2. MONTA ELLIS (Golden State Warriors, Shooting Guard, Seven-Year Pro)
Monta Ellis gets buckets.
Every hoops junkie identifies him as the most perennially-underrated baller in the game. The Golden State Warriors have been a haven situation for him to have the green light, and the chance to go-off versus any team in the league. The past three seasons Ellis has averaged 25.5, 24.1, and, currently, 22.1 points per game. Still, his scoring exploits leave something to be desired. For a cat that’s only been to the playoffs once in his career, the Warriors have posted a 230-298 record with him on the squad. That’s “winning” just 44 percent of the time. If there’s one established star that needs to bolt to a competitive franchise to validate his standing, it’s Monta Ellis.
After earning the Most Improved Player Award in 2007, I can’t say how much he’s improved his game since then. He definitely can score with the best of them, which goes without saying. At some point, though, in a prolific scorer’s career, the number of points you drop become less meaningful if there isn’t tangible team success to go with it. Nobody wants to be remembered as a cat that was nice, but stayed playing on weak teams. What made The Answer so great – besides his swagger and cultural icon status – was he delivered buckets that translated to W’s, regardless of how whack his teammates were. So I don’t know why fans place Ellis on an Iverson-esque pedestal when he’s not touching that level of greatness.
ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Palmer assessed Ellis’ standing prior to this season during ESPN’s NBA player rank campaign: “He’s the third best player in his position behind Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. People look at Monta and say, ‘this guy is a one-dimensional shooter.’ Yea, he’s so one-dimensional he led all two-guards in assists; he led all two-guards in steals. Like a lot of small players, he’s unfairly labeled a gunner. Speaking of small players labeled a gunner, Monta’s numbers were as good, sometimes better than Allen Iverson’s numbers the year he won the MVP.”
I’m sorry. But those dimes and cookies he generates come from a system that played the fifth highest pace (97.4) in the league last year, based on John Hollinger’s pace factor (the number of possessions a team uses per game).
“Unfairly labeled a gunner?” According to Basketball-Reference.com, Ellis took the second-most field goal attempts in the NBA last season with 1,611 shots. Only Kobe attempted 28 more. Plus, all of his stats last year were possible because he played a league-leading 3,227 minutes. The next SG was 13th overall (Ray Allen) with 327 less minutes. And I don’t want to begin to refute Palmer’s last claim in comparison to A.I.
Nonetheless, Iverson’s 2000-01 Sixers finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference (56-26), a scoring title (31.1 ppg) and steal crown (2.5 spg). By contrast: Ellis’ Warriors best campaign (48-34), non-scoring title (25.5), and one steal crown (2.1 spg). Even these juxtaposed stats don’t come close to measuring up with the great Answer.
Besides, there’s no denying the backcourt combination of Ellis and Stephen Curry meshes as well as Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Phil Collins in their joint “Home.” Curry is clearly the Warriors’ preferred building block going forward. They really can’t improve their respective games together. Both need the rock to flourish and they can’t just stand there waiting on offense while the other does his thing. At this point, Ellis looks like the older brother who still wants all the glory when it’s time for the little brother in Curry to get his real shine. The ongoing trade speculation of the past couple of years supports that, and this year is no different.
TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott would rather “leave” Monta Ellis than take him on a trade: “Walking proof that a high points-per-game total does not equal high productivity. Also, and I realize I’m digging in the archives for this, but: Explain the moped injury to me again?”
Rappers like Common can chill with him for charity events, Yung God could spit about him as an All-Star snub, and Bun B and Monta Ellis, himself, maybe on their “Full Time Grind,” but it’s time to end this debate and find out whether Ellis can grind the same way on a real contender to merit all the street cred he’s been given.