HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – It’s only two preseason games, but Monta Ellis is fulfilling his promise to deliver “Monta basketball” to the Dallas Mavericks. The turbo-charged, at-times-reckless playmaker is cruising with the pleasing efficiency of a Prius.
This post initially was set to pose this question: Can Jose Calderon tame Monta? Perhaps the updated inquiry is: Has a dash of happiness helped Ellis to quickly figure it out on his own?
Calderon is the steady, high-IQ, pass-first point guard. He doesn’t force what’s not there and makes few mistakes. He’s the honor-roll yin to Ellis’ wild-hare yang. As a backcourt combo working off a floor-spacing, double-team magnet in Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs’ brass believes this formula will allow Ellis to roam as burden-free and consistently be in position to fire quality shots. In theory, Ellis will have the opportunity to leave the tag as one of the league’s least efficient scoring machines in his contrails.
“My job this year is going to be to get the ball to the right guys at the right moment,” Calderon said. “So, it’s going to be with Dirk, it’s going to be with Monta, with everybody. That’s what I do.”
We won’t get a first glimpse of the Calderon-Ellis combo at work probably until at least Wednesday when Dallas plays at Indiana (7 p.m. ET). The 32-year-old Calderon has yet to play because of a gimpy hamstring and he’s likely to miss a third consecutive game Monday against Orlando.
Joining Calderon on the injured list are point guards Devin Harris and rookie Shane Larkin, making inexperienced Israeli import Gal Mekel the starter so far. It’s been Ellis, though, as ringleader, running the floor and coming off screens to drop buckets and dimes. He had eight assists in Wednesday’s 95-90 win at Memphis and seven in the opening loss against New Orleans. That’s 15 assists to just three turnovers in 51 total minutes. He’s 9-for-17 from the floor and 3-for-5 from beyond the arc for 21 points. His efficiency downer is 3-for-6 at the free-throw line.
During the Mavs’ Media Day, Ellis predicted that his highly criticized game of the past few seasons will take off in coach Rick Carlisle‘ high-pace, movement offense.
“I think it’s going to take me back to my golden years where I was enjoying playing basketball again,” said Ellis, reflecting on his early Golden State days. “With his style of play, like I said, we’re going to shock a lot of people. Here, I have to adjust my game a little bit and get back to running the floor, being that one-man fast break and try to bring a lot of pace to the team.”
The early results might suggest Calderon slipping into more of an off-ball Steve Nash-type role that evolved with the Lakers last season, standing in the corner waiting for the open 3. Not that Calderon, the league’s most accurate 3-point shooter last season (46.1 percent) compared to Ellis being the least accurate among 134 qualifiers (28.7 percent), didn’t already suspect as much.
“I think I am going to have a lot of situations for the spot-up 3s,” said Calderon, who attempted a relatively low 282 of them last season.
How Calderon and Ellis mesh will make for compelling theater. There are plenty of doubters and the spotlight following this duo will always shine brightest, for better or worse, on the 27-year-old Ellis. He shrugs off the advanced stats that deem him inefficient, which is a word in Ellis’ world that might as well be a four-letter one.
“I’m going to get criticized for what I do anyway so the only thing I can do is laugh it off,” said Ellis, who averaged 19.1 ppg on 41.6 percent shooting last season with Milwaukee. “There’s a lot of guys that take a lot of bad shots in this league, a lot of bad shots. Nobody wants to talk about them, but everybody wants to talk about the shots that Monta takes. The only thing that I’m going to do is take the punches and prove everybody wrong.”
That’s when Ellis busted out “Monta Basketball.” What is “Monta Basketball?”
“Getting out, running, taking the shots that’s appropriate and attack the basket more,” Ellis said. “I think over the past few years I got to a point where I was settling for jump shots. At first, I attacked the basket, never was the high-end guy to shoot 3s. I think I put a lot more 3s into my game, so I’m going to get back to attacking the basket, getting out there and being a one-man fast break and bring pace to this team.”
So far so good. The next step is to put the yin together with the yang and see what fortune awaits.