A Walk Around The Block – Monta Ellis

Free agency is basically over so teams looking to improve must resort to the trading block. That’s why our A Walk Around The Block series will take a look at different aspects of the trading block, from players likely to move and teams that might make moves to reasons why these trades may happen and some fun trade proposals of our own. Today we look at the epitome of inefficiency, Monta Ellis.

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Monta Ellis is pretty much the reason per game numbers are all but obsolete.

At first glance, one would think Monta is a top-notch NBA player. Last year, he scored 25.5 points per game, to go with 4 boards, 5.3 assists, and 2.2 steals? Where can I sign up, right?

Well, no.

Those seemingly impressive numbers fail to convey how Monta’s 2009-10 season set records across the board as far as selfish, inefficient offense goes. I could throw out the advanced stats, if it makes you feel better. Monta led the NBA at field goal attempts per game, clocking in at 22 shots a night, while posting a ghastly true shooting percentage of 51.7% and an even worse effective field goal percentage of 47.6%. He posted the 8th-highest usage rate in the league, at 27.0, while putting up only the 78th best PER (16.74), if catch-all stats are your cup of tea. And if you still think per game numbers mean anything, he led the league with 3.8 turnovers a night (though to his credit, his turnover rate of 11.3 was better than I thought it would be while researching this piece).

But even as bad as that random assortment of digits is, things were much, much worse.

Monta handled the ball almost exclusively for the first few months of the season (before Stephen Curry was finally given the reins), and it showed. Golden State’s offense was often reduced to “dribble, Monta, dribble!” Monta, compliant as he is, dribbled and dribbled and is probably still dribbling right now.

As such, it is very hard to take his numbers with perspective.

A strong figure of 5.3 assists suddenly turns into “you have the ball every time down the court, you better find your teammates for open shots.” His 4 rebounds a night – while certainly not bad for a player standing 6’3” – becomes “anybody can run into 4 random loose balls a night when playing 42 minutes at the league’s fastest pace.”

When a player spends an entire season blatantly gunning for his own box score, effect on the team be damned, every positive move comes with a negative asterisk. So instead of remembering the games he finished with 40+ points (three), we remember those with 30+ shot attempts (also three, including a vomit-inducing 14 for 39 night against Chicago). And instead of remembering the near triple-doubles, we remember the near triple-doubles that involved double-digit turnovers.

The most discouraging part is that not long ago Monta was the golden standard for efficiency in the ever-expanding “shooting guard in a point guard’s body” category. It’s easy to forget, but Monta was a vital cog on that magical 2006-07 Warriors squad, winning the league’s Most Improved Player award after making the leap from end-of-the-bench-prospect to the speedy scoring force he is today.

Following that season, the Warriors even felt confident enough in Monta to trade star shooting guard Jason Richardson. And Monta came up huge again, averaging 20.2 ppg while shooting at superb rates (FG%: 53% FGs, TS%: 58%) that he achieved by relentlessly taking the ball to the rim and making tough layups, bankers, floaters, whatever. Of the 15.2 shots Monta took every game in 2007-08, six of them came at the rim, where he converted 66% of his shots. Again, he is a 6’3” guard. That’s unreal.

Then came two separate incidents that threw Monta’s ever promising career off track.

The first was the departure of Baron Davis. When in Golden State, Baron showed the play-making abilities that Clipper fans have been deprived of since his arrival, and Monta was a main beneficiary. Without little ball-handling responsibility, he could focus solely on getting to the rim, either drawing fouls or making shots — and often both.

But once Baron left, Monta became the team’s de facto point guard, now concerned with creating shots for others and not just for himself. For evidence that Monta’s game severely misses Baron, look no further than the percentage of shots Monta was assisted on. From 46.5% in 06-07 and 45.4% in 07-08, Monta fell to 32.5% in 08-09 and 35.8% in 09-10, further cementing Baron’s decision to play for LA’s JV team as the worst decision for everybody ever.

The second career trajectory altering factor, of course, was the bizarre moped incident that I still have no idea how to describe or digest. For those who don’t remember, after signing 6-year, $66 million extension during the summer of 2008, Monta tore a ligament in his left ankle, an injury that required surgery. Initially telling the team that he injured the ankle playing pick-up basketball, it later turned out that Ellis was injured in what was described a “low-speed mo-ped accident.” Since riding mo-peds is against the terms of the standard NBA contract (makes you wonder what other insane clauses are on those things), and of course, since Monta lied about the injury, the Warriors suspended Monta for the first 30 games of the 08-09 season (which he missed anyway), after flirting with the notion of voiding his contract for quite a while.

The active part of Monta’s 08-09 season was pretty much marred with signs of rehab – a player who relies so greatly on his superhuman speed can’t play with a bad ankle. While Monta recovered and seemed healthy to start 09-10 (he still missed 18 games with various injuries), the bad blood remained. Monta felt unwanted, see-sawing between trade requests and “I’m here to stay” statements before calming down when play actually started.

And that leads to the the biggest problem with Monta: he’ll never be a good defender, usually disinterested in the entire ordeal, accumulating steals with bad gambles andnot much else. He is by all accounts an offensive machine when playing to his strengths, asked only to be a scorer and not a facilitator, and not given the ball every time down the court.

But the constant off-court issues and questionable ability to acquire a team-first mentality are always hanging over his play.

Will He Be Traded? Should He Be Traded?

The reasons why the Warriors should trade Monta are best explained by Monta himself. Before last season, Monta publicly complained about the pairing of him and then-rookie Stephen Curry, saying they can’t play together because none of them can guard shooting guards.

