The NBA Players Who Hurt Their Teams as Much as They Help Them
Which team will Monta Ellis play for next season?
Hopefully not *your* favorite NBA team, if you're in the interest of seeing your team compete for a championship. Monta Ellis is a very, very good scorer, which in many respects, is not the easiest thing to come by these days in the NBA.
Incredibly, among all players with a minimum of 59 games played during the 2012-13 season, only 11 players scored greater than 20 points per game. Compare that to the 2008-09 season when 26 players, who played a minimum of 50 games, scored more than 20 points per game.
There's no doubt that NBA teams need scorers, which would seem to insinuate that NBA teams need Monta Ellis and players like him. Not so fast. Because scoring is not the only part of the game.
NBA teams win games with good scorers but the great teams win with strong defense and offensive efficiency born out of unselfish play, smart shot selection and keeping turnovers to a minimum.
It's very little surprise that the two teams that played for the championship this season topped the league in adjusted field goal percentage. The Heat and Spurs took good shots and had efficient, unselfish players taking those shots.
Statistics such as Player Efficiency Rating (PER) developed by now Memphis Grizzlies VP of Basketball Operations, John Hollinger, have become more prevalent in basketball over the last five years. PER is in many respects similar to the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) statistic in baseball.
PER does a wonderful job of measuring offensive value but isn't able to measure a player's true defensive impact on the game. Defense is still largely evaluated on the eye-test and to a lesser extent by some advanced statistics on an individual basis.
Yet on that individual basis, it's quite difficult to appropriately quantify.
NBA teams are throwing loads of money around as free agency has begun and teams are looking to piece together their rosters. The problem is that they're not always looking for the most efficient players that can impact both sides of the ball.
For years now there have been good-to-great scorers that fill up the stat sheet but subtract from their team's value through poor shot selection or terrible individual and team defense. Since those areas have always been difficult to measure, it's easier for these players to continue getting rewarded financially.
The forthcoming list of players is subjective but grounded in some basic criteria: players who have a high shot volume, poor overall shot selection and players regarded as sub-par defenders. The objective of this article is not to criticize and ridicule.
This article's objective is to highlight players who don't add nearly as much value as might appear on the surface. Sure, scorers like J.R. Smith can help make a difference by pouring in over 18 points per game, but it's hard to find where else Smith contributes as an overall player.
It seems like more NBA teams have improved somewhat at identifying players that can score but add little value elsewhere. Yet some teams continue doling out large wads of cash to the aforementioned players but increasingly for less years under contract.
Teams seem to be shying away from awarding big contracts to players who affect the rest of the team in a negative way by taking away shots from other, more efficient players and by decreasing the "team" style of play and making it a less sharing environment.
Monta Ellis is the classic player that comes to mind.
A very, very good scorer who's lightning quick and finishes well in transition. But also a player who cannot defend well on the perimeter and seems to look for his shot most of the time and as a result, does not involve the other players around him.
Let's call it the, "Monta Ellis All-Stars." Here's your squad.
Monta Ellis, Shooting Guard
The poster boy and face of the Monta Ellis All-Stars, Monta Ellis finished the 2012-13 season outside of the top 100 players based on PER. The only two players to average more minutes per game and place lower in the rankings were Luol Deng and Nicolas Batum.
Ellis is a shooting guard in a point guard's diminutive body and one always looking to score. He seems to need the ball on most possessions but to his credit, he did dish out six assists per game this past season. Ellis is hardly a bad player. He's an above average player.
But he's also someone who's going to thrive on a non-playoff team where he can fill up the stat sheet. That's not meant as a compliment. A team with Ellis as the main option is going to lose more often than they win. Fair or not, Ellis seems to espouse the qualities of many modern day NBA players.
The players who have grown up in an AAU culture of me-first basketball where one is constantly trying to prove himself to the people in the stands. During the 2009-10 season Ellis averaged 25.5 points per game for a team that lost 56 games.
During the 2010-11 season, the Warriors improved marginally and Ellis still dropped over 24 points per game. Some might consider a player who scores that many points a star. Though many in the basketball community find that designation quite difficult to bestow upon Ellis.
His shooting percentage has declined nearly every season in the league, tumbling to under 42 percent last year. He doesn't have a poor career field goal percentage, he's actually at just under 46 percent. He can create his own shot and get to the rim when he wants to. However, the problem is he often settles for long jumpers.
Ellis will sure get you some points. But at a cost on both the defensive end and in offensive efficiency.
J.R. Smith, Shooting Guard
The Knicks are getting four more years of J.R. Smith at just under $25 million. Smith can score, has a streaky jump shot and on his best days, serves as a formidable complement to Carmelo Anthony on the offensive end.
Though as the famous Latin saying goes, Caveat Emptor, let the buyer beware. The Knicks can use Smith's scoring but there's a reason he has started only 130 games in his 618 game NBA career. Smith is a poor defender who shoots under 43 percent from the field.
To top it off, he no longer has the incentive of playing for a contract and as we've seen before, that can influence a player's effort and attitude on the floor.
