This offseason, Dallas welcomed a player with an affinity for using the third person and taking long jump shots -- and only one of those things is a problem.
It's a funny situation-- Monta Ellis is the first player in Dallas since Michael Finley that has a real chance of surpassing Dirk as the team's leading scoring this season, something the front office has made a goal for several years. And yet, his signing was probably the most controversial move made by the front office in half a decade.
The 27-year old Ellis arrives in Dallas with a handful of misconceptions and a lot of question marks. For a player with talent almost without bounds, the question has always been how he utilizes it.
What the Mavericks are looking for is an offensive weapon who balances a solid perimeter game with persistent drives to the basket. They want a playmaker, a player who uses outstanding athleticism to send an opponent's defense scrambling and takes advantage by finding an uncovered teammate -- something that complements the smart ball distribution approach of new starting point guard Jose Calderon. And they want a disruptive defender, who plays good team defense and forces opponents into catastrophic turnovers of their own.
Monta is capable of all that. But it's a grey line he's dealing with -- how many off-the-dribble 20-foot jumpers is too many? How often can he leave his man wide open in a wild attempt for a steal before it becomes too often?
See, Monta "gets it." That isn't the issue here. When asked about his efficiency at Mavs Media Day, his initial reaction was frustrated, almost bashful silence. He's been asked about this a billion times. He's been told it by dozens of different coaches. I'm sure he sees it in his mentions on twitter, in the latest Grantland article -- anywhere he goes, Monta knows he's his own worst enemy on the court.
But he's drawn to those long pull-up jumpers like a deer to headlights. It's in his nature. Sometimes, in a haste to change a player's mentality, you change the player himself. Like a gunslinging quarterback who takes too many risks, you CAN batter into his mind not to throw risky deep balls. But is it worth it, when all of a sudden, you're left with a quarterback who is hesitant to throw the ball even when his star receiver is in single coverage?
Take a look at a fantastic video that highlights Monta's strengths. If you were wondering what Ellis could bring to the team, this is it.
As you can see, this video highlights his strengths. Attacking off the dribble, drawing fouls, wrecking havoc in the passing lanes, spacing the floor by hitting open jumpers and distributing to his open teammates both on the break and in the half-court offense (and the wild, crazy game-winner is just extra, of course).
But the key word here is VIDEO. Because you look at his box score, and you realize he finished 9 of 24 with three turnovers. He ended 18 possessions, by himself, with nothing to show for it.
It just goes to show you the full package the Mavericks have received -- by their own choice.
The biggest question headed into this season is how can the Mavericks make Monta look like the video, without the box score luggage coming along with him.
It starts with Rick Carlisle. Just days after the signing was made official, Carlisle traveled to Houston where Monta was working out and spent several days with his newest player.
"It's great for me because you feel like you're wanted by this organization," he said. "It feels like your a part of this team. It was the right step to do and it's up to me to open up and trust him. He trusted me, so I have to trust in him."
You can't "fix" Monta's mentality, something many people still don't realize. Prevent him from playing basketball the way he knows how and what is he left with?
But Dallas got into this situation thinking it could put Ellis is the right situations that allowed him to succeed. It's too early in the season to try to predict the exact route Carlisle will take, but there's no doubt that Jose Calderon will play a big role in that. He's the first pass-first point guard Monta has played with since Baron Davis and his addition should keep Ellis from dominating the ball.
When Monta has the ball in his hands, give him a purpose. Spot him up or give him a Dirk pick and roll right away. Aimless dribbles, even if he's just waiting for a play to develop, are asking for Monta to fall back into old habits.
For better or for worse, much of the Mavericks' success this season is tethered around the effectiveness of Monta Ellis adapting to the Dallas system. And while you can't prevent him from playing "Montaball", also realize that his style of play adapts itself for each system and setting he's exposed to. Montaball in Dallas surely won't look like Montaball in Milwaukee -- and if I'm wrong, please blind me now before the season starts.
Monta may have it all, but will he use it all? Stay tuned.