DALLAS – After Monta Ellis’ magnificent debut for the Dallas Mavericks, he vowed to make it the norm.
“I can hold up to it,” Ellis said after his 32-point, eight-assist performance in the season-opening win over the Atlanta Hawks. “You’ll see.”
For his first six weeks or so in a Mavs uniform, Ellis came close enough to backing up those bold words. Now that he’s mired in his first mini-slump of the season, Ellis apparently doesn’t have much to say, dressing in the trainers’ room after Sunday night’s loss to the New York Knicks and darting up the stairs as soon as the media surrounded Dirk Nowitzki after Monday’s practice.
So we’ll have to wait for an explanation from Ellis about why his offensive numbers have dipped significantly over the last dozen games, a stretch in which the Mavs are 6-6.
Ellis is averaging only 17.3 points on 41.9 percent shooting, including 20 percent from 3-point range, in that span. By comparison, he averaged 21.5 points while shooting 47.2 percent from the floor and 37.3 percent from 3-point range in the first 22 games. His shot totals and locations haven’t changed significantly, just his success as a scorer.
There are plenty of reasonable theories as to why Ellis is struggling. He’s always been a streaky shooter, so perhaps it’s just a rough stretch in a relatively small sample size. Maybe the guard who averages 37 minutes per game, by far the most on the Mavs, is just fighting through some fatigue. Different defensive schemes could be a significant factor, too, now that opponents have plenty of film to study of Ellis with the Mavs.
Or, the scariest scenario for the Mavs: Ellis is regressing to the mean.
Remember, Ellis arrived in Dallas with a reputation as a horribly inefficient scorer. He shot 41.6 percent from the floor for the Milwaukee Bucks last season, just a bit lower than his shooting percentage from the last 12 games.
The hope for the Mavs, who signed Ellis to a three-year, $25 million deal after striking out on superstars and discovering that Devin Harris’ toe needed surgery this summer, was that he’d benefit tremendously from being coached by Rick Carlisle and playing with Dirk Nowitzki. On the whole, that’s been the case.
But the Mavs must get Ellis back into his groove from November, when there was a lot of discussion about the nine-year veteran making his All-Star debut. The Mavs are a mediocre team when Ellis doesn’t excel.
“He’s getting a lot of attention,” Carlisle said. “Teams are game-planning for him, and I got to do a better job of getting him better shots. That’s what we got to do. He’s got to keep attacking. And when we get more stops, he gets better shots. Look at our games where we’ve defended well, and that’s going to be a constant.”
Nowitzki also cited opponents’ schemes against the pick-and-roll, the Mavs’ offensive bread and butter, as the primary reason for his sidekick’s recent statistical dip. Nowitzki mentioned that some teams have had success trapping Ellis on pick-and-rolls, forcing the ball out of his hands. The Knicks kept Ellis out of his rhythm in part by switching a lot.
“That kind of got us away a little bit from our game,” Nowitzki said. “We’d love to have him attack north and south off the pick-and-roll, get in the lane, make the defense collapse, swing it out, find our shooters. If it’s not there, run another pick-and-roll. That’s more our game and we’ve got to get back to playing it.”
The Mavs need to figure out how to get Ellis back in early-season form – and far from his Milwaukee norm.