- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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DALLAS – The Mavericks still haven’t played a game that matters, but the early returns from Monta Ellis are awfully encouraging.
Ellis, who signed a three-year, $25 million deal this summer to be Dirk Nowitzki’s new sidekick, is putting up extremely impressive preseason numbers. Heavily criticized for his inefficiency as the Milwaukee Bucks’ leading scorer last season, Ellis has shot 54.3 percent from the floor while averaging 13.3 points and 7.3 assists in 25.8 minutes per game.
Has Ellis exceeded expectations?
“I think he’s exceeded yours,” coach Rick Carlisle cracked. “We know how good he is, how good he’s been and how difficult he is to game plan against. He’s been terrific really in all areas. He’s taking charges, he’s going in there and fighting for rebounds, he’s making plays. And we know he can score. We know he can attack and find people and things like that, but his all-around game has been stellar.”
Mavs owner Mark Cuban acknowledged that one element of Ellis’ game so far has been a pleasant surprise.
“I don’t think there’s any question that he’s a better passer than what we expected, and obviously he’s a willing passer,” Cuban said. “It all just depends what you put around him.
“If you go back to his early Golden State days, he had a great chemistry with [Brandan] Wright, and you saw that before B. Wright got hurt. He didn’t have quite the weapons after that around him, and now I think he’s got a lot of weapons and he’s taking advantage of it. It plays to his strengths.”
The Mavs hoped that Ellis, who averaged a career-high 6.0 assists per game last season, would benefit from playing with pass-first point guard Jose Calderon as well as Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas. The two-man game with Nowitzki has meshed magnificently, but Ellis has yet to play a second with Calderon, who will make his preseason debut Saturday after nursing a hamstring injury.
Even with Calderon running the point, the plan is for the ball to be in Ellis’ hands often, with Calderon’s perimeter-shooting ability helping space the floor. If Ellis is efficient, the Mavs want him creating for himself and teammates as much as possible. And for as long as possible.
“If Monta is a lead playmaker like he has been, he’s a cornerstone piece,” Cuban said. “It’s a lot easier to find shooting than to find someone who can get to the rim and create shots for other people.”