Player Review 2017: Monta Ellis
Years pro: 12
Status: Has two years remaining on his contract, with the final year a player option.
Key stats: Played in 74 games, starting 33. Averaged 8.5 points, shooting 44 percent from the field and 32 percent from the 3-point line.
One game in, it appeared Monta Ellis was going to be a different player than in his first season with the Pacers.
He scored 19 points in the opening overtime victory over Dallas last season, hitting 7-of-11 field goal attempts and adding seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals. If that was an indication of what was to come, the Pacers had the potential for a special season.
There seemed legitimate hope for that, too. Ellis was coming off a summer in which he had dedicated himself to working on his body and his game like never before in his NBA career. He also talked at the start of training camp about having improved some personal habits. He seemed a different person, and perhaps would be a different player than the one who averaged 13.8 points the previous season.
Gallery: Ellis' 2016-17 Season in Photos »
It didn't work out that way. Ellis had an erratic season in which he averaged 8.5 points while hitting 44 percent of his field goal attempts and 32 percent of his 3-pointers. He came off the bench in 41 of the 74 games he played and was unable to sustain quality play. Although just 31 years old, he has logged 30,148 minutes in his NBA career, playoffs included. That's nearly 21 straight days of round-the-clock basketball. If all his playing time had come with the Pacers, he would rank second in franchise history, trailing only Reggie Miller.
His challenge now is to find a niche that will carry him through the rest of his career, no matter how long that lasts. That could be an even greater challenge since the arrival of Lance Stephenson, who basically took over Ellis' off-guard-who-plays-like-a-point-guard role and caused Ellis' playing time to shrink.
It's not too difficult to understand Larry Bird's thinking when he signed Ellis to a four-year deal two years ago. Ellis was coming off a season in which he averaged 19 points for Dallas. He was 29 years old, and hadn't seemed to lose significant degrees of his athleticism. He was a highlight reel waiting to happen, an open-court player who could create offense by himself and get easy shots for his teammates with his penetration, one who fit the direction Bird wanted to take the Pacers.
The victory over the Mavericks in Game 1, in which the Pacers scored 130 points, seemed the embodiment of that approach, but it didn't last. For the team, or for Ellis. He had three 19-point outings in his first 16 games, but also two two-point efforts. He later went scoreless in 22 minutes at Dallas, and then suffered a strained groin at Portland on Dec. 10. That injury opened the door for Nate McMillan to go with Glenn Robinson III in the starting lineup, a shift that held promise given Robinson's play to that point.
2016-17 Player Reviews: More Reviews, Highlights, and Photos »
Ellis wasn't pleased with coming off the bench when he returned on Dec. 28, but he accepted it and didn't let it affect his play, even while playing with a mask to protect a fractured nose. He returned to the starting lineup for the final 10 games, after Robinson and C.J. Miles failed to hold onto the backcourt position opposite Jeff Teague. He soon had another 19-point special, but again failed to capture constancy.
Once Stephenson arrived and assumed starter minutes off the bench, Ellis' became a 24-minute-per-game player without a comfortable niche. He only started the first two playoff games against Cleveland, and averaged just 5.5 points on 40 percent shooting in the four-game series. He played just 5 ½ minutes in Game 4, scoring one point — quite a departure from the season-opener.
Ellis has been the Pacers' most outspoken on-court player over the past two seasons, the one most likely to get in the ear of a teammate — even Paul George — with instruction or encouragement. Until Stephenson arrived, that is. He's also able to make plays for himself and teammates with his daring drives to the basket, and can come up with timely defensive plays, too. But not as well as Stephenson. He's still capable of a big game. But not as consistently as Stephenson.
The miles have taken a toll, and Ellis is paying for it. Heading into his second off-season with the Pacers, no clear route exists for his next journey.
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