Some NBA observers took note this offseason of how the Oklahoma City Thunder cleaned up head coach Scott Brooks' rotation this offseason by removing ineffective veterans who he tended to rely on for heavy minutes. Games like Sunday night's loss to the Suns can make you wonder if the time is coming for a similar separation between Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Monta Ellis.
Against Phoenix, Ellis shot a horrific 4-21 from the floor -- an especially bad game that only served to magnify his shooting struggles over the last two months. He also committed several defensive lapses that led directly to Phoenix points. But even though he was 0-8 in the fourth quarter, Carlisle stuck with him, as he has throughout a two month stretch where Ellis has shot under 40 percent from the floor.
The Mavs' coach didn't seem to place blame for the loss on Ellis in particular, declaring in postgame comments,"Look, this is not a Monta Ellis shooting problem. This is a Dallas Maverick hard play problem. We don't play hard all of the time."
Despite two All Star nods earned by Dirk Nowitzki, Monta was arguably the Mavericks' best player last year and through the first half of this season. He's also been a great closer during that time. But since mid-February, he's play has been inconsistent. Even worse, he's taken touches away from more effective players like Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons in the clutch.
No matter what the reason -- lingering injuries, poor shot selection or lack of spacing from sharing the court with Rajon Rondo -- Ellis' play has been mostly poor to mediocre.
His numbers since March 1:
- 38.2 percent from the field and 21.9 percent from the three point line.
- 41.3 percent on pullup shots, which account for 27.7 percent of his total field goal attempts.
- 67.4 percent shooting on 43 free throw attempts.
- 31 percent shooting in fourth quarters on 4.7 shots.
Whatever the explanation, it should be enough for the Mavericks and Carlisle to question his value as a featured player on the team. Ellis has held down the starting off guard spot since the beginning of last season. But if he can't consistently make shots, make plays for others or defend, he shouldn't be the team's starting shooting guard and he shouldn't be paid like one either. The second point is more relevant to the upcoming offseason, in which Ellis is expected to opt out of the last year of his contract.
For the remaining 11 games of the season, however, his role in closing lineups should reflect his recent struggles. There's no reason Ellis should get a longer leash than the bigger, more athletic and more versatile Parsons, who was benched for most of the fourth quarter against Orlando last week. Whether Ellis continues to start or not is besides the point. He simply shouldn't be in Carlisle's finishing lineup while he continues to play like this.
Parsons, Rondo and Tyson Chandler have been the team's best players of late. And recently Nowitzki, still the face of the franchise, has seen his shooting numbers turn the corner. The contributions of all four is clear, whether it's the rebounding and rim protection of Chandler, the passing and defense of Rondo, Nowitzki's shooting or Parson's shot making and versatility as a secondary ball handler.
Carlisle has talked often about the toughness about the toughness of the team's resident iron man, who has played through a hip injury that started bothering him before the All-Star break. But Mavs fans would be hard pressed to name one area where Ellis has excelled consistently in recent weeks. It seems pretty clear at this point that a player like Al-Farouq Aminu (who adds defense and rebounding) or Devin Harris (who is at least a threat from the 3-point line) should be closing games over Monta.
No Mavericks fan loves the guy more than I do and there's a chance he could still turn it around over the next month. When he's on, Ellis is still one the the league's biggest threats out of the pick and roll. But for the most part, when he's not making shots, he's not contributing. On any other playoff team, that kind of player would be a sixth man at best. And whether because of the roster construction or his own play, Ellis hasn't even made shots consistently in recent games. Far be it from me to tell Rick Carlisle how to do his job, but reducing his role in closing lineups should be an easy decision right now.