DALLAS — The Mavericks believe they are creating a unique offensive partnership with Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. They will share the load. Batman and Robin, but some nights, maybe the other way around. Shoulder-to-shoulder.
But when Dirk’s shoulder meets Monta’s shoulder, he will encounter another presence: As Ellis demonstrated at Monday’s Media Day, he arrives in Dallas accompanied by a massive chip.
“I’m going to get criticized for what I do,” said Ellis, fielding questions about his reputation as a “volume shooter” and an “inefficient scorer.” “The only thing I can do is laugh it off. There are a lot of guys that take a lot of bad shots in this league. But nobody wants to talk about that. Everybody wants to talk about the shots Monta takes. All I’m going to do is take the punches and prove everybody wrong.
“What I’m saying is I’m going to play ‘Monta Basketball’ and if y’all want to criticize, criticize.”
The criticism of other bad-shot takers isn’t the concern of the Mavs, of course. Coach Rick Carlisle and staff want to maximize the lightning-quick 2-guard’s skills in a way that supplements the all-world gifts of Nowitzki, who at 35 has been working overtime to put himself in peak condition.
Dirk on Dirk, absent for 29 games due to knee surgery in last season’s rare Mavs non-playoff campaign: “I feel good now. Going into camp, I did a lot of work. I started working out in May, probably the earliest for a long, long time. Hopefully I’ll feel good going into the season and I can stay injury-free… I feel now better than I have at any point last year, so I think that’s very encouraging. It’s very important also from a mental standpoint and hopefully I can show it.”
Dirk on Monta: “It’s amazing what he does at his size, geting in the paint at will and finish with the big boys. He’s a special, explosive player and I really think we can play well together. His strength is putting it on the floor and my strength is stretching the floor, so we should play well together.”
At his best, Ellis’ shooting percentage skyrockets because he not only scores from the perimeter but also finishes at the rim. Last year in Milwaukee, he was at just 41.6 percent – far off the 45.6-percent shooting that makes him a perennial 20-points-per-game scorer.
Nowitzki has never quite had a partner capable of what Ellis can do.
Ellis has usually been his team’s clear-cut No. 1 scorer, so in that and more senses, he’s never had a partner quite like Nowitzki.
Little wonder Carlisle said, “I like this team offensively.”
But, there’s a “but.”
This is going to come down to defense,” Carlisle said. :I’ve got to fit these guys in a defensive system that helps us do better than last year… We have to do it collectively. We have to establish a convenant to make it important.”
How to design a way for Nowitzki along with Ellis and fellow backcourt newcomer Jose Calderon to survive on defense is a challenge for another day. For now, there is a potential strength that must be played to if Dallas is to “prove a lot of people wrong,” as Ellis pledged. “We’re going to get the Mavericks back to making some noise in the playoffs.”
Part of how that happens is effectiveness in the Dirk/Monta teaming. Shoulder-to-shoulder with a chip in between. “Monta Basketball,” sure. But “Dirk Basketball” even more.