MILWAUKEE – Heading into an eighth NBA season, the frustration within Monta Ellis has subsided. He has mesmerized people around the league with big scoring outputs and uncanny athletic finishing at the rim, and yet the most prestigious individual awards haven’t followed: No All-Star appearance, no All-NBA team selection.
Those perceived shortcomings had to anger Ellis as a young star years ago. Now, he just shakes his head and makes it clear that his Milwaukee Bucks are the top priority, far ahead from the days he wondered about All-Star games.
“I don’t worry about [personal accolades],” Ellis told RealGM on Saturday night. “I just worry about playing basketball for my team, my Bucks. I don’t play to get recognition – All-Stars, awards, whatever.”
Ellis has been known as a scorer throughout his basketball life, and the Golden State Warriors traded Ellis – the valued asset the franchise groomed after drafting him 10 picks into the second round in 2005 – for Andrew Bogut last season. While Ellis has averaged 20 points in four of the past five seasons, coaches pass him up year after year for a nod as an All-Star reserve, likely due in large part to his presence on weak teams. Across his last three and a half seasons with the Warriors, Golden State had a record of 109-198, and it plummeted to a 5-22 finish a season ago following Ellis’ trade.
As the Bucks look toward battling for a playoff berth this season, Scott Skiles sent a strong message Saturday against the Washington Wizards at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, inserting Ellis and Brandon Jennings into the fourth quarter of a game that largely consisted of reserves. Skiles made a concerted effort to take advantage of his team being in a late-game situation where they needed to execute; an opportunity coaches seem to cherish as the preseason winds down.
The Bucks still couldn’t push across enough offense in a 100-94 defeat in which they shot just 39.5 percent from the field. Their perimeter defense also lacked force, yet the interior still blocked 12 shots. But Ellis and Jennings appreciated Skiles’ late gesture, because unlike powerhouses around the league, the Bucks must sustain a different urgency level over the course of a full season. The Bucks simply don’t have the talent on their roster to coast.
“We’re not the Miamis, the Bostons, and all those great teams,” Ellis said. “We’ve got to prepare differently. If it takes for [Skiles] to put me and Brandon back in, we’ve just got to go out there and [win].”
The Bucks know that beating any opponent with a roster centered around Ellis and Jennings, who are 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-1, respectively, is more difficult than the upper echelon teams. For all the talk surrounding Milwaukee’s high-scoring backcourt – talk that they might struggle to coexist and defend bigger counterparts – their chemistry together has been improving.
They both make it a point to communicate on the court and Jennings is always searching for Ellis. During one play Saturday night, Jennings received the outlet pass with Ellis streaking on the other end of the court. Jennings looked off his backcourt mate as the Wizards set their defense. Then, however, Jennings called for a quick pick-and-roll – his eyes still scouring for Ellis – and weaved around the screen and drove left. He drew Ellis’ defender from the left corner and then quickly dished a pass out to Ellis, who drained the three-pointer. Just when it appeared the duo wouldn’t hit on a connection and that Jennings had missed his chance to find Ellis, they made it happen.
Some around the NBA will continue to question whether Ellis and Jennings can mesh in the same backcourt, similar to what Ellis went through with the Warriors playing alongside Stephen Curry. Jennings is still the most beloved player on the Bucks, the centerpiece who gets the loudest ovations during pregame introductions. Both guards took a combined 33 shots on Saturday and took turns handling the ball. Ellis averaged a career high six assists in 11-12 and appears poised to keep playmaking more for teammates, with eight assists against Washington.
Ellis is expected to opt out of his contract at the end of the season, while Jennings will be a restricted free agent if he doesn't agree to an extension by the Oct. 31 deadline, giving the Bucks a massive sense of urgency.
“It’s time to get back to the reality [of] the regular season,” Ellis said. “On to have the wonderful season we’re going to have this year.”