DALLAS -- If Pervis Ellison is known for one thing among his Washington teammates, it's not his rebounding. It's not for his soft turnaround jumper, his ability to block shots or his laid-back personality.
It's for being cheap.
"He makes more than $2 million a year, and he's so cheap," Bullets forward Harvey Grant said. "We went to lunch, and instead of him taking care of the bill, which is $20, he looks over the check to see what is his and what is mine. I have to pay."
Ellison may come up short when the check arrives. But the 6-foot-10 center more than pulls his share of the load when the Bullets take the court.
Ellison was named the NBA's Player of the Week yesterday after helping lead the Bullets to a 3-1 record on a four-game road trip, averaging 23.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots and shooting 57.3 percent from the field.
On the season, he is averaging 19.4 points and ranks among the NBA leaders in rebounding (11.8) and blocked shots (2.6). His numbers are so much better than last season that Ellison has to be considered a leading contender for the league's Most Improved Player award.
"He is probably the most improved player in the league," said Washington general manager John Nash, whose team is 9-17. "He's been on a tear. He's one of the top 10 centers in the league.
"We rate him higher than that."
Ellison doesn't fit the beefy, low-post mold of other centers -- see Bullets coach Wes Unseld -- who have played the game. Most scouts believe his natural position is power forward.
Nash said the Bullets would love to find a player good enough to allow them to move Ellison to forward. Until that center arrives, Ellison will continue to get the majority of his minutes in the middle.
"If you look at the league now, players are more versatile," Ellison said. "I seem to fit that role."
Ellison is at his best on the wing, where he can sting a defense with his soft touch, or on the break, where he often finds himself on the slam-dunking end of a Michael Adams pass. But that's not to say he's lost down low.
Strength coach Dennis Householder worked with Ellison almost every day in the offseason. Ellison is no Patrick Ewing, but he has his moments.
One came against Houston last week. He planted himself on the left block in front of Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon, took the entry pass and cut across the lane to sink a left-handed scoop shot.
"When I do post, it usually catches the defender by surprise," said Ellison, who had 27 points and 15 rebounds in the Bullets' narrow loss to the Rockets. "But when I go to a spot, I can freeze him [the defender] for two seconds, then boom. Before he can react, the ball is in there."
Ellison rarely had the chance to show these skills before this season. The Sacramento Kings did use the first pick of the 1989 draft on Ellison. But he played just 38 games as a rookie because of bone spurs in his right foot.
The Kings, frustrated by this lack of production and strapped by the fact three players -- Ellison, Ralph Sampson and Wayman Tisdale -- made more than $2 million a season, sent Ellison to the Bullets for Jeff Malone and a second-round pick. Sacramento then turned around and sent Malone to Utah for Bob Hansen, Eric Leckner and a first-round choice in '90 that the club used on Anthony Bonner.
Bonner is the only player in that trade still wearing a Kings uniform.
"That's far behind me now," Ellison said. "I don't even think about that situation."
Ellison started slowly with Washington last season but came on strong. He averaged 15.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and shot 55.5 percent from the field in his 30 games as a starter. One of the few mistakes he made this season came Dec. 14 against Chicago when he forgot to wear his jersey under his warmup jacket.
That same night, Houston's Sleepy Floyd forgot to put on his shorts. Neither player realized this wardrobe faux pas until he was ready to take the court.
"That's wild," Ellison said. "It must have been something left over from Friday the 13th.
"But I think everything is coming together pretty well. I just have to keep improving."
And maybe buy Grant an occasional lunch.