Like Anthony, Smith is looking to score, offensive flow and ball movement be darned. Except Smith isn't nearly the scorer Anthony is. Worse yet, Smith disappeared in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Indiana and shot only 29 percent from the field.
He was a mere 23 percent from three-point range on 39 attempts in that same series. It's probably unfair to kill Smith for one bad series but his lack of production was perhaps the biggest reason the Knicks were bounced early from the playoffs.
Smith's PER was good enough for a top-70 finish among NBA players, a very respectable number for a player still in the prime of his career. Perhaps his roughly $6 million annual salary matches his efficiency. Just don't expect much more from Smith than what you've already seen.
He's looking to score from the outside and he'll do so at a somewhat inefficient clip. He won't provide much more value elsewhere. It's simply hard to look at Smith's player profile and feel that he can help elevate the Knicks to championship status.
O.J. Mayo, Shooting Guard
O.J. Mayo is headed to Milwaukee for three years and a total of $24 million. The Bucks will lose Monta Ellis yet add a member of the "Monta Ellis All-Stars" who will likely score at a good clip but add little value in offensive efficiency.
Mayo has averaged over 15 points per game in his NBA career but it's worth noting that his former team, the Memphis Grizzlies, improved significantly this past season when he was no longer a part of the team. The Grizzlies were swept in the Western Conference Finals but reached that mark for the first time in franchise history.
Call it coincidence or other players reaching their true potential but the Grizzlies were simply a better team without Mayo. Hurting Mayo's cause all the more was the fact that his team this past season, the Dallas Mavericks, went from a playoff team to a .500 club that missed the postseason for the first time in 13 years.
Mayo is not explosive enough from the shooting guard position in the way higher-echelon NBA shooting guards like Dwyane Wade and James Harden are. You'd expect more from a player who was drafted No. 3 overall just five years ago.
Mayo's three-point shooting improved last year in Dallas which is good because it appears that outside shooting will be much more his forte moving forward.
The verdict is still out on Mayo because he has the talent to be very good but he hasn't improved enough over his career to date. He's not getting any more athletic and hasn't shown enough raw athleticism to instill confidence that he's ready to take the next big step as a player.
That's likely why many teams backed off from signing him this off season.
Andrea Bargnani, Forward
Andrea Bargnani is taking his talents to the Big Apple. Knick fans can now wonder whether a healthy Bargnani can ever fulfill the potential that comes with being a No. 1 overall draft pick. After all, fans north of the border hoped the seven-foot Italian could blossom into another European star, Dirk Nowitzki.
That hasn't happened.
Maybe the expectations were too high since Nowitzki has become one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA and has a championship to go along with his brilliant resume. Bargnani's best NBA season came during 2010-11 when he averaged 21.4 points per game on nearly 45 percent shooting.
He's a career 36 percent three-point shooter that feels much more comfortable 15-23 feet from the basket. Bargnani is not looking to bang down low with big men and frankly, his slender frame cannot handle that kind of physical play.
Bargnani never elevated the Raptors to a playoff berth during his seven years in Toronto and gained a reputation for being soft on defense and on the boards. Incredibly, for someone of his height, Bargnani has averaged less than five rebounds per game for his career.
The Knicks are now one of the better defensive teams in the NBA and no longer the terrible defensive team they once were, but Bargnani will certainly not improve the Knicks defense. It would appear the optimism around Bargnani is that he'll be playing under a defensive minded coach in Mike Woodson.
That could help.
On top of that, Bargnani has shown flashes of brilliance and has a sweet touch from the outside. He's not going to be the man in New York and he might only be the fourth option. Perhaps a situation with less pressure to score big, night in and night out, may help Bargnani feel more at ease.
Bargnani ends up here for his underwhelming play to date and his lack of efficiency both from a defensive and rebounding standpoint. The man can shoot, and at times, can score in bunches, but he hasn't been good enough on offense to make up for his deficiencies elsewhere.
Nick Young, Shooting Guard
Nick Young is very good at catching and shooting the ball and he has the 6'7" frame to get his shot off in the NBA. He's not very good or even OK at much else. Young showed flashes of scoring prowess on a lowly Wizards team that afforded him the ability to shoot when he so wished.
Smart NBA teams aren't going to allow Nick Young to shoot whenever he wants and as a result, he's probably looking at a bench role in any future NBA assignment. He averaged nearly 24 minutes per game last season in Philly but started only 17 games.
Young is not great getting to the basket and is rarely ever looking to pass the ball. On top of that, he's a weak defender that despite his 6'7" frame, offers little-to-nothing in the rebounding department. He is a career 37 percent three-point shooter which is what keeps him in the league.
Young might be the weakest overall member of this All-Star crew because at least Smith, Mayo and Ellis demonstrate a greater propensity to get into the paint to create scoring opportunities. Perhaps Young could be a great fit on a Spurs or Grizzlies team in need of a shooter but we may never see that become reality.
When the only thing you can really do well is shoot threes, it's hard to stay around in the NBA unless you shoot 40 percent or better from three-point range. Young shot under 36 percent last year.