The arc of my NBA off season went something like this: hope, anger, frustrating, incessant whining, acceptance, and finally, with the season beginning, we've circled back around to hope.
Going from the possibility of Dwight Howard to the reality of Monta Ellis has been an interesting experience. To say I was displeased about the signing of Monta is an understatement. Many of the Mav-faithful immediately hailed the decision because that's what good fans do. I immediately started complaining that the front office had signed a volume shooter who plays zero defense. Essentially, I thought we'd traded one frustrating shooting guard for another.
As summer has trudged on, though, I've came around to the idea as Monta as a Mav. There are a million "if's" involved here, but with a brand new team that was always going to be the case. If he cuts down on the amount he shoots, if he stops shooting off the dribble so frequently, if he tries to play defense... Dallas might just cause problems in the Western conference.
Then he went on the Ben and Skin show yesterday and he's really trying to win the skeptics over.
[The Mavericks are] a great organization. They got a hall of fame player in Dirk, so without the defense focused mostly on me, I can expand my game a little bit more.
Monta has been a main defensive focus of opposing teams for the past three or four seasons. In Golden State he was the anchor of the offense, sharing time with Stephan Curry before Curry discovered that he is a superhero (see this past off season for more). In Milwaukee he was paired with an inefficient and undersized Brendon Jennings. In each situation, he was either expected to be or assumed that he was the main scoring option. Recognizing that Dirk is the engine that drives the Mavericks is important. It's something that neither Mayo or Darren Collison seemed to understand last season. It also frees Ellis from the burden of being the chief offensive threat.
His best offensive season came in 2007-2008, when the Warriors has Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington and a number of other offensively minded players. He shot a ridiculous 53% on 15 shots a game. Last season, with the offensively challenged Bucks, Ellis shot a morbid 41.6% on 17.5 shots a game. With as many offensive minded players as the 2013-2014 Mavericks boast, perhaps Monta can regain some of his old form.
Speaking of form, Ellis also mentioned some time he spent with Rick Carlisle this summer:
He came and met me out in Houston... and we worked on some things that he thinks will help me better percentage-wise on shooting. There were kinks I had to fix on my jump shot where the ball was going to the right a little bit... For him to do that really set in well with me, because I never had a coach really that do that and come out and show me what I can improve on... I can see that he's very hands on, and he wants to win, so that's my biggest thing, and when he did that, it was even better for me to be motivated to want to come here and play here and understand the situation that I was coming into.
This isn't the first time Carlisle stepped in to help a new Maverick shooting guard fix his shot. O.J. Mayo experienced a similar situation last summer and started the season shooting above 50% from deep, tantalizing us all with his potential before crashing back into mediocrity.
That Ellis was a preps-to-pros phenom explains his comments about coaching and one wonders how far a coach such as Carlisle can take Ellis. In the interview, Monta says it wasn't about what kind of shots Ellis takes, rather just his form. I don't believe that for a second, but as long as he isn't chucking off the dribble while ignoring a wide open Dirk, I suppose we can be happy with small victories.
Any player who wants to win, expresses coachability, and understands the pecking order in Dallas can thrive. Last year's back court were playing for their next contract. The current back court is in Dallas for the long haul. It's in their interest to adapt their capabilities for the team concept. I've been skeptical of Monta for some time, simply because his track record calls for it. But Dallas, with it's firm structure and reliable superstar, may well be the best situation in the pro career of Monta Ellis.