Sunday, December 5, 2010

Monta Ellis: Already Great, Now AI 2.0

Lemme say this up front. Allen Iverson is one of my all-time favorite players, one of the NBA’s toughest competitors and maybe the most electrifying player I’ve ever seen.

With that said, I am now of the belief that Monta Ellis, whom I have referred to as “AI 2.0” on more than one occasion, is actually a better individual player- not quite as durable and still in search of team success, it must be said- right now than an in-his-prime Answer. If he played for the Lakers or a team located East of the Mississippi, he’d be a perennial All-Star and would be generating some (light) MVP buzz this season.

At the offensive end, Ellis is as devastating as any guard in the NBA right now. His speed and quickness are world-class. He elevates and hangs in the air. He gets into the lane at will and consistently finishes some very tough attempts. At a sturdy 6’3”- 185, he’s able to absorb some punishment (not as much AI, but then, who is?) on his way to the bucket.

However, one of the areas where Ellis has an edge over AI is in the ability to avoid contact in the paint. Where Iverson, with his legendary toughness, welcome contact in the paint, and was thus frequently bouncing off of the floor, Ellis uses his incredible speed and quickness to change directions, seemingly in midair, on his way to the rim.

Offensive efficiency is another area where Ellis’ work trumps Iverson’s. While his averages of 25.5 (6th in NBA in 2009-10) and 24.9 (4th in NBA through 19 games this season) are less than Iversonian, it’s worth noting that during his Philadelphia years, only twice (in 1996-97 and 1997-98, his first two NBA seasons) did Iverson average fewer shot attempts than Ellis’ 2009-10 average of 22 per game (he’s at 19.9 in 2010-11). During that same stretch, only once (46.1% in 1997-98) did Iverson shoot a better percentage than Ellis’ worst percentage in his 4+ seasons as a starter (44.9% in 2009-10).

And while the numbers at HoopData do not go back far enough to cover Iverson’s best years in Philly, it’s tough to imagine him topping Ellis’ fantastic start to the 2010-11 season. Through 19 games (39.5 minutes per game), Ellis is averaging 4.8 field goal attempts “at the rim” (8th among guards and more than double the league average), of whih he’s hitting an incredible 70.1%, third among guards with 3+ attempts per game (Landry Fields and Wesley Matthews are both just above 75% on 3.3 and 3.1 attempts respectively) and well ahead of the league average of 63.9%. From the rim to 10 feet out, Ellis is shooting 52.2%, compared with a league average of 47.1%

From 10-15’ and 15-23’, Ellis is 42.3% and 39%, respectively. These are both in line with the league averages and comparable to Iverson’s overall Philly field goal percentage of 42%. Meanwhile from beyond the arc, Ellis is sporting an effective field goal percentage (converts 3-point percentage into a two-points equivalent) of 50.7%, which is equivalent to a 3-point percentage of 35.5%. By comparison, only twice as a Sixer did Iverson hit as many as one third of his 3s, shooting exactly 34.1% in both 1996-97 and again in 1999-2000.

Lest you think Monta Ellis does nothing but score, let’s take a look at a few more numbers. While Ellis’ biggest strength is his scoring ability he, like Iverson, does rack up some assists. In 2010-11, Ellis is averaging 5.1 apg. This falls short of AI’s Philly average of 6.1 (he averaged 7+ four times), but offset by Ellis’ 2.8 TO/game, pretty good given his minutes/time on the ball, compared with Iverson’s average of 3.7 TO/game (never less than 3.1). When adjusting for assists on 3-pointers (called “Assist+”; N/A for Iverson), Ellis is averaging 6 apg, good for just 23rd in the league, but first among non-PGs and people not named LeBron James.

At the defensive end, Ellis ranks ninth in the NBA (and third among guards, behind Chris Paul and John Wall) in “defensive plays” (steals + blocks + charges taken), with 3.17 per game. Though these numbers were not kept for AI’s Philly days, it’s safe to say that Iverson was probably as good or better (thanks to 2.3 spg in 697 games as a Sixer) in this area.

All of this was on full display in the Warriors’ recent 107-101 home loss to the Phoenix Suns. Ellis was in spectacular form, making 16 of 27 shots- many of them at the rim, but from difficult angles over larger defenders- en route to 38 points, to which he added seven assists. Watch and enjoy:

My point here is a fairly simple one: although Monta Ellis has yet to enjoy any of team success that Allen Iverson did during his career. And while that may come, from a historical perspective, he’ll be hard-pressed to challenge the Herculean feats of Iverson’s 2000-01 MVP season (please, never forget the way he dragged the likes of Eric Snow, Jumaine Jones and Aaron McKie to the 2001 Finals) or Iverson’s “biggest little man ever” title.

These are long-term mountains that Ellis will try to climb. Whether or not he succeeds, or even comes close, remains to be seen- and won’t be clear for years to come.


At the moment, Ellis is one of the league’s most electrifying and entertaining players, with an efficiency to his offensive game that’s uncommon for a player of his size and playing style. Though he doesn’t receive the attention that Allen Iverson did early in the decade, he is, from an individual perspective, Iverson’s equal.

Also, Ellis, a top-shelf offensive weapon, is now a League Pass must-watch (tonight at 7:00 pm Eastern, he and the Warriors visit Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder; one of the most exciting matchups of the early season) and one of the guys in the NBA (like Iverson was before him) who, while amazing on TV, is exponentially more thrilling in person.

Any NBA fan that's taking the time and making the effort- whether attending games, staying up late on the East Coast or DVRing games- is being treated to a display of offensive prowess by Monta Ellis that the NBA has seldom before seen. For everyone else, I can only say this: if you love uptempo basketball played with skill and blinding speed and quickness, give Monta Ellis and the Warriors a shot.

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