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Player Review: Monta Ellis was a square peg in a round hole

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Lance Stephenson’s return has likely rendered the aging guard obsolete with the Pacers.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Monta Ellis wasn’t deliberately set up to fail, but there wasn’t exactly a means for him to succeed on this roster, either. Expecting him to be able to consistently space the floor, open driving lanes for Jeff Teague, and pry defenders away from Paul George was unrealistic. Unsurprisingly, that version of the starting lineup was a net negative (minus-0.2) in the 603 minutes they were on the floor together. When C.J. Miles replaced Ellis, they outscored opponents by 7.7 points per 100 possessions, a mark that ranked fifth in the league among five-man units that played at least 400 minutes together.

Allowing him to run the show as sixth man should’ve provided an anecdote, except for the fact that for some strange reason he was only sporadically given the opportunity to initiate the bench’s offense. Worse still, with various combinations of double-plodder lineups clogging the lane, his would-be layups were oftentimes transformed into more cringe-worthy shots from mid-range, which he only knocked down at a 36 percent clip.

Once Lance Stephenson was back on board, the only role that made sense for Ellis —- backup point guard — ended up being manned by a currently more athletic and more versatile version of himself.

How did Monta Ellis impress?

Of course, the groin injury that sidelined him for eight-straight games in December didn’t exactly help matters. For the next 20 games-or-so he essentially disappeared, averaging only 5.6 points while attempting less than two free throws per game and being ignored in the corner by opponents.

Then, a mid-February game against the Milwaukee Bucks happened.

Granted, it was Indiana’s third-straight loss in as many games, but Monta Ellis looked a lot more like Monta Ellis, scoring 18 points on ten shots and...gasp...dunking not once, but twice.

Yet, even while his relevance oscillated with his ability to stop-and-go, his voice in the locker room seemingly stayed constant, according to this Q&A Glenn Robinson III did with Slam’s Abe Schwadron:

SLAM: Who’s the loudest voice in the locker room, leadership-wise?

GRIII: I think Monta, Monta Ellis is.

SLAM: Is there any specific message he’s trying to give the team on a daily basis?

GRIII: In the locker room, he’s kind of that leader who likes to take charge, but he also likes to lead by example. Same with Paul [George]. Monta is always trying to get us to play the right way. Move the ball, share the ball, not caring who scores but just really play together as a team, that’s what he always stresses.

How did Monta Ellis disappoint?

Unfortunately, it was hard for the Pacers to play the right way with Ellis on the floor in the playoffs. Indiana got outscored by 5.5 points in the 53 minutes that Teague and Ellis were on the floor together against the Cavaliers. Not only did that backcourt tandem make defending the Irving-James pick and roll nightmarish, Cleveland ruthlessly alternated between using Monta as either a convenient hiding place for Kevin Love or welcomed opportunity for LeBron James to roam.

Here, following an offensive rebound, there was little incentive for Love to retreat to Ellis in the corner — where he shot 28.2 percent thru 82 games — when he and J.R. Smith could join forces to overload on Paul George.

He didn’t make up for it on defense, either. Check out this aerial view of a botched switch by Thaddeus Young and Ellis early in Game 2.

Even sadder is that he shot 14.3 percent on catch and shoot 3s, despite being left open for much of the series. That, in part, is why watching the Stephenson-Ellis pairing muck up the team’s floor spacing in Game 3, while Indiana’s sizable lead dwindled with Jeff Teague on the bench, was so painful.

What’s next?

While making the media rounds, Kevin Pritchard repeatedly mentioned that Lance Stephenson will factor heavily into the team’s offseason plans. Born Ready is not only younger and cheaper than Ellis, he proved more effective. If the goal is to wisely surround the prodigal point wing with multiple shooters, it’s obvious that Ellis isn’t going to mesh with that particular vision. It’s possible that under the right set of circumstances he could play a similar role to Lance off the bench for another team, but unloading his salary without losing a first-round pick is probably wishful thinking.

Otherwise, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Monta’s $11 million player option for 2018-19 is not a real player option in so much as the Pacers can waive him prior to the end of next season and his salary will disappear from their books. Erased, just like his explosiveness by age and injury and his productivity by Indiana’s ill-conceived attempts to shove his aging square peg-game into a redundant round hole-roster.