DALLAS – Monta Ellis doesn’t know who is responsible for the wallpaper in the back of his locker at the American Airlines Center, but he got the message.
A few stories about Ellis being a defensive liability were printed out and taped up in his locker. The especially critical passages have been highlighted.
“PROVE THEM WRONG,” one of the coaches scrawled in black ink on one of the papers.
“It’s just something I look at every day before practice, before the game,” Ellis said, “and try to feed off of it.”
Ellis arrived in Dallas with a poor reputation as a defender despite racking up a lot of steals. He had a rap as a high-risk defender who sacrificed being fundamentally sound to get steals, and at 6-foot-3, his size puts him at a significant disadvantage against bigger shooting guards such as Houston’s James Harden (34 points vs. Mavs) and Minnesota’s Kevin Martin (32 points vs. Mavs).
Another huge challenge will be waiting for Ellis in Miami in the form of Dwyane Wade.
“He’s picked it up in the last few games,” coach Rick Carlisle said of Ellis’ defensive work. “The assignments the next couple of games get harder with Wade and then you’ve got [Victor] Oladipo in Orlando. In a situation like his, where he’s such a dynamic scorer, teams are always going to go at him. It’s important that he is able to hold the fort defensively and be able to continue to attack offensively.”
It’s worth noting that the Mavs have been a better defensive team so far this season with Ellis on the floor. Dallas’ overall defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) is 102.3, which is tied for 15th in the NBA. It’s 99.9 with Ellis on the floor.
Carlisle downplayed Ellis’ size as a concern and cited his athleticism, experience and toughness as traits that can help him be a solid defender. Carlisle said a challenge for him is keeping Ellis’ minutes at a reasonable level, allowing him to exert maximum energy on both ends of the floor.
“Look, no team is perfect, and we’re far from perfect, but we’ve got to constantly be looking for solutions to our challenges,” Carlisle said. “The biggest solution is hard play.”
The hope apparently is that the motivational fodder in Ellis’ locker helps him play hard on the less glamorous aspect of the game.