Golden State Warriors: Why They Can Make the NBA Playoffs with Monta Ellis

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Golden State Warriors: Why They Can Make the NBA Playoffs with Monta Ellis
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

If the NBA season somehow kicks off as scheduled, the Golden State Warriors will retire Chris Mullin's No. 17 in late January.

The news that Mullin's jersey will hang high above the court at Oracle Arena, amongst great gold-and-blue ballers like Rick Barry and Nate Thurmond, is a reminder of how funny history can be.

For all of Mullin's brilliance on the court, he never led the Warriors past the the first round of the NBA playoffs. But he will always be remembered as one of the Warriors greats.

It's no wonder. Championships for the Warriors have been as rare as the yellow flowering of a century plant, so playoff appearances are celebrated and noted as tally marks to add up the legacy of individual players.

How will the current Warriors roster be remembered? Will any of the current players be able to return to Oracle Arena after 10 years of retirement and watch their number be raised next to Mullin's?

Just a couple of years ago, Warriors fans would have agreed that Monta Ellis was the most likely for enshrinement in the rafters. Especially with his role in the upset win over the Dallas Mavericks in 2007.

This summer though, things changed. All over the Internet, fans asked the Warriors to hoist Ellis up to the trading block. Suddenly he became the most likely trade chip to land Dwight Howard.

But a string of offseason moves, like the drafting of Klay Thompson and the hiring of Mark Jackson as head coach, put the Warriors right back in the playoff race, and they'll need Ellis in the lineup to make it to the finish line.

Since 2007, the Warriors have been just a few possessions away from a playoff birth. That is, a few possessions away from winning every game they lose. The problem is their sloppy rotations on defense and their inability to rebound.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Enter Mark Jackson.

While he has no experience as an NBA head coach, he's already made defense his calling card. Though most fans are not sure what the former point guard and ESPN analyst will bring to the table, one dish is all but guaranteed—a new basketball philosophy.

Former head coach Don Nelson brought up players on the current Warriors roster, Ellis included, and when he left, his ghost lingered on the sideline in the form of Keith Smart.

Jackson will break those bad, old habits on defense and reteach the Warriors some basics. Like fanning out to perimeter shooters, rotating to help the helper, and most importantly, boxing out and finishing on defense.

With Ekpe Udoh healthy and playing a full season, Jackson should turn the Warriors into a decent defensive team, at least. There is no telling what the Warriors can do if they only learn how to play a bit of defense.

Their fast break will run more smoothly, bringing with it a bit of rhythm. With better defense, the Warriors will also begin to produce in a more efficient way, with Ellis at the center of the offense.

Last year, Ellis attempted 20.1 field goals per game, shot 45 percent from the field, and scored just over 24 points per game.

For all the talk about his addiction to gunning, his numbers are surprisingly close to Kobe Bryant, who attempted 20 field goals per game, shot 45 percent from the field, and scored just over 25 points per game.

Bryant, of course, took two more free throws per game then Ellis, which may account for the slight advantage in PPG. But nobody would ever call Kobe Bryant a gunner.

Ellis's production on offense will improve with the team's defense. The addition of Klay Thompson to the bench will enable Ellis, the NBA's most active player in terms of minutes per game, a break or two.

But that is just an added perk. The real difference for the Warriors this year will be Mark Jackson and his stress on defense.

The ability to get stops and outlet the ball will enable the entire team to produce more effectively on offense. With some of the pressure off Ellis to always play catchup, he will settle into the scoring role for Golden Stare more comfortably than he has in the past five years.

And when the Warriors make the playoffs, the Ellis trade talk will be retired, like Mullin's number.

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