Monta Ellis is playing like the sixth man the Indiana Pacers wanted him to be when they moved him to the bench in December.
Let’s get this out-of-the-way first: When Monta Ellis missed two free throws at the end of the game to the Indiana Pacers loss to the San Antonio Spurs, that was bad. It was frustrating, and it was unlike him as he is a 77% free-throw shooter on the season.
That said, in the last 10 games, Monta finally found his role as the sixth man coming off the bench. Ellis’ averages in that stretch stand at 11.9 points on 56.7% shooting from the floor and 35% from beyond the arc while handing out 4.8 assists a game.
Those numbers are better than when he was a starter and certainly better than the other 20 games before when he came off the bench.
What’s the spark for this change?
Giving Monta Ellis the Damn Ball
As our own Will Furr suggested a few weeks ago, Ellis needs the ball in his hands to be himself, and the Pacers, in fact, started to do that.
While his usage rate remained below 18% on average this season, it is rising more and more. Before Monta locked in during the last 10 games, his usage rate had only broken 20% seven times this season. One of those was when he came off the bench versus the Philadelphia 76ers where he scored 19 points while grabbing 6 rebounds, handed out 5 assists, and had 4 steals. In the last 10 games, he’s broken that threshold four times already.
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Games like Ellis’ 16 points, 7 of 10 shooting performance against the Memphis Grizzlies was one of his best as of late, and he scored 10 points or more in 7 of the Pacers last 10 games. Let’s not forget either that it was the bench that got Indiana back in the game with the Houston Rockets.
Success hasn’t correlated with this rise, but the last 10 games are abnormal, to say the least. Indiana had the trade deadline, injuries, and a very tough schedule. They shouldn’t have lost six games in a row going into the All-Star break, but when you consider they are 2-2 since then, with a one-point loss to the Spurs and a strange ejection of Paul George during the loss to the Miami, it is easier to see how an improved Ellis has helped the team.
The bench doesn’t have a ton of scorers on it, which leads to Ellis needing to take over. He still isn’t a strong defender, but when he scores efficiently and often, he covers up that weakness. It helps too that he has shared the floor with Lavoy Allen and Rakeem Christmas, two bigs who don’t need the ball as often as Al Jefferson does and play better defense than Big Al.
Finding What Works
Perhaps what took Ellis so long to settle in was simply the Indiana Pacers problem all season long: a lack of stability. When January began, I wrote that we might get a better understanding of the starters as Glenn Robinson III became a starter. Tucked in there was the note that the move of GR3 to the starting lineup may only move the Pacers major issues to the bench.
It turned out to partly be true. The Pacers had winning streaks, but also matched them with losing efforts, often undercut by their own bench. C.J. Miles replaced Robinson as the shooting guard at one point, continuing the bench’s chaos as once again, some of Indiana’s issues moved to the bench.
All of those moving parts panned out for the starters, but the bench needed to recalibrate, and that effort wasn’t helped by even more injuries that left the team depleted at power forward. They still are in flux with Jefferson out and Christmas in, but Rodney Stuckey and Ellis have co-existed with each other.
Monta Ellis is far from perfect, but in the past 10 games (other than the missed free-throws everyone will obsess over), it is hard to put the blame on Ellis. Let’s see if he and the rest of the bench can keep things going in the right direction.