For all of the scoring punch Monta Ellis has given the Dallas Mavericks this season, it’s his sturdy defense that has been a pleasant surprise.
“Defensively, he’s so much better than we ever expected — on the ball, off the ball,” owner Mark Cuban said. “Steals [are] probably the least part of it.
“A lot of times steals are more of a reflection of not playing defense, but he’s been playing good defense.”
On Friday against the Chicago Bulls, Ellis became the 145th player in NBA history to record 1,000 career steals. Ellis’ penchant for collecting steals has less to do with him camping out in passing lanes and more to do with his overall defensive awareness.
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“He’s been one of the guys that’s had the sixth sense,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “This year we’ve asked him to do it out of a stronger team position, because the style of play on some of the other teams he’s been with has been to be just aggressive, speed up pace, even when you miss, come from behind.
“That’s not really our style here. But he’s been able to continue to be a high-level skills guy playing in a more conservative defensive system, so that speaks to how he’s adjusted to our team.”
The Mavs only have 22 games remaining, and they have yet to have their full 15-man roster available for any game this season.
Rookie guard Gal Mekel went through his first full practice Thursday since right knee surgery on Jan. 17. Whenever Mekel is ready, Carlisle said he’ll initially spend some time playing for the Texas Legends in the NBA Development League.
As far as not having a full roster at any point this season, Carlisle said: “I think it’s part of life in this league. The thing is you hope to have a roster deep enough to be able to absorb [the injuries].
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve had a deep team and we’ve got guys that can step up. In the case of the last couple of years, we’ve had younger guys that had to step up in those spots, and that’s challenging for them and challenging for us.”
Cuban said he had no interest in signing Danny Granger or Caron Butler, who both recently received buyouts from their respective teams.
Granger signed with the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, while Butler is reportedly set to sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder after he clears waivers Saturday. Cuban, though, insists the Mavs had no use for either Granger or Butler.
“We just didn’t have the spot, minutes-wise or roster-wise,” Cuban said. “It’s hard for them to come in and get a lot of minutes — and we just don’t have them.
“If you’re a free agent like that, you want to prove yourself. And so we’re not the team right now to do that.”
New not an excuse
Carlisle believes the Mavs can no longer use the idea that they have nine new players as a crutch for not playing well.
“We’ve had a lot of new guys this year — nine new guys,” Carlisle said. “But once you get 55-60 games in, there’s no new team any more.”