The NBA, A-through-Z: Efficiency, and the tale of Monta Ellis

Kelly Dwyer

The free agents have just about all been signed up. The NBA is down to a series of Instagram photos from moving yachts and crossed fingers from worried teams hoping their players stay safe in the summer off. There’s nothing going on, save for that clock on the wall that is ticking down to the 2013-14 season.

And it’s moving SO SLOWLY.

This is why we’ve decided to pick 26 things we’re looking forward to in 2013-14. Or, at the very least, 26 things that intrigue us as we wait out an offseason that feels like it has thousands of miles left to cross before we can get to Halloween and opening week. Because there are 26 letters in the alphabet – you guessed, NBA A-through-Z.

We continue with efficiency, and the tale of Monta Ellis.

Last week, Mark Cuban penned a thoughtful blog post on his team’s relative misfortune in the years since winning the 2011 NBA title. The Dallas Mavericks’ owner went into the series of decisions that led that year’s championship winning team to then turn into a first round flameout in 2012, and lottery participant for the first time since Cuban took ownership of the Mavs (we’re not counting 1999-00, the year Cuban purchased the team midseason).

As we’ve repeated endless times on this site, we’ve agreed with just about every one of Cuban’s moves on principle. With Dirk Nowitzki and a smart coaching staff in place, the team was probably right not to overpay Tyson Chandler and Jason Terry in consecutive years, while attempting to secure cap space for a player in Dwight Howard that shocked the NBA by strangely being talked into declining his early-termination option for 2012-13, taking him out of Dallas’ free agent plans. And on paper, the holdovers that were signed to fill the gaps should have kept the Mavs in place.

Instead, the Mavs have struggled. And the team hasn’t even had the same Dirk Nowitzki to rely on, as he showed up to camp out of shape after the 2011 championship and lockout, while taking until the midway part of 2012-13 to fully look himself after undergoing knee surgery. In the 2013 offseason, the Mavs whiffed on Howard in free agency, and had to work around the edges once again.

One of those signees-on-the-edge is former Warriors and Bucks guard Monta Ellis. Ellis has averaged 19.4 points per game over his NBA career, but his shooting percentages and shot selection has tailed off dramatically since he averaged over 20 points per game while shooting 53 percent in 2007-08. Ellis is the type of player that would seem to fly in the face of the Mavericks’ long-held belief in embracing efficiency, as the Dallas organization was one of the first to rely on all manner of outside influence and metric makin’ in order to guide their personnel decisions.

Ellis’ sort of play also flies in the face of what Cuban wrote last week:

Culture is very important to the Mavs. Your best player has to be a fit for what you want the culture of the team to be. He has to be someone who leads by example. Someone who sets the tone in the locker room and on the court. It isn’t about who talks the most or the loudest. It is about the demeanor and attitude he brings. It is amazing how when the culture is strong, the chemistry is strong. When the Mavs have brought in players that didn’t fit or buy in to our culture it created on the court and off the court problems. Its possible to handle one guy who may not fit it. It’s going to have a negative impact on your won and loss record if you have more than one.

Now, Ellis is not Dallas’ best player. And he’s not a locker room cancer, either. Despite some two-wheeled misgivings earlier in his career, Monta Ellis is not a bad guy.

He’s not a great player, though, and some would argue that the amount of possessions he has to waste for his team in order to get those 19 points – combined with his limitations in other areas – would not even make him a “good” player. The “Monta Ellis have it all”-stereotype is there for a reason, the can clearly thinks that he’s the sort of player that should be dominating the ball, and taking all manner of long, outside shots despite miserable three-point percentages. That sort of delusion would seem to have no place in the “culture” that Cuban is describing.

The Mavs haven’t completely abandoned the idea of securing efficient, low-risk players. Jose Calderon, between his shot chart and slim turnover total, exudes this idea more than just about anyone else in the NBA. In starting Calderon (who rarely takes chances while scoring and passing, which can be good and bad) and Ellis, though, the Mavericks have turned into a walking, sometimes-talking, efficiency vs. usage debate. Once you ignore the fact that both players are similar because neither can guard anyone, it’s hard to think of a more disparate backcourt duo.

Ellis turns 28 just before the season starts, and while that age is pushing it as far as reclamation projects go, all is not lost. He does have talent, and he did shoot 53 percent once (though shooting percentage spikes and drops are notoriously fluke-y and short-lived). And though Rick Carlisle’s mad scientist routine hasn’t been enough over the last two years, we still trust him and his staff to no end.

Still, Monta Ellis on the Mavericks. Monta Ellis, and those jumpers, as part of Mavs’ “culture.” Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon. Monta Ellis and Rick Carlisle.

Monta Ellis and Mark Cuban’s face on the sideline, when he takes one of those shots. It’s going to be quite the experiment.

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