Monta Ellis vs. Stephen Curry: Comparing the GS Warriors Guards' Skillsets
As long as they share a back court, Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis will be compared to each other.
They will be examined under a microscope by their opposing defense, they will be discussed by fans and analysts in an attempt to decide, once and for all, who is the better of the two.
The answer to that ever-present question could ultimately decide who steers the ship as the Golden State Warriors sail into the future.
So who is better, Steph or Monta?
This slideshow will answer that question.
Before we start looking at skill sets and things, let's take a look at just raw athleticism. What type of genetic code are these guys working with here? We should be real here—it's athletic ability that predetermines how well someone will play in any sport.
No matter how hard that one kid from gym class worked, he was never going to be a professional athlete. You know the kid I'm talking about; the one who was terrible at everything, even stretching.
In that case, Curry gets a point. His father, Dell Curry, was a pretty good ball player himself. Dell won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award in 1994, and is currently the all-time leading scorer for the Hornets organization.
Monta came out of high school with the reputation as a high-flyer, but lately, moped related ankle injuries and general wear on the knees from playing every second of every game seem to be having an effect on his explosiveness.
After cruising the web and finding each player's pre-draft workout stats, courtesy of Draft Express, I learned that Curry scored better then Ellis in both vertical leap and three-quarter court sprint.
I was ready to hand this category to Curry, until further cruising the web found this (see video), and realized Curry would never do this (see video) to anybody other than Earl Boykins.
If Monta Ellis is the better athlete, good ol' basketball reasoning would say that he is also the better defender. If you love to read stat sheets, you would probably say that as well.
Ellis has quick feet and quick hands, which enable him to average just above two steals per game. That certainly makes Ellis an effective defender, but it does not make him a better defender than Curry.
Being a good defender in the NBA has more to do with how well you can play within a system than how well you can steal the basketball. How well can you recognize situations and react by quickly getting to the right position? Playing defense in the NBA has more to do, really, with intelligence than athleticism.
Curry's time at Davidson gives him the advantage in this skill set—not because going to college makes you smart, but because playing college basketball gives you a foundation for excelling in structured team defense.
That ability has been visibly missing from Ellis' professional development, which has been spent within the worst defensive philosophy since appeasement.
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When determining which guard is more valuable to the Warriors, rebounding is an important statistic to look at, since the Warriors' big men are so bad at this particular aspect of basketball.
Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry both averaged more rebounds per game than Ekpe Udoh, the big man who was drafted specifically to rebound and block shots.
Head-to-head, Curry rebounds the ball more often than Ellis does, but not by much.
Anyway, that stat is biased in Curry's favor. In order to rebound, one must stick around the defensive end long enough to pull the ball off the backboard. By the time the shot goes up, Ellis is already somewhere around half court, trying to run the lane for an easy two.
But you can't blame him for that very much, as it has been his role for years now.
With a new, defense-first mentality on the Warriors sideline, Ellis will be expected to commit to the defensive end of the court; as a result, his minutes per game will shrink a little.
Having a bit more left in the tank to use on defense will allow Ellis the chance to rebound the way he should.
Most guards rebound off of long misses, which tend to fall somewhere near the outside of the paint. With Ellis' speed, he can beat any guard to a 50/50 ball, and with his strength he can block out bigger players.
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Thread the needle, toss a lob from three-quarter court, go behind the back, now look, scoop it under a defender's arm—whatever pass the play calls for, Stephen Curry will deliver it.
Put him in the center of any fast break, and he can make a play. If he breaks down his defender and forces help, he can make a play.
Curry's passing ability is one of the many things he does with such ease and near-thoughtless precision that it forces you to wonder: Are some people made specifically to play the game of basketball?
Winner: Curry. He is a natural.
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The way these two guards handle the ball is very different.
Ellis has had to work on improving his ball handling from the time he entered the league, and he has improved.
But still, Ellis likes to dribble in the open court. When he does use the dribble in the half court, he has strong, deliberate, attacking moves. The way he dribbles does little to hide his intention of getting to the rim and scoring.
He is great at handling the rock in that way.
Curry, on the other hand—to use a tired expression—has the ball on a string. Just like the way he passes, Curry's ball-handling skills reveal a natural communion with the game of basketball.
He just controls the ball beautifully, and there are multiple occasions in any game when Curry slithers through the defense and you murmur to yourself, "How did he find a way through that?"
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The NBA is full of the world's best basketball players. So if they are all so good, what makes one a better scorer than another?
It all comes down to attitude. Elite scorers aren't just good at putting the ball in the hoop—they have an almost sociopathic sense of fearlessness and self-confidence.
Although basketball is a team game, it is the only team game that can be completely won or lost on the shoulders of one person.
To play basketball the way Ellis does, with a determination to score every time you touch the ball, requires you to be willing to put the fate of the team on your back, take on five people at once and be completely sure that the outcome will be in your favor.
Maybe it's like an NBA Napoleonic complex, but Ellis' score early and, very often, attitude is in direct contrast to Curry's approach of letting things develop. It's also what makes Ellis the better scorer.
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Even though Ellis is the better scorer, if a game came down to a shooting contest, I'd be glad to have Stephen Curry on my team.
Curry's quick release and high arching stroke made him the Warriors' best three-point shooter last year, but he is more than a long-range specialist.
He can hit jumpers from any angle of the court and from any distance.
What makes Curry particularly dangerous to the defense is his ability to shoot off the dribble. It's scary, really, to think that such a young player already has a well-sharpened tool like that in his back pocket.
In a few year's time, and maybe with an onslaught of slight megalomania, Curry could be the best scorer in the whole Pacific Division.
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With Ellis' performance at the end of last season, when he seemed to hit one game-winning shot after another, he earned his title as the Warriors' resident ice man.
Yes, his combination of skill and bull-headed determination to score make him a likely option at the end of games, but what makes him clutch is his mid-range jump shot.
When you need a final shot from the top of the key, Monta Ellis can get an open look every time.
The strength in his legs allows him to create more than enough space with his step back dribble, and the elevation he gets on his jump shot ensures clean sight of the rim.
The Ellis step back from the top of the key is one of basketball's most dangerous moves at the moment.
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Player efficiency rating is all the rage in basketball at the moment, and although I, admittedly, am unsure exactly what we can learn from these ratings, there are plenty of sports fans out there who are.
So, for the sake of a well-rounded comparison of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, I will have to cite the one-and-only John Hollinger, of ESPN's Hollinger Stats.
According to Hollinger's formula, Curry ranks 32nd in the league for efficiency, right between Lamar Odom and Chris Bosh.
Ellis ranks 43rd, between Chauncey Billups and Elton Brand.
The difference between Curry's and Ellis' PER isn't even a full point: Curry scores 19.46, and Ellis scores 18.69.
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Stephen Curry edged out Monta Ellis as the better Warrior, but not by much.
So, what did we really learn about these two players and their role for Golden State?
I think we learned that they are, in fact, complementary players and not the conflicting basketball forces that so many people have called them over the past few months.
The playmaker and the scorer. The brains and the brawn. The setup man and the closer.
The Warriors have it all in their back court and the change on their bench, with Mark Jackson, will be what sparks success in the future, especially for these two guards.
Playing under one of the NBA's best point guards, Ellis and Curry will finally find a way to coexist and be recognized as one of the best back courts in the NBA.