Monta Ellis knows he wasn’t the same relentless driver and graceful finisher for the Indiana Pacers last season as he was in Dallas the year prior.
“Last year was very challenging for me,” Ellis admitted in a moment of honest self reflection. “I dealt with a lot of injuries. I dealt with lot of things on a personal level off the court that I had to get together, so it was a bad year all around for me.”
At 30 years of age, Ellis, facing the aftermath of offseason knee surgery and managing the pain that came along with a Baker’s cyst that burst, was the oldest player on Indiana’s roster heading into the 2015-16 season. Still, struggling to find that extra gear in-transit to the rim wasn’t something he expected to happen so soon.
“It gets much harder as you get older, and that was a big challenge for me,” Ellis lamented after confessing that he failed to play up to his potential last season. “I wasn’t expecting it, didn’t know how to handle it, but I learned from it.”
After using the lowest percentage of his team’s possessions and attempting the lowest field goal attempts per game since his rookie season, Ellis chose to “rededicate” himself to the game by coming together with twelve of his teammates as early as August to try to build chemistry and get better. According to Paul George, now is the best his teammate has felt since his days in Golden State.
But even as Ellis played “up-and-down” and struggled to “get the feel” for his teammates and the organization, Indiana’s two-way star respected the fight in him.
“I knew he was battling a lot of stuff,” George said of Ellis. “...but one thing about him is he’s a dog. He played every single game this last season, and I knew what was going on. I knew his body couldn’t hold up, but he was still out there every night.”
Since his first season with the Mavericks, Monta’s durability has been unrivaled by all other backcourt players. He’s one of only three guards in the entire league to have appeared in 75 or more games while logging at least 180 miles and 2,650 minutes in each of the last three seasons, and he’s done that while taking the most charges of any guard over that same span of time.
When the going gets tough, Monta Ellis keeps going.
Perhaps it is the Invincible Man’s toughness, along with his own newfound sense of maturity, which caused Paul George to shrug off any concerns about Monta’s ability to find his fit next to another ball-dominant guard.
“I think it won’t be that big of a deal at all,” George said of slotting Ellis next to Teague. “Really we can space the floor around Monta. Monta’s so (great) at attacking and creating and getting into seams, as well as Jeff, that I think they’ll play great off of one another.”
In fact, the prospect of playing alongside two drive-first guards, who can spread the floor with their penetration, already has the three-time All-Star expressing his excitement to play more freely in the open floor.
“I for sure will have a lot of easy looks just by them two attacking and playing their game,” George said, sounding ready to take on the role of vocal leader. “I told those two, ‘I encourage you guys just to take over at will. I’ll find my ways. I’ll fit in. I’m not worried about my game.’”
Heading into training camp, doubts about whether the Blue & Gold’s running game will be enough to compensate for their potentially leaky defense and lack of off-ball threats will likely still linger, but the “dog” in Monta Ellis appears ready and raring to attempt to remove them.
“I have to do better,” Ellis admitted. “I have to do a better job of being the person who I’ve been throughout my whole career.”