Devin Harris, Monta Ellis and the future

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Mavericks are fighting a battle against themselves with the Calderon, Ellis backcourt pairing. How is Harris helping and what does that mean for Ellis' future in Dallas?

(editor's note: this article was written prior to Monday's game against the New York Knicks and Wednesday's game against the New Orleans Pelicans, so some of the statistics may vary slightly.)

Jose Calderon cannot play defense. Monta Ellis cannot play defense. These aren't just facts -- they're scientific truths backed up my years of grueling study.

Or, you know, just watching this video.

Here are the raw numbers (are numbers always raw? What are well-cooked numbers?): The Mavs defense is one of the worst in the league, giving up 105.4 points per 100 possessions, good for 22nd in the league.

When Monta Ellis is on the floor, the Mavs defense is at 106.6 points per 100 possessions. Off? It tumbles to 101.8. For Calderon, the shift in the Mavs defense goes from 107 on-court to 102.6.

How about the defense when Calderon and Ellis share the court? It's 106.4.

Point is, those aren't good enough numbers for the Mavs to do any serious damage. And there's no way it's going to get better. It has been well over half a season now and there have been no signs of change.

As the years progress into Calderon and Ellis' multi-year deals it'll just continue to get worse as both players age and lose a step.

It's a big problem because it isn't just about Calderon and Ellis -- their defense changes everything. It means Samuel Dalembert is called on to be the defensive anchor and forces him to pick up cheap fouls after constant blow-bys against the backcourt. It means Dirk's minutes are more stressful than ever, as the Mavs need to push ahead while Dirk is on the court.

It means the Mavs have to stagger lineups, rotations, minutes and everything just to make it work. Rick Carlisle has done it so far, and he's been helped by the return of Devin Harris.

The big problem is it's hard to tell just how much of a defensive impact Harris is making. Our own Hal Brown detailed it in one of his Statsketball columns. The numbers haven't gotten much better. On the court, the Mavs defense allows 109.9 points per 100 possessions. Off it, the Mavs defense sits at 104.9.

But digging into 82games.com, Harris limits opposing point guards to a PER of 12. Against shooting guards? A PER of eight. Those are INSANE defensive numbers, as Harris essentially turns his opponents into Jae Crowder (*sobs*).

The solution appears to be to stagger Calderon and Ellis with Harris as the buffer, never allowing that toxic duo to play together for long stretches. Here's the very early data (numbers are points per 100 possessions):

With Calderon/Harris on the court: 132 offense, 129 defense.
With Ellis/Harris on the court: 119 offense, 115 defense.

It's hard to tell how much defensive impact Harris is having just looking at the data. Looking on the court though, paints a much better picture. Harris isn't exactly a shutdown defender, but he's quick, has good feet/hands and is able to beat offensive players to the spot more often than not.

Perhaps the numbers are skewed because Harris comes off the bench, which allows him to play against much weaker bench players and also has to play with either DeJuan Blair or Brandan Wright, which offer about as much resistance at the rim as a turd sandwich.

The nice thing about Harris is he's just producing at a wonderful clip. He's averaging about 16 points and 7 assists, per 36 minutes, while shooting good percentages. He's getting to the line a ton for his limited minutes (a little over six times per game per 36).

With that, it's easy to see how Harris makes Ellis expendable. He brings the same qualities Ellis does (ability to attack the basket, pass, get to the line) without all the defensive warts. He's also a more reliable 3-point shooter. Hell, the Mavericks offense performs better with Ellis off the floor than on but then again, Ellis is playing a huge amount of minutes. There isn't a lot of off-court Ellis time.

Carlisle has even toyed with Harris closing out games with Calderon. It makes sense, with Harris essentially filling Ellis' responsibilities but without so much of the defensive liability. Harris closed out the Detroit win a few weeks back, with Ellis having a particularly brutal game.

Ellis still has value, though. He's still a trusted scorer, a gifted passer and can attack the rim as well as anyone else in the league. How much value he has in Dallas compared to another team though, is the real question.

Just look at O.J. Mayo, who put up career numbers in Dallas and is now stinking it up with the Bucks. Playing with Dirk is a great career-boost, but it's still nice to see Ellis buy in and accept his strengths with the Mavs.

Where does that leave his future? Ellis is owed $8.32M and $8.72M on the last two years of his contract, not outrageous numbers considering the production. While there aren't a lot of solid big guys in the upcoming free agent class, there are some wings, especially with unrestricted free agent Lance Stephenson.

Should the Mavs consider moving Ellis while his value has never been higher this summer to make room for a Stephenson signing? All signs point to that being a smart move but it's hard to be definitive. Both Ellis and Stephenson are thriving with very unique and different teams.

But it's hard to know what to do with this current season. Ellis is important but how much? Can Harris give the Mavs what Ellis does and more? As much as we would like to assume so, watching Ellis break down Detroit on Saturday night was great. There's no one on the Mavs that has his speed in the open court, even with Harris.

For now, Carlisle will have to keep tinkering. He'll have to keep staggering the Ellis/Calderon duo as much as he can with Harris while also not wearing Harris out as he continues to work back from injury.

At least there are options. In the first half of the season, Carlisle had no choice but to keep Calderon and Ellis together, lest we feel wrath of Gal Mekel's shooting percentages. Larkin helped a bit and while we all want him to see minutes, Harris is no doubt more of a game changer.

It's going to be an interesting close to the season (and summer) for sure.

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