Having just turned 21 on Thursday, the world would seem to be in Monta Ellis’ hands. The 6-foot-3 guard was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player after significantly elevating his numbers from his rookie to sophomore season, most notably increasing his points per game from 6.8 to 16.5. The 2005 second-round draft pick out of Lanier High School in Jackson, Miss., is being groomed as the point guard of the future in coach Don Nelson’s intricate yet free-flowing system, but starts at shooting guard. Ellis missed most of training camp following a scary spill in which he sprained his neck.
1. Were you tentative last week playing in your first game since your injury? “That wasn’t the case. It was just my first game back. Everybody goes through it. Glad that’s out of the way, it was preseason and hopefully I got that out of the way and don’t have to worry about that opening day.”
2. What makes you think the team can take that next step from last season? “Last year. That’s all. We just have to stay focused. We lost a lot of key players, Jason Richardson, but I think we brought in lot of key players who are young players and know the game of basketball. And being under coach Nelson, my third year, and the young guys that are coming in, he’s going to bring a lot out of them. We’re gonna be looking young, but we’re all going to come together and play as one.”
3. Is there an overconfidence on this team or are you guys grounded? “We snuck into the playoffs last year. We was happy to get in, but we didn’t like the just-made-it attitude. We know that we made the playoffs — and that’s great, but we didn’t do too much last year for us to have a chip on our shoulder. So we just have to go out there and play hard.”
4. Are you comfortable with where you are as a point guard? “Yeah, I don’t have a problem with where I play — as long as I’m playing basketball.”
5. The West is tough again. How many wins will it take to be successful? “We just play basketball. We can’t predict the season and we can’t predict what each one of us will do. We just have to go out and give it our all and see what happens.”