Monta Ellis isn't hopeless.
What did both the Bucks and Warriors have in common? They lacked a pass-first point guard.
Nothing against Stephen Curry, but he's not a catalyst first, scorer second. It's the other way around, as it should be. You don't ask the NBA's top marksman to holster his cannon.
I've got plenty of things against Brandon Jennings, most of which originate with his attitude and inability to lead. Like Curry, but less acceptably, he too is a shoot-first, defer-later point man.
Jose Calderon will be the first altruistic floor general Ellis has partnered up with in the backcourt in quite some time. His primary job is to run an offense and help his teammates score, not notch points of his own.
Ellis has rarely had that, especially in Milwaukee.
According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), 32.8 percent of his total offensive touches came within pick-and-rolls. More than 99 percent of those occasions (32.7 percent total) saw him play the part of the ball-handler.
Guards are rarely the roll man, so the lopsided differential within pick-and-rolls isn't staggering. That he spent as much time partaking in them at all is.
When Ellis' name is mentioned, your mind is immediately drawn to the mental image of an inefficient scorer whose shot selection is atrocious. His isolation sets are criticized and his inability to shoot a high clip from anywhere on the floor is the punch line for almost as many jokes as shots he takes.
For someone as wildly inefficient as Ellis, though, he doesn't play as much iso ball as one would expect. In fact, the number of pick-and-rolls he ran outnumbered his isolation sets by more than two to one last season.
Tasked with splitting the distribution responsibilities with Curry and Jennings, Ellis hasn't had a primary role. Double-duty themes prevailed in Golden State and Milwaukee, and not all players can thrive under such circumstances.
Look at Carmelo Anthony, who had the second-worst shooting season of his career (43 percent overall) during the 2011-12 campaign, when he was asked to assume more of a point-forward role.
He was at his worst under Mike D'Antoni, because that's when he essentially split time manning the point with players like Baron Davis and Jeremy Lin.
Through the first 40 games of the season—before D'Antoni was fired—'Melo shot just 40.9 percent from the floor, which would equate to the worst mark of his career. Once Mike Woodson took over, he shot 46.4 percent the rest of the way, when he was able to focus on scoring more.
Some will see that as a coincidence. 'Melo doesn't have a reputation as an economical scorer anyway, so that may mean nothing.
Or it could mean everything.
Ellis wasn't always perceived to be as erratic as he is now. There was actually a time when he converted a respectable number of his shots.
Between 2006 and 2009, Ellis connected on an average of 49.7 percent of his shot attempts, including a 53.1 percent showing during the 2007-08 crusade, when he put up more than 20 points per game.
What changed? His role.
Two of those three seasons were spent alongside Baron Davis, who shouldered most of the playmaking responsibilities; the third year saw him cede control of the offense to combo guards like Jamal Crawford and Stephen Jackson more than anyone else.
Upon becoming a more interchangeable member of the backcourt, his efficiency began to diminish.
To be sure, it's really only the last two seasons that have opened our eyes. During the 2009-10 and 2010-11 campaigns, he combined to shoot 45 percent from the floor. The past two years have seen him drop off considerably, though, posting conversion rates of 43.3 and 41.6.
It should come as know surprise that Ellis also boasted the highest assist rates of his career these past two seasons. And generally (save for his rookie season), the higher his assist rate has been, the worse he has shot from the field.
The last two point guards Ellis played with, Curry and Jennings, both have assisted on fewer than 29 percent of their team's field goals when on the floor for their careers. Calderon, by comparison, is at 39.6. Ellis saw some of his most efficient years next to Davis, who finished his career assisting on 36.3 percent of all buckets when he was in the game.
Still thinking this might be a coincidence?
Next to Calderon, there will be no identity confusion for Ellis. Calderon can be used as a spot-up shooter when the situation calls for it, but Ellis will no longer be subject to the dangers of seesawing between positions.
Combo guards are notoriously mercurial shooters. Allen Iverson shot 42.5 percent from the field for his career, Crawford sits at 41.1 and Jennings himself has hit on just 39.4. Sometimes, you get someone like Curry (46.5 percent), who can balance the two, but not everyone is capable of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade-like role reversals.
Ellis would posit otherwise, but he's not Wade. Or LeBron. Or even Curry. And he'll always be ridiculed for his shot selection and outside accuracy in general. And don't even get me started on his defense. Seriously, please don't.
But he's not hopelessly overrated and overvalued. In Dallas, he can become an All-Star.
Alongside a pass-first point guard who eliminates any role confusion, and in the shadows of a future Hall of Famer like Dirk Nowitzki, who is the unequivocal first option on the offensive end, Ellis finds himself in the most stable situation he's been in.
Once coaches see his efficiency increase (and it will increase), the stigma that plagues him will begin to vanish. Then, he'll be able to get back to what he once did best—scoring at an All-Star level, minus the excessive number of botched field goals and unforgiving detractors.
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