Monta Ellis’ reputation is wrapped up in points. But head coach Rick Carlisle is just as impressed with what Ellis does when he’s not scoring.
Take the last moments of Wednesday’s 123-120 win over Houston. With the Dallas Mavericks down two points, Ellis had the ball up top. He drove toward the basket and was enveloped by his defender and a help-side defender.
Instead of trying to force the issue, Ellis wrapped a pass around the help-side defender to Shawn Marion, who was set up on the baseline for a 3-pointer. Marion drilled the shot to give the Mavs a two-point lead over the Rockets.
Ellis is a magnet for defenders. He draws shooting fouls, which lead to free throws. And he opens up space for the Mavs’ other big offensive weapon, Dirk Nowitzki.
Sure, Ellis had 37 points against Houston. But his eight assists — and that wraparound pass in the final minute was his last dish of the night — was just as vital.
“He has to be a facilitator and he has to help others score,” Carlisle said. “That’s important to our team.”
Ellis boasted a career average of 19.5 points per game entering this season and had a reputation for never meeting a shot he didn’t like. That’s a more polite way of saying that some saw Ellis as a volume shooter, one that needs more shots than other players because he boasts a lower shooting percentage.
Through 12 games Ellis has proven to be more than just a shooter, even though his 23.3 points per game average thus far would be his best in four years if it held up this season.
He’s making nearly 50 percent of his shots, a far cry from last year’s 41.9 percent. His 3-point percentage (34.4), his free-throw percentage (81.2) and his assists per game (5.7) are all above his career average. The only thing to quibble with so far are his turnovers, as he’s averaging 4.0 per game, well above his 2.8 career average.
Carlisle isn’t a fan of turnovers, especially out of his guards. It’s part of the reason why both Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo aren’t back in Dallas this season. Carlisle hopes that Ellis’ turnovers fall back in line with his career average soon.
But Carlisle likes the attention that Ellis is drawing as he drives to the basket. He’s a magnet for defenders. He draws shooting fouls, which lead to free throws. And he opens up space for the Mavs’ other big offensive weapon, Dirk Nowitzki.
That’s turning out to be trouble for opponents, as the Rockets learned Wednesday night.
“If Dirk and I go like that every night, then the other team has a problem, and it’s not just us scoring. It opens up chances for others,” Ellis said.
While Ellis hung 37 points on the Rockets, Nowitzki scored 35. After a short, bumpy period to start the season when it seemed Nowitzki was taking a back seat to Ellis, the pair now seem to be a tandem that could cause real issues.
Who do you defend? Ellis, the scorer who can hit jumpers and penetrate? Or Nowitzki, who’ll likely be on the receiving end when Ellis drives and dishes?
“We don’t have a secret potion,” Carlisle said. “People know it’s going to involve the two of them at the end of the game.”
Certainly it’s early, but it kind of makes Mavs fans wish Ellis could have gotten here last year. None of the guards the Mavs employed a year ago had the ability to reduce Nowitzki’s workload and siphon off the double-teams he normally sees.
But to hear Vince Carter tell it, this pairing might not have worked a year ago, given how the Mavs struggled to sort out player roles as Nowitzki rehabbed his knee injury.
“Everyone has bought into what is asked of us,” Carter said. “Not just Monta but everyone. We’re all taking on different roles even from last year. Everyone has bought in and each role is important. Each game we’ve seen that. Everyone understands that at an earlier part of the season [than last year].”
Ellis’ play through 12 games leads one to believe he’s bought in and that his successful pairing with Nowitzki might just put the Mavs back on the path to the postseason.