4 games from his return from injury, Monta Ellis has exclusively played off the Indiana Pacers bench. Should this be a permanent change going forward?
It's a new year; that brings a new look for the Indiana Pacers heading into the second part of the 2016-17 NBA season. A whirlwind offseason shook up the roster and instilled optimism in the players and fans, but a 16-18 record at 2016's end left plenty to be desired. One of the most troubling parts of Indiana's season was the concerning play of Monta Ellis, who was arguably having his worst season ever before he was sidelined for 8 games with a groin injury. In his absence, third-year man Glenn Robinson III has proved more than capable of handling a starting role, providing timely scoring and surprising rebounding numbers.
Meanwhile, Ellis has been back for 4 games and has hovered around 16 minutes of playing time each game, culminating in a 20 minute showing Tuesday night against Detroit. The move to the bench has provided a spark for Indiana's second unit, which had been relying almost entirely on timely three-point shooting from C.J. Miles, gray-hair-inducing post-ups from Al Jefferson, and all-around underwhelming play from brick enthusiast Aaron Brooks. The Pacers' bench is forever destined to be middle of the pack, as they sit at a combined 33.9 ppg, 17th in the league and 4.2 points worse than their opponents. However, during this three-game win streak, the bench has managed to score 37.0 ppg while outshooting their opponents 56.2% to 45%. It's too small of a sample size to say if the marked bench improvement is solely because of Ellis, but there's no denying that some impact has been made with the second unit, and, indirectly, the starters.
With Monta Ellis in the starting lineup, the Pacers were playing a top unit that included three ball-dominant players in Ellis, Paul George, and Jeff Teague. George's usage rate, subsequently, is at its lowest point since the 2012-13 season, and Teague struggled with consistent scoring and turnover troubles. Since Ellis' move to the bench, George has averaged 29.3 points per game, and his usage rate has been a more befitting 30.4%. Teague has also benefited from the move, as he has thrived being the primary ball-handler. With Ellis out of the lineup, including the 8 games he missed to injury, Teague has scored 16.5 points and 9.5 assists per game, up 1.1 points and 1.8 assists from his season averages. The complementary style of Robinson allows George and Teague to truly control the offense more easily than when Ellis was starting, and they have led Indiana to their first three-game win streak of the season as a result.
Against Detroit, Ellis had one of his most complete performances of the year, scoring 16 points on a perfect 6/6 shooting while dishing out three assists and recording a game-high +15 rating. Upon Ellis' return, head coach Nate McMillan has, for the time being, allowed Robinson to remain in the starting position while Ellis comes off the bench. McMillan will leave Ellis with the second unit for at least Thursday's game against the Nets, but will assess his progress as he returns from injury. Ellis, a starter for much of his NBA career, has said that he is comfortable remaining in the sixth man role if it helps the Pacers continue winning.