This rant shows you the two main reasons why Monta and the Warriors should go their separate ways:

A) Yet another in a long line of selfish, team-killing incidents, this rant may (should) have been the last straw. With so much bad blood between Monta and the Warriors over the moped incident and all that followed. (It should be noted, however, that long-time owner Chris Cohan finally sold the team this summer, taking most of the Warriors’ self-sabotaging front office with him. Still, I find it hard to believe that there are warm feelings between Monta and the franchise.) When a player publicly bashes a team’s prized rookie, he should be on his way out.

B) Monta was absolutely right.

The Curry/Ellis back court just isn’t big enough to compete defensively. It’s not just that both players are 6’3”. It’s that both of them are a small 6’3”, weighing in at 185 and 180 pounds, respectively. If that’s not enough, both of them are very poor defenders to begin with. Despite the explosive offensive potential the two can combine for, other back courts routinely have field days facing them.

And if one of the two has to go, it should be the disgruntled, troubled veteran with four years and $44 million left on his deal, not the second-year future face of the franchise.

The only question is whether the Warriors’ new front office realizes this.

While there is no chance that they are worse than the Cohan/Riley group that held the Bay Area hostage for the past few years, they also might not be very enthusiastic to move one of their best players for the very little that should be available.

How little?

(Segue complete.)

Monta Ellis

The Asking Price

Last season, Golden State reportedly turned down a trade that would have sent Ellis to Memphis for OJ Mayo and Hasheem Thabeet, an utterly idiotic offer by the Grizzlies and an even dumber move by Golden State to say no. The chances that Ellis can draw similar package are now extremely slim. There are very few players with Mayo’s skill available, and even fewer on squads willing to move them for players with Ellis’ issues.

In fact, I’d be surprised if the Warriors can even get a prospect as good as Thabeet in return for Monta. Even though teams seem surer than ever to bring in notorious headcases – Josh Smith, Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph are coming off the heels of breakout years, and Ron Artest just won a championship for crying out loud – there is a certain threshold of talent teams will be reluctant to part with for such a gamble. In Monta’s case, that threshold might be near zero.

The Warriors have already moved Corey Maggette for cap relief this summer, and there are talks that Andris Biedrins could be moved in a cost-cutting move as well. If they can get Monta’s salary off the books, with or without moving Andris, they could be in very good shape to surround Curry and new All-Star big man David Lee with some complementary talent. As such, I think cap relief should be enough to do the trick, unless new management holds Monta in very high regard.

The Fits

Of course, any team acquiring Monta will have to pay the high price of his contract, even if only expiring contracts are needed to pull off the actual trade. Since I presume the Warriors will ask for very little, and few teams will come knocking on their door, we’ll scratch the usual fake trade bit and instead look to see if anybody will want to pull the trigger.

Now, the way I see it, there are two sets of qualifications a team must meet if it is to acquire Monta. Any possible suitor has to belong to one of two groups:

Group A

  • Have a strong locker room and/or a veteran coach who could channel Monta’s game into the efficient scorer he once was while making it clear to him that he is not a first option
  • Have a big point guard or an otherwise strong enough defensive squad to let Monta guard points without being one on offense
  • Need another perimeter scorer enough to allow themselves a gamble
  • Be strong enough financially to allow themselves the long term commitment that is Monta

Group B

  • Be utterly and completely insane.

The sad thing is, that I don’t see many teams in Group A. The Lakers don’t need more scoring and they certainly don’t need more headaches; the Celtics already have a smaller, lesser version of Monta in Nate Robinson, and don’t have the minutes to offer Monta even if he came instead of Nate; the Magic could use another scorer, but they need it to come from the outside, and Monta is best utilized as a driver, not to mention pairing him defensively with the diminutive Jameer Nelson could be disastrous; the Mavs already have three undersized shooting guards, all of whom are better outside shooters than Monta and require the ball less.

As far as contenders go, there is really only one team who makes any sort of sense for Monta basketball wise: the Spurs. If Tony Parker is intent on leaving the squad, Monta could step into his shoes as the small point guard who gets to the rim and wreaks havoc. However, the Spurs are so intent on chemistry – and Parker is so much better than Ellis – that it will never happen. And to be honest, even if Tony wants to leave (and I don’t buy it), I sincerely doubt the Spurs move him, which is why you’re not going to see a Tony Parker edition in this A Walk Around The Block series.

This brings us to the crazy category.

The Grizzlies might renew their interest in Monta for absolutely no reason; the Bobcats need a point guard and might not realize Monta isn’t one, and Larry Brown could always talk himself into a Monta Captain Jack re-union before getting sick of both of them 10 games in; the post-Lebron Dan Gilbert has yet to do something truly crazy since his comic sans implosion, and can’t be counted out; and of course, David Kahn is still alive and acquiring small guards with a vengeance.

Final Verdict

Despite the large number of teams I threw out in the previous category, you’ve probably realized that I’m kind of stretching. As talented as Monta is, especially in the no-hand-check era, he brings the kind of headaches that only the league’s best coaches can afford to deal with. And those coaches are usually employed by teams that are too good to need Monta.

Chances are, if the Warriors truly want to move him, some team will be desperate enough for talent to gamble. However, the Warriors themselves don’t boast large amounts of talent on their squad (seriously, look at that roster, it’s frightening once you get past the starting five). With new management apparently content on breaking in slowly (give me another reason not to fire Don Nelson), I doubt the motivation to move Monta will be strong enough to find a partner.

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