The Weekside: In Indiana, Monta Ellis really does have it all

Jan 30, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Monta Ellis (11) brings the ball up court against the Denver Nuggets at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 30, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Monta Ellis (11) brings the ball up court against the Denver Nuggets at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indiana Pacers remade their roster last summer. They watched David West pass on a $11 million option to go play for peanuts in San Antonio and then gave away Roy Hibbert to the Los Angeles Lakers in an attempt to be a bit more Golden State-y.

Their only marquee acquisition to fill the talent void was Monta Ellis, a 30-year-old veteran combo guard best known for shooting, scoring, shooting, and scoring on three different NBA teams, none of which ever seemed overly concerned with retaining his services.

The Monta Ellis Experience in Indiana has been full of surprises. The most glaring aspect has been that he isn’t living up to his reputation in various ways. Ellis has at times been passive to shoot while often looking like the catalyst for a remodeled Frank Vogel defense that began the season increasingly forces turnovers. He has also spent the season displaying locker room leadership that all his teammates talk about.

That is not the description of who many people in Indiana expected when the team signed the 10-year veteran last Summer. But while there have been plenty of ups and downs for the Mississippi-born gunner, he has fit in well and the team has played well whenever he does.

First come the glowing stats: The Pacers are 7-1 in games when Monta leads the team in scoring and 9-4 when he scores 20 points or more, per

And these high-scoring nights have been coming more frequently over the past two months. Because prior to a 2-for-17 shooting debacle against Miami, Ellis had been having a stellar new year.

He started 2016 off by averaging 15.9 points, 5.1 assists, and 2.0 steals while shooting 46.1% (including 34.8% from 3-point range) in 23 games. He was particularly good away from home averaging 16.7 points on 49.2% shooting (including 38.5% from deep).

This was on display in the Pacers first game after the break, as a big night from Monta helped them upset the Thunder in Oklahoma City.

He kicked off his clutch performance by sticking a 3-pointer with his team down 4 and under 2 minutes to play. Then, with the score knotted at 95 and just 18 seconds left, Ellis buried a heavily contested 3 to put his team ahead for good. He made 10-of-16 shots on the evening for a team-high 27 points in what was easily the Pacers biggest win of the season and Monta’s signature moment in an Indiana uniform.

For all the good, one major disappointment for Monta this season has been his ability — or, rather, inability — to get to the line. He is averaging just 2.4 attempts from the line per game with the Pacers, a big drop from the 5.2 trips to the stripe he took each night two years ago with Dallas. That number fell to 3.8 last season, thus giving the world reason to think this downward trend is the new normal given his age.

Also disconcertingly: Monta is taking a higher volume of his shots, as a percentage of his overall attempts, from behind the arc than ever before while taking fewer than ever from the restricted area, per Basketball-Reference. Monta’s career-high and career-low from these zones this season are not massive aberrations from his prior-year norms. But, again, he is now on the wrong side of 30, so settling for a few more jumpers, driving a bit less, and a waning ability to get fouled will wear on his overall efficiency and effectiveness.

That said, these are full-year trends.

Ellis clearly was reluctant to play his typical style at times early in the year. He acted more of a distributor, shooting less and focusing on defense and leadership. Paul George recently praised his teammate for what he brings to the locker room, as reported by Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star.

“He’s been a leader this whole season,” George said. “Monta has incredible leadership. He’s been someone I’ve been feeding off of. His way of reaching and interacting with everyone and being the same person every day, whether it’s a long day, whether it’s a short day, whether he’s got a lot going on, whether his mind is cleared, he’s been the same teammate. He’s been the same friend and same brother in the locker room.”

Perhaps unlike a younger version of himself would have, he looked to understand that this was Paul George’s team and that he had to fit in. He had gone through something similar in Dallas, showing fewer of the Monta Ellis Have It All moments of grandeur he displayed often in Milwaukee and deferring to Dirk Nowitzki. He remained the fearless gunner, always ready to take and make bit shots late, but the Mavericks belonged to the German Hall of Famer.

The Monta who showed up in Indiana seemed like even more mature, a veteran shooting guard entering a new environment who appeared like he wanted to feel out his new team before putting his stamp on things.

This ran counter to his reputation as a gunner and a player who behaved the same way no matter what jersey he was wearing. They say shooters gonna shoot, but early on this year, this shooter observed and acclimated himself to a new team before injecting his skill set into its makeup.

