the going gets tough, Monta Ellis keeps going.

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NBA: Houston Rockets at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Monta Ellis has been an easy target for critics this offseason. His ability to knock down corner threes may have flown under the radar, but banking on him to consistently space the floor, open driving lanes for Jeff Teague, or pry defenders away from Paul George is nonetheless a risky gamble. Not to mention, asking him to do so would preclude him from doing what he arguably does best, use his graceful recklessness and impulsive change of speed to create off the dribble.

Barring splitting the basketball in half for him and Jeff Teague to share, turning him into the bench’s primary ball-handler may seem like a simple fix, but slotting him next to Rodney Stuckey’s drive-first game, with Al Jefferson’s need for space in the paint, has dysfunction written all over it.

Still, while the soon-to-be 31-year-old’s fit with this version of the Indiana Pacers is murky, this much is clear: His durability over the last three seasons has been unrivaled by all other backcourt players over that same span of time.

Wear & Tear

Consider this: Only three guards in the entire league have appeared in 75 or more games while logging at least 180 miles and 2,650 minutes in each of the last three seasons.

Not only is Ellis in rare company, it is notable that he accomplished this feat beginning at age 28, as an eight-year veteran, whereas Damian Lillard, then 23, and John Wall, then 22, had the benefit of younger legs.

Grin & Bear It

It is well-known that it doesn’t exactly take much to shake free from Ellis as a defender, but he is routinely among the league’s leaders in drawing offensive fouls. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, he’s taken the most charges of any guard in the NBA, via NBA Miner.

One reason Ellis is so adept at taking charges is his speed. While most big men commonly draw offensive fouls by holding their ground on the block, Indiana’s starting shooting guard most often collects his by outrunning his opponent in transition following a turnover or long rebound. The latter of which is displayed below, as Ellis speeds ahead and beats Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore to his spot before preparing to absorb contact:

Another contributing factor is that he doesn’t shy away from putting his body on the line. Since the beginning of his final season with the Mavericks, Ellis has dealt with a left hip injury, a Baker’s cyst that burst, and the after effects of offseason knee surgery, yet he isn’t deterred from bracing for the next hit.

Given the amount of unparalleled time he has spent, literally, on the floor, it should be considered as all the more remarkable that he has been able to consistently stay on the floor, only missing three games in four years.

Bumps & Bruises

John Wall has played more minutes and Damian Lillard has logged more total miles, but it is Ellis who, at an older age, is the only guard in the league to satisfy the aforementioned minutes, miles, and games played benchmarks while also recording at least 15 charges drawn in each of the last three seasons.

"I just hate watching basketball on the sideline,” Ellis told ESPN’s Tim MacMahon during his first season in Dallas. “I feel like if I can walk, I can play."

As the above graphic illustrates, Ellis, with little rest for the weary, is not only still standing, his durability stands alone.

It is indeterminate whether Monta’s skill set will mesh well with the 2016-17 roster’s dearth of shooting, but his toughness has the potential to counterbalance the backcourt’s wealth of past injuries.

With Rodney Stuckey having just missed the most games since his rookie season and Jeff Teague recovering form a torn patellar tendon, having the soon-to-be 31-year-old’s near perfect attendance in the team’s back pocket should serve as a source of security in the unfortunate event of re-injury.

Indiana’s starting shooting guard’s three-year record of durability effectively proves his commitment to team. Still, questions remain as to whether his multi-year contract proves the team’s commitment to him.