*The majority of this post was written prior to this sexual harassment business.
Monta Ellis is pretty fascinating. He's one of just a small handful of players that are entirely polarizing: we either hate him or we love him, and those few individuals who are in between the two camps are probably bleeding-heart optimists that just aren't quite comfortable dumping on the guy. He has the ability to perform some jaw-dropping visual poetry on the court, all while wearing a Warriors uniform.
Even his most ardent supporters admit that he hasn't exactly turned us into world-beaters. They often look to 2007-2008, the Monta Ellis Gold Standard, as proof that he's capable of
greatness being pretty good. The in-betweeners look to that season for hope, even if they deep-down know they're chasing a dream.
So: Is it? GSOM luminaries like Ronaldinho have posited that 2007-2008 (which I will henceforth refer to simply as 2008) is more likely to be an aberration than a repeatable norm, and it's hard to argue otherwise; one "good" season out of six is hardly compelling. Still, what happened in 2008? And why hasn't it happened since? Can we find any evidence, any patterns, to help unlock the secret to a productive Monta Ellis?
The Monta fanboys (and I mean that affectionately) most often reference anecdotal evidence, mostly because the alternative factual evidence is quite damning, but also because there may be some arguments to be made in there. Let's itemize Monta's seasons with oversimplified summaries:
2006: Rookie coming out of high school — easy to disregard this season, no matter what the results.
2007: Not bad at all. A 21 year old, thrust into the starting lineup for most of the season because of an injured JRich, showed marked improvement over his freshman campaign, and the team made the playoffs. Balling!
2008: Gold Standard. Started most of the season, scored 20 PPG at an efficient clip, and narrowly missed the playoffs in an historically and absurdly great Western Conference.
2009: Baron's exodus. Mopedgate. In short, a complete disaster. Monta's 25 games came post-injury when the team was already in the toilet. Hard to put much stock into this season.
2010: Another season in turmoil. We lie to Monta and draft Curry; Captain Jack takes a dump on the city of Oakland; and Nellie is so checked out that he wears flip flops and drinks Blue Hawaiians during practices (not really). Mikki Moore started 20 games. (I had to double-check this; I must have drowned that memory in bourbon and tears.) In short: this was a tumultuous, injury-riddled season of inconsistency and D-League shenanigans.
2011: Keith Smart takes over as head coach a week before training camp and generally does not perform well as a head coach. Andris continues to suck, leaving a rookie power forward as our only solution at center. Not really any other excuses, but hey, Monta DID play better this season!
Now listen: these aren't reasons for suckitude — they're excuses. Tumult can be overcome; it's not an absolute obstacle to success. That doesn't mean it didn't happen, though. So, yes, to some extent these issues assuredly had an impact on Monta's game, and life. It's impossible to determine that extent, unfortunately.
So, now for the other side of the coin: What do the stats tell us? This will be an incredibly incomplete and frankly not very advanced analysis, and I welcome finger-wagging from the smartypants. Here is some data from Basketball-Reference.com:
Per 36 Minutes
Obviously the biggest difference between 2008 and any other season was Monta's efficiency. His TS% (.580) and eFG% (.536) were considerably higher than in any other season, as was his standard FG% — 53.1%. There is one shooting category that goes conspicuously against this trend, however: 2008 was Monta's worst three-point shooting year at a putrid 23.1%. Sure, he only attempted 52 three-pointers out of 1227 total shots, good for 4.23% of his attempts, so the sample size is less significant than in other seasons.
Monta shot a much more respectable 36.1% from three last season. A whopping 379 out of his total 1611 shot attempts were from three-point range, or 23.5% of his shots. The previous season, 2010, saw Monta shoot 33.8% on 228 three-point attempts (16% of his 1406 total), which is of course worse, but 34% is better than 2008's 23%.
So, to recap: Monta shot very poorly from three-point land in 2008 but had his most overall efficient season to date, while in recent years he's vastly improved his efficiency from long range but his 2FG% and overall efficiency stats have suffered dramatically.
The painfully obvious position I've been laboring to take up is that, despite improvements in three-point shooting, Monta needs to take less shots from long range. The more shots he takes from distance, the less shots he takes from higher-percentage close range off of drives and cuts. Surely his improved marksmanship has emboldened him to shoot more threes, and it's nice to have a shooting guard with range, but if comparisons to 2008 are worth anything — and maybe they're not — this aspect of his game has hurt the rest of it. He even averaged 3x more offensive rebounds in 2008 (1.6/36m) than in 2011 (.5/36m), likely because of his relative proximity to the bucket.
So, why did I pick just this one area of Monta's game to look at, aside from the fact that numbers kinda bore me? Because it's something specific that can, in theory, be fixed. Yes, lowering his usage rate would probably also help some, but as many have pointed out, once a player thinks of himself as The Man, it might be hard to convince him otherwise. His individual defense will likely always be terrible, a fact only potentially mitigated by improved team defense as a whole. He'll likely always be turnover-prone because of his high dribbles and mediocre passing ability.
But shot selection, simply convincing him to limit the number of shots he takes from three-point range, is one thing we can look at that evidently made a difference in 2008, his Gold Standard. And I think he could get back there. The anecdotal stuff? Sure, that could be relevant, too.