NBA AM: Ellis Finding His Way With Pacers

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Where do the Toronto Raptors go from here? Should they try to acquire veterans to gear up for a run this postseason or should they consider a rebuilding effort? Check out this video for our discussion.

Ellis Discusses His Transition to Indiana

After missing the playoffs last season, the Indiana Pacers are once again a legitimate threat to make a deep run in the Eastern Conference. The team is currently 20-15, which is good for sixth place in the East and only one game out of the third seed.

Indiana is winning games because they have the NBA’s fourth-best defense (allowing just 98.6 points per 100 possessions), while their offense currently ranks 14th in the league (scoring 102.1 points per 100 possessions).

The return of Paul George has obviously been a huge part of the Pacers’ success this year. He’s playing some of the best basketball of his career – averaging 24.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 steals – and he has worked his way into the Most Valuable Player conversation this season.

However, the offseason acquisition of Monta Ellis has also helped Indiana improve while also significantly changing the make-up of their team. Ellis was signed to a four-year, $44 million contract in July and has emerged as a key contributor for this Pacers squad by averaging 13.4 points as well as 4.7 assists and 1.8 steals (both of which are team-highs).

Ellis gives Indiana another player who can create his own shot and spread the floor. He is also a player who can thrive in transition with Paul George and George Hill, which is what the front office wants to see this season after losing big men David West and Roy Hibbert over the summer and shifting their style of play. Indiana is currently ranked eighth in the NBA in pace, averaging 99 touches per game.

Ellis also gives Indiana another player who can make clutch plays, which was on display in last night’s road win over the Orlando Magic. The veteran guard scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half and sealed the contest by hitting six straight free throws in the final minute of the game.

“It’s all focus,” Ellis said. “I’ve been in that situation a lot. I’ve hit a lot of game-winning shots in my career, and I love those moments.”

While Ellis is obviously still dangerous when he gets hot, he’s had to adjust to being the second (and sometimes even third) option in Indiana. Ellis is averaging his fewest points per game and shot attempts per game since his rookie season in the NBA, but he says that his transition to the Pacers has been great because everyone in the organization seems to be focused on winning.

“I’ve been around [the NBA] for a long time; with this group of guys, everybody gets along, everybody wants to win and everybody is dialed in so that makes it so much easier [to make the transition to this team],” Ellis said. “It’s been easy and I’m very comfortable here.”

Paul George praised Ellis’ contributions and loves the attention he attracts from defenses because he is so effective with the ball in his hands and has a reputation as a scorer.

“He’s been great,” George said of Ellis. “He definitely makes my job a lot easier, especially when he gets going [offensively]. He’s as good as it gets when he’s aggressive and when he’s looking to take his shots.”

Ellis wants to do whatever he can to help George, especially since he knows how tough it is to be a top option on offense.

“I’ve been in his position where you’re the top guy and defenses are [coming after] you more and everybody is keyed in on you,” Ellis said. “He looks for his teammates to loosen the defense up and, as his teammates, we have to the plays to soften the defense for him. If we don’t make our shots, it’s pointless.”

Ellis still seems to be figuring out when to attack versus when to be more passive, admitting that his approach “depends on the situation.” But that kind of trial and error is expected considering he’s just 35 games into his stint with the Pacers and he’s still adjusting to a different role.

With that said, it’s clear that the Pacers are relying heavily on George, Ellis and Hill this season. Outside of that trio, Indiana’s roster is largely made up of role players – with the next best talents being guys like C.J. Miles, Rodney Stuckey, Jordan Hill, Ian Mahinmi and Lavoy Allen. Myles Turner has the potential to eventually be a special player, but he’s only 19 years old, has yet to start game and has appeared in just 13 games total due to injury. Still, Ellis is confident that the Pacers have what it takes to win.

“We have a lot of guys in here with a lot of experience,” Ellis said. “This team isn’t as young as [some may] think. People may say that because I’m the oldest guy and I’m 30, but there’s a lot of experience on this team.”

Ellis should continue to get more comfortable with his new situation and become even more effective for Indiana as the season progresses, which will help the new-look Pacers as they fight for positioning in the East and try to make a playoff run.

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