DALLAS -- His critics have been quieted, but Monta Ellis can still hear them.
Nobody refers to Ellis as an analytics antihero anymore or calls him a selfish gunner who values volume scoring over winning after he’s played a critical role in the Dallas Mavericks returning to the playoffs. But Ellis distinctly remembers all those who doubted whether he could be a valuable member of a winning franchise, present company included.
“That’s why I go out every night and play this game of basketball -- for my teammates and this organization -- because all of them critics,” Ellis said Tuesday before the Mavs traveled to Memphis for a regular-season finale that will determine the order of the West’s last two playoff seeds and whether Dallas accomplishes its goal of winning 50 games. “I love proving people wrong, and this year we have done that. ...
“You’re going to have that anyway. That’s just part of life. Some people rise to the occasion, some people fold. I like that kind of press that they put out. It always wants to make me prove people wrong.”
Ellis still bristles about the criticism of his game, but it was factually based. What he’s actually proven is that he can adapt and thrive under better circumstances.
There is no question that Ellis was one of the least efficient scorers in the NBA in recent seasons, especially during his last campaign in Milwaukee. The facts were that his field-goal percentage (41.6) was the second lowest in the league among 15-plus-ppg scorers, his 3-point percentage (28.7) was the worst among qualifiers and he hit the lowest percentage of off-the-dribble jumpers (32.3) of any player who jacked up at least 250 such shots.
The facts are that Ellis, whose points (19.0) and assists (5.8) are actually down slightly from last season, has become a significantly more efficient scorer across the board this season. He’s shooting a very respectable 45.2 percent from the floor, 32.7 percent from 3-point range and 38.8 percent on off-the-dribble jumpers, which ranks 16th of the 33 players with at least 250 such attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
To Ellis’ credit, he recognized that he was in a no-win situation in Milwaukee and made sure he escaped in the summer, leaving a lot of money on the table. He turned down a three-year, $36 million deal from the Bucks, hoping he’d get close to that kind of money in free agency. However, his skeptics included a lot of folks in NBA front offices, so Ellis ended up settling for a three-year, $25 million deal from the Mavs after the first couple waves of free agency.
And he’s awfully glad he did.
“I’m happier than I’ve been in the last few years, just being on a club with a great group of guys who love basketball and just want to win,” said Ellis, a nine-year veteran who has been on only two playoff teams and never played for a 50-win squad. “Once you’re winning, it makes life easier.”
Playing with Dirk Nowitzki, a focal point for every opponent’s defensive game plan, has made Ellis’ life a lot easier. So has being surrounded by perimeter shooting threats such as Jose Calderon and Vince Carter. Ellis explains his improved shot selection as being a result of not being pressured to take poor shots on dead-end possessions very often, as he was in Milwaukee.
Ellis has also embraced his primary responsibility in the Mavs’ offense by relentlessly attacking the rim, especially off pick-and-rolls. According to NBA.com player-tracking data, he has the most drives (817) of any player in the league this season by a margin of more than 50, creating close-range shots for himself or kicking it out to teammates for open looks.
“He’s a big part of why we’re back in the playoffs,” Nowitzki said. “He’s been a great playmaker for us, not only shooting probably one of the best percentages of his career, for himself, creating for himself, but also making everybody else better. Helping me out, giving me open shots, getting the guys open rolls to the basket with [the Mavs’ centers] and finding our shooters like Jose and stuff on the weak side.
“We run a lot of stuff for him. We run a lot of pick-and-rolls for him all game. We expect him to attack the whole game and he’s done a phenomenal job.”
The circumstances around Ellis improving gave him a chance to prove critics wrong. However, whether he likes to admit it or not, much of the criticism was fair. Ellis had to change.
“I had to grow up and accept some of the things that was going on around me that I can control, which is my attitude,” Ellis said. “Be more positive and put myself around positive people. Being around this organization and really this group of guys got me back into love with basketball.”
With a revamped game and an intense desire to win, Ellis has given Mavs fans a reason to love him. The deafening roar from critics has been replaced by appreciative applause from American Airlines Center crowds as the playoffs approach.