Monta Ellis surprised a lot of people by turning into a near-elite offensive player last season, but really, maybe this was just the first time he was used correctly.
Looking at last year
Contrary to what many people said about him, Monta Ellis didn't really change last year. His rejuvenation was eye-opening and one of the stories of the season, but Ellis was the same player moving from a horrendous situation to one that was damn near perfect for him.
In Milwaukee two seasons, Ellis was thrown into an offense with little guidance and even fewer players around him to help. You can imagine what a stark change it was when he trotted out in a Mavericks uniform for the first time.
In the read-and-react Dallas offense, Ellis no longer had to worry about defenses constantly loading up in the paint when he attacks the lane last season. Milwaukee didn't have a player with a gravitational pull like Dirk did, pulling and shifting defenses around in his direction by just the very nature of being on the court. As a result, drives that would have ended 15 feet from the basket when a weak side defender rotated over turned into finger rolls at the basket or wrap-around passes to a big man for Monta.
Credit Rick Carlisle for putting him in a position to succeed, too. As the year went on, the Mavericks became better and better at setting Monta up moving to his right to attack the rim or pull up for an under-control jump shot. The emergence of his corner 3-point shot was another example of capitalizing on something the Mavericks noticed Ellis succeed at throughout the year, as he spotted up there much more down the stretch.
His defense, of course, was a problem. As well as Ellis uses his athletic talents on offense, he struggled to translate those to a defensive setting. It was especially obvious with Calderon next to him, so Devin Harris now closing games should help mitigate that problem a little.
Best case scenario
Ellis thrives in an even more potent Dallas offensive system and finally develops some consistency with his 3-point shooting, hitting 36 percent from deep for the first time in his career. He leads the Mavericks with six assists per game. He's selected to the All-Star team.
His consistency and explosion on offense lets Dirk rest and Parsons focus on his defensive impact throughout the season. Monta, on the other hand, doesn't get much better on that end, but picks up some team defense elements from the ever-persistent Carlisle.
Worst case scenario
Like we said, Monta has been good because he's taken what the offense has provided. Last year, the worry is that he would keep going like his Milwaukee days even when the offensive structure gave him more room to shine, but those mostly proved unfounded.
While it's possible Monta slips back into bad habits, the bigger worry is that he doesn't mesh with the new rotation. The worst case scenario -- and a very unlikely one, I think -- is that he starts to go around trying to one up Chandler Parsons as the first option, since Dirk seems ready to let one of those guys jump over him in the scoring rotation.
Last season, Monta led the entire league in points generated off of drives. The worst thing that could happen to him is that he stops going to the rim for whatever reason.
Can he make an All-Star team?
I think it's reasonable to say Monta's All-Star window only has a couple years left. He's 29 and relies on elite athleticism, so he's right as his peak and will only begin to decline in the next few years.
I give him a 20 percent chance of making the All-Star Game this year. First, it'd have to take Dirk really stepping aside and letting him run things in the first half of this season -- a conscious decision that would allow him to come on strong in February, March and April. Next, of course, Monta would have to play really, really great. Then, you'd have to really see Monta draw eyes to his excellent play: hit a game winner, have a 50 point game, maybe just have a big double-double on national television.
Even if that happens, I'm unsure it'll be enough to overcome a pretty negative stigma he developed with his inefficiency in Milwaukee and in his last couple of years in Golden State. I'd love to see it, though. He's probably the Mavericks only shot at being represented there.