This is changing some now, as Ellis has realized that Frank Vogel’s offense needs his points.

For the full year, Monta is shooting just 12.9 times per game this season, the lowest since his rookie year a decade ago, and well below his career average of 16.1 attempts per game. But a lot of this is based on his gun-shy approach to the first month of the season. Ellis took just 12.1 shots per game in his first 16 games, from his Pacers debut until November 30. But around Christmas, he started acting more like himself, and he has put up 14.2 attempts per game in 28 games since December 26.

Naturally, his lower attempt numbers overall this year have led to what appears to be a disappointing per-game scoring average. Marc Stein, an ESPN reporter who has always followed the Mavericks closely, noted the backslide while writing about Indiana in his week 17 power ranking column.

More and more, Indiana is seeing the Monta Ellis it expected when he arrived as the Pacers’ marquee offseason acquisition. He was Indy’s top scorer in much-needed weekend wins at Oklahoma City and Orlando, though Ellis still sports the second-largest PPG decrease (minus-4.9 PPG) for any player who started at least 40 games last season behind LaMarcus Aldridge (minus-6.5 PPG).

Some of this may just be his new, older nature.

In the Pacers win last night against the Knicks, Monta shot 3-for-6 in 36 minutes. This would have been unthinkable in years past, particularly since New York lacks perimeter defenders. But rookie Myles Turner was hot down low and Paul George took over the second half. So Ellis was comfortable to just do the other stuff out on the court, adding 7 assists, 8 rebounds, and 2 steals.

When his number was called late in a close contest, he was more than willing. He is still Monta Ellis after all, and he caught Kristaps Porzingis guarding him in a switch, stepping back for a jumper. It rattled out, adding to some fan frustration that he settled for a tougher shot when he should have attacked the rim.

You see, as much as Monta has changed, he’s still frustrating fans. That will likely never go away. He’s Monta Ellis. But we’re seeing a different type of player in many ways this season, for better and worse.

He is not the scoring-focused demon every night like we’ve seen in the past, but from maturity and leadership to playing defense and taking a backseat at times, maybe in Indiana Monta Ellis Have It All.

Monta Ellis
Monta Ellis /

Throwback Thursday: Detlef Was That Dude

We don’t talk about Detlef enough.

In 1993, he became one of the first foreign-born player to make the All-Star team and then did it twice more. He won back-to-back Sixth Man of the Year Awards. More impressive than the accolades, however, are the numbers.

This recent tweet from ESPN highlighting a Hassan Whiteside accomplish shows his insane versatility and ahead-of-its-time all-around game.

Detlef did it all for every team he played on, getting a spark with Dallas then evolving into a super sixth man with the Pacers before being dealt to star alongside Gary Payton and Shawn Kempt in Seattle then finishing out his career as a savvy veteran on some fantastic Portland teams.

But never was he more spectacular than in 1992-93.

In his first All-Star season, he averaged 19.1 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game for Indiana. That is just obnoxious. He finished in the top 25 in scoring, rebounding, and assists — doing what few players other than Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Oscar Robertson had up to that time. Guys like Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady, and LeBron would later come along to make such stat-stuffing seem closer to human, but when Detlef was doing this it just wasn’t done.

Making the number all the nuttier is that, even though this was his first year as a starter, Detlef still came off the bench 22 times that season. And he still put up that line. While shooting 47.6% — which was actually a large drop off from the prior year when he made 53.6% of his shots.

It’s silly. And it wasn’t just the fact that he did this (at times) off the bench. He also did it insanely efficiently. In 1992-93 Detlef’s usage rate was only 22.1 — just a tick above the “ideal” five-man distribution of 20 — and he got to the line 8 times per game. This means he put up 19 points per night on just 13.2 field goal attempts.

Throw in the points he created via assist, and Detlft Schrempt directly produced at least 31 points on just 13 shots per game.

If he did that in 2016, the new NBA logo would have a blond flat top.

Play Book

They say the NFL is a copycat league. Well, the NBA can be at times, too. The most apparent changes have been multiple teams trying, and failing, to mimic the small-ball success of the Golden State Warriors.

But we see it a lot more in individual sets.

Now-popular actions like “elevator doors” and “the hammer” are seen nightly across the league. The innovators created enough clones in recent years that these once-genius sets have just become one more tool in the arsenal that almost all coaches use in different situations.

And now we’re getting variations on the plays.

Above, the Clippers seem to be running a normal “hammer” set in which Chris Paul dribbles baseline as Jamal Crawford puts a hard screen on JJ Redick’s man. Traditionally, that’s the whole play: Paul eluding his man with a drive that’s never intended to get a layup and instead passing to an open Redick for a corner 3.

But here, it’s a ruse. Like Paul isn’t trying to score, Crawford isn’t trying to free Redick. He slips the screen and rolls to the hoop for an uncontested dunk.

The Cavaliers have been doing this as well, and it just goes to show that the innovation within the NBA is constant, evolving, and way more intricate than many pundits would have you believe. Having talent who can make tough, contested shots gets all the press. But plays like this create points much more easily.

Words With Friends

This week’s five must-read articles about the NBA. Excerpts here — click through to read the full piece.

1. Stephen Curry’s essential confidence
by Bethlehem Shoals, SB Nation

You don’t get to “feeling it” like Steph Curry does unless you’re also in a perpetual state of feeling yourself. Take Curry’s trademark shot, the 30-foot three off the dribble. This move should be impossible to execute with any regularity, much less with the precision and accuracy that has made Curry so impossible to guard (and the Warriors so difficult to game-plan against). While there’s no, “I can do this!” that accompanies every Steph Curry long bomb, the fact remains that at some point, Curry had to believe, maybe even decide to believe, that it was possible. Every time that shot goes down, it affirms this conviction

2. Barnstorming: Time to Start Over in New Orleans
by Ian Levy, FanSided

Trying to clear their cap sheet, hunting for extra draft picks, shedding ill-fitting veterans — four years into the Anthony Davis era and it feels like the Pelicans are right back where they started. Having a player as talented as Davis is an incredible gift, something franchises wait decades for and most never find. It also bring with it an enormous ticking clock. Davis’ prime has not yet arrived, but it is also not indefinite. Making sure that those prime years aren’t wasted, or ultimately spent somewhere else, brings an enormous amount of pressure. And every failure, every draft pick whiffed on or veteran overvalued on the free agent market, just increases the pressure to get the next move right.

3. The JR Smith/Dion Waiters Power Rankings
by Jonny Auping and Alex Siquig, The Classical

[Waiters] plays like a man that has no relatives, like a man trying to remake and rebuild and repair his legacy in real time, like a man who knows that eventually he’ll be living in the city of Philadelphia and that, before Hinkie’s Process wraps it’s cold dead fingers around him, he has to make statements constantly, brusque burly statements—a 20-point game here, an acceptably nifty accidental drive there. But mostly he plays too much, shoots like a dang Stormtrooper, and has abdicated any of that Dwyane Wade-lite promise that once led serious and adequately qualified people to do crazy things like draft him or trade for him or play him nearly 30 minutes a night at the expense of folk hero/sniper Anthony Morrow.

4. Golden State’s Kevin Durant question
by Zach Lowe, ESPN

It’s a cruel irony for Thunder fans that perhaps the best parallel to the momentous choice looming in Golden State — whether to bust up an all-time team and pursue Kevin Durant in free agency — is Oklahoma City’s decision to deal James Harden. In trading Harden to Houston, the Thunder chose depth and flexibility over a core of four stars that might have left them capped out in perpetuity. Harden needed the ball, but so did Durant and Russell Westbrook; there are real diminishing returns in pairing three ball-dominant players, and it was unclear if any of those home-grown stars had the shooting touch and deferential nature to evolve into Oklahoma City’s Chris Bosh. The Warriors soared toward history the moment they gave Stephen Curry the ball on every possession. They wouldn’t be able to do that with Durant on board.

5. The Nets Are Inevitable
by Devin Kharpertian, The Brooklyn Game

The Brooklyn Nets are inevitable. Ever since they let Paul Pierce go, bought out Deron Williams, watched Joe Johnson slowly slide into ineffectual isolations, and dug in the bargain bin hoping to shake gold out of Andrea Bargnani’s pantalonis, the Nets have been in an inevitable decline, from 49 wins to 44 to 38 to whatever well-below .500 number they’ll end up with this year. The Nets have slid into inevitable for some time, but now they’re just idling in it: at 15-42 and without a draft pick at the end of the tunnel, the team is running out the clock until they can find hope in this offseason’s free agency.