Shut down Monta Ellis? It might be the easy answer for the Warriors, but it’s not necessarily the best one
By Geoff Lepper
I can’t decide which injury Monta Ellis’ stiff left ankle – which will keep him on the bench tonight in Los Angeles, as well as against Charlotte on Friday and Utah on Sunday – brings more readily to mind.
Is this like Baron Davis’ sprained ankle in 2005-06, when he ended up shutting it down for the remainder of the season?
Or is it like Jason Richardson’s arthroscopic knee surgery of the following season, when he ended up pushing too fast for a comeback and looked terrible — until a broken hand forced him to rest for several more weeks, and then he came on to play a huge role down the stretch?
Based on the Warriors’ record, the obvious answer is to treat Ellis’ setback as the former. He’s shown that he can at least take the floor, and occasionally reached for the level he was at last season – although it was only for a play or two a night, with two dozen instances of rust and regression for every highlight.
But everything hinges on the one thing Ellis has not shown much of: The ability to get lift off of that left leg.
As a right-handed player, that’s the leg Ellis would naturally use to propel himself skyward on the vast majority of his drives. And those drives – the swooping, majestic flights through the opposition’s lane — are what made him the player he was last season.
Everybody talked up Ellis’ mid-range game, and rightfully so – pulling up from 15 feet is a lost art in the NBA, about to go the route of the underhanded free throw or the block/charge non-call. But without the threat of his rim game, Ellis would not have been able to create so much open space in the mid-range area; defenders had to sag off him because Ellis was so quick and, more importantly, deathly efficient once he got within leaping distance of the rim.
Here’s a list of some of the NBA’s best penetrating guards from the 2007-08 season, ranked by their shooting percentage from 5 feet or closer, per the league’s Hot Spot data:
Kobe Bryant 62.4
Dwyane Wade 61.8
Tony Parker 59.8
Deron Williams 59.5
Richard Hamilton 58.2
Manu Ginobili 58.1
Chris Paul 57.3
Steve Nash 56.7
Joe Johnson 56.6
Brandon Roy 55.1
Baron Davis 54.9
Allen Iverson 54.7
Where was Monta?
No. 1, at 63.8.
Obviously, some of that can be attributed to Ellis’ ability to beat the other nine players downcourt and score an uncontested layup in transition. But there were plenty of times when he simply floated past well-placed defenders and contorted his body to square up to the basket before gravity began exerting its pull.
Everything about Ellis’ game is predicated on that number at the rim. He’s not a good enough natural shooter to draw defenders to him at the 3-point line, which would give him a window to blow by his man and get loose in the paint. So without the lift needed to beat defenders in the air, Ellis has been a pedestrian scorer.
He’s shooting 50.0 percent from close range this season, well behind almost everyone on that list (only Iverson at 49.8 and Davis at 44.0 are worse). Ginobili leads at 65.3, followed by Hamilton at 64.7 and Wade at 63.1.
There have been sporadic moments where Ellis looked like a new member of the Flying Wallendas. More often, however, Ellis has come up short – both in terms of the height of his jumps and the distance on his shots.
The worst might have been in Phoenix a couple weeks back, when Ellis took a give-and-go pass from Ronny Turiaf, who had posted up on the left wing, midway through the first quarter. Ellis turned the corner, lost both his man (Jason Richardson) and Turiaf’s (Amare Stoudemire) and was in the clear for a reverse layup.
Except after his left-footed launch, Ellis was still trapped under the hoop, to the point where his shot was blocked by the rim because by the time he landed, he hadn’t come out on the other side.
The whole thing conjured up images of Evel Knievel at Snake River Canyon – only without the parachute.
I could easily see the team telling Ellis, “We tried it your way, you came back, and it didn’t work. Now go get ready for October.”
But it would be nice to know for a fact sometime before next season’s training camp that Ellis is still able to regularly channel the explosion that made him worth $66 million in the first place.
Based on the 13 games entered into evidence at this point, we just don’t have a clue.
10 Responses to “Shut down Monta Ellis? It might be the easy answer for the Warriors, but it’s not necessarily the best one”
Great post, nice to see the math. I’m an over-educated manager with sci and eng background so I appreciate the work. It’s rare to see reporters crunch anything but tacos. Get a tip jar set up. Seriously. Also add some thread posts when you’re busy.
Ellis game can improve, even MJ lacked an outside shot until he worked on his game. Ellis can do the same and I hope he does work on extending his jump shot this summer.
Monta’s ankle is still an open question and with decreasing cap space and sue happy Cohen, nothing is off the table. I can see Monta getting pissed off if he’s pushed and wanting out or Cohen using the injury as a justification to cut Monta’s salary and reboot the team below the cap. He’s that tone deaf which is why I follow Chicago and GSW.
Boy the difference an owner makes with the franchise.
I’m glad to see someone finally point this out about how well he could jump off one foot (maybe Kawakami has mentioned it before actually). It’s not talked about nearly enough. His ability to fly off that left foot is absolutely his greatest strength and was always J Rich’s greatest weakness I thought. It seems like Monta has got plenty of spring when we can jump off two feet right now, but off the one foot he always is playing below the rim. We haven’t seen one of those trademark one handed spikes on the fast break off that left foot yet where his head gets up around the rim. Seemed like there were at least two of those a game last year. It’s impossible to guess where he’s at physically with this whole thing since he always says everything is good, but it’s very obvious he doesn’t have confidence jumping off the one leg yet. You can see him ease into it every time. Everyone who has ever had any kind of injury knows what that is like. I think once he gets past that mental block we’ll see lots of improvement. In the second half of the season last year he admitted that his neck injury was on his mind a lot during the beginning of the year. It resulted in much poorer play. I think sometime next year he’ll make a similar admission regarding the ankle right now.
Sounds like he may end up getting cleared to play against Charlotte though. You heard anything Geoff?
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TagsAcie Law Al Harrington Allen Iverson Andris Biedrins Anthony Morrow Anthony Randolph Baron Davis Brandan Wright C.J. Watson Chris Cohan Chris Hunter Chris Mullin Corey Maggette Dan Dickau DeMarcus Nelson Devean George Don Nelson Gilbert Arenas Jamal Crawford Jason Richardson Jeff Fried Jermareo Davidson Keith Smart Kelenna Azubuike Kevin Durant Kevin Garnett Kobe Bryant Larry Riley Marco Belinelli Marcus Williams Matt Barnes Mickael Pietrus Mikki Moore Monta Ellis Patrick O'Bryant Richard Hendrix Robert Rowell Rob Kurz Ronny Turiaf Stephen Curry Stephen Jackson Stephon Marbury Steve Nash Troy Murphy Vladimir Radmanovic
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