DALLAS — With a plan in place for 12-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki to eventually hand over the keys, the Dallas Mavericks believe that new addition Monta Ellis showed signs this season of becoming the man capable of taking the wheel.
Relentlessly driving to the basket and opening up things for Nowitzki on the offensive end, Ellis finished the regular season as the Mavericks’ second-leading scorer at 19.0 points to go along with 5.7 assists per game, shooting 45.1 percent from the field and playing in all 82 outings in the process. He stepped that production up during the Mavs’ first-round playoff series against San Antonio, averaging a team-high 20.4 points as Dallas pushed the top-seeded Spurs to seven games.
Now, the Mavericks will look for Ellis to ascend to another level heading into next season, after the 28-year-old showed signs of being able to take the keys from Nowitzki in order to drive the franchise back to a championship level.
“I just think Ellis is at a point in his career where he can still make some quantum leaps as a player,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said while endorsing Ellis’ ability to become an elite player.
He added: “I just believe that there’s places his game can go and get even better, and so it will be a summer of work for him. He and I are going to spend some time together this summer working on some things, and we’ll just keep pushing it.”
Shooting just 40.9 percent from the field in the Mavs’ first-round exit and 35.3 percent from 3-point range, Ellis continued to show inconsistency with his jump shot. He also finished the Mavericks’ decisive 119-96 Game 7 loss with just 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting. However, while already possessing a cat-quick ability to get to the rim, Ellis figures to spend this offseason solely focused on improving his perimeter shooting.
That should make life easier on Nowitzki, according to Mavs president of basketball operations and GM Donnie Nelson, as the franchise looks to hand over the reins.
“We’ve taken a step in the right direction with Monta. He’s really, I think, especially in the playoffs, taken a step forward. But we’re looking for more,” Nelson explained.
“We’ve just seen a gradual comfort with Monta over the course of the entire year,” he added. “And with the exception of the last game, and all of us wish we would have had that one back, he has in a lot of respects shouldered a lot of the heavy lifting alongside Dirk. … I would say that his outside shot is the one thing that I think, and he would agree, that (he needs) to get that up and take the next level. If he can make that mid-range jump shot on a consistent basis, I don’t know how you guard him.”