Warriors coach Keith Smart is asking guard Monta Ellis to be the leading scorer on offense. And to be a leader in the locker room. And to defend the best wing player. And to play big minutes.
It was for that reason, Smart said before the season, that he didn't want Ellis serving as the backup point guard. But that is exactly what Ellis has been doing, especially lately.
"He probably feels like that's a bit much," Ellis said of his coach's desires. "Sometimes, there are going to be games where it will be tiring, trying to do all those things. But at times it won't."
Ellis has been pretty effective when he has to shift into point guard mode.
He's averaging 4.9 assists per game so far this season. But that stat doesn't show how he's improved as facilitator. It doesn't show how he's learned to find other players when he sees the double team coming. It doesn't show how he's evolved at penetrating to set up shots for others, instead of driving to score and passing at the last-second when all other options have failed.
"I've got a lot of players that can make plays this year," said Ellis, whose assist-to-turnover ratio is up to 1.7 from 1.3 last season. "Lot of guys who can hit the open shot. Guys who can score in the post. And another thing, I just take my time instead of trying to force the issue. I take my time and make the right pass instead of trying to make a quick pass and not really seeing where the defense is."
Ellis has had to do it more frequently than planned. The Warriors, 18 games in, have yet to pinpoint a consistent and reliable backup point guard, such as Goran Dragic, who plays that role for Phoenix, tonight's opponent. Plus, starting point guard Stephen Curry has been prone to foul trouble.
Even when he's not playing point guard, Ellis has had to be a facilitator because opposing defenses are loading up on him.
"He has that ability," Smart said. "Good players have the ability to make plays for themselves and also be able to set guys up. The maturing factor for him continuing is that when teams are playing him a certain way, then he becomes a facilitator. He's been able to do that so far. It's still a learning process."
Note: Forward Brandan Wright was at practice Wednesday, but he was wearing sweats and a T-shirt. His lower back strain will keep him out for tonight's game. It will be his ninth consecutive missed game, seven because of his injured back. No timetable has been given for his return. He will be evaluated before the road trip that starts Sunday.
Phoenix at Warriors, 7:30 p.m., TNT