Stephen Curry vs. Monta Ellis Redux: Golden State Warriors' Debates

Chris FinocchioCorrespondent IJanuary 5, 2012

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 28:  Monta Ellis #8 of the Golden State Warriors in action against the New York Knicks at Oracle Arena on December 28, 2011 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It was recently suggested to me that Warriors guard Monta Ