Tell me if you’ve heard this before? Monta Ellis shouldn’t be in the starting lineup.
I’m not sure there’s anyone left on that lonely island (if it were ever inhabited at all) that’s hoping to see Ellis listed among the Indiana Pacers starting five when the series against the Cleveland Cavaliers resumes for game three tomorrow evening.
The Pacers are down 2-0, but they’ve lost these pair of games by a measly seven points combined despite many issues including choosing not to start the game with their best 5-man unit.
Per NBA Wowy (with a h/t to C. Cooper of Indy Cornrows), in the 44 minutes that Teague and Ellis have played together in this series, the Pacers have been outscored by 10 points in 92 possessions (which is greater than the difference in the scoreboard in the first two games).
The problems with Ellis and Teague playing together have been unsurprising as they are what many predicted as soon as Teague was acquired this offseason. Both need the ball to be their best selves on offense, both are undersized, if Ellis doesn’t have the ball he provides zero shooting from the outside to space the floor and while Ellis is a master at getting steals by correctly predicting which way his opponent will go off the dribble, he’s good at little else on the defensive end. The pairing didn’t play well together in the regular season and hasn’t in the playoffs either.
In this series, the Cavaliers have been eager to leave Ellis open on the 3-point line and force the ball out of Paul George and the rest of the starters’ hands. LeBron James has often been the one guarding Ellis, but he’s essentially allowed to roam free with no fear of Ellis making him pay. While Ellis has been aggressive a few times a game off the dribble, you don’t really want him challenging James when you have Paul George on the court being guarded by JR Smith or Iman Shumpert.
Even when Ellis hits a jump shot these days, it feels like a victory for the Cavs, because it’s unlikely that Ellis will hit the next one he takes, but it’s more likely that he’s given himself the confidence to take more anyway. And once again, you’d rather have anybody else on the court take that jump shot with the starters instead of Ellis.
Meanwhile with the return of Glenn Robinson III, the Pacers have three legitimate candidates that could supplant Ellis in the starting lineup: CJ Miles, Lance Stephenson, and Glenn Robinson III.
Mark Montieth said that based on practice jerseys, he thinks Miles may get the start for game three, so that’s a good sign that McMillan is looking for other options.
The Pacers starting lineup with Miles is also one with a proven track record of success: the 5th-best lineup in the NBA that’s played more than 400 minutes together this season. It outscored opponents by 7.7 points per 100 possessions in the regular season (research per Cooper).
The biggest thing that Miles brings is shooting that demands to be guarded. The Cavs can’t leave Miles, who shot 41% from 3-point territory, open on the perimeter like they can with Ellis.
Glenn Robinson III came back with limited minutes in his first game back but hit an open three and didn’t show much rust in his return to action. He’s another guy that the Cavs would have to respect more than Ellis on the outside.
Both Robinson and Miles also provide a bigger body defender than Ellis that while they still can’t check LeBron on an emergency switch, they at least stand a better chance.
The issue with Miles and Robinson starting then becomes what to do about the Stephenson and Ellis pairing that has all the same problems that Ellis/Teague pairing has, but with even less shooting. Per NBA Wowy, they haven’t faired too badly so far in the series but in limited minutes. The Pacers were outscored by just two points in 23 possessions over 10 minutes (8.7 points per 100 possessions) with Ellis and Stephenson both playing.
My personal solution to this problem would be to not play Ellis at all. Either go to an 8-man rotation that features Paul George, Myles Turner, Teague, Thaddeus Young, Miles, Robinson, Stephenson and Seraphin or play Aaron Brooks in very limited minutes as the ninth man. Brooks has had some offensive success playing off the ball with Stephenson and can make an outside shot. In game one, Brooks and the rest of the Pacers looked loss defensively in the first half and he hasn’t seen the court in the series since. In seven minutes, the Pacers were outscored by two points (over 14 points per 100 possessions) with Brooks and Stephenson sharing the court.
Stephenson could also end up starting. While McMillan, George and Stephenson all said that he lost his composure in the third quarter while attempting to guard Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, he’s been a solid addition to the Pacers since returning from his three years in the desert. He’s often been one of the five guys that’s been closing the games final minutes. He’s paired well with Teague so far this series as well. The Pacers have outscored the Cavs by seven points in 54 possessions (13 points per 100 possessions) over 28 minutes while Stephenson and Teague have shared the court.
Other thoughts from the series:
Resident Hot Takes, Gregg Doyel of the Indy Star, even thinks the Paul George hates his teammates, is throwing them under the bus and wants to get out of Indiana as soon as possible narrative that many in the national media have been throwing around is nonsense. If Doyel thinks you’ve gone too far with a hot take, well…
It’s interesting that after losing two road playoff games by only seven points to the defending NBA champions that there would be so much negativity surrounding the team. Perhaps it’s because other lower seeds have won some games or because it feels like the Pacers should have at least won one of these games, but the Pacers were god awful on the road all season and one of the league’s best home teams. If they can get a win at home in Game 3, there’s no reason to think they can’t at least push this series to six games.
Yes, Myles Turner has struggled in his second career playoff series. He’s still protecting the rim well for the most part, but has missed some rotations and Tristan Thompson has done what numerous bigs have done to him all year: destroy him on the glass. He’s driven fans mad with his propensity to double clutch in the paint and needs to add strength this off-season. However, I think he’ll play better in these next two games at home and look more aggressive on the offensive end. Also, calling him soft will always be ridiculous, but probably always be a thing that some people say until he adds more strength on his still young body to not be pushed around down low.
Let’s hope with two days off, the Pacers have come up with a better strategy for guarding the 1/3 pick and roll that has absolutely destroyed them. Help Teague faster when you switch him onto LeBron or fight through those screens better so you don’t have to. And if Lance is going to guard Love again, let’s hope he at least tries to front him and force help from the weakside (like Lance said was the actual plan in the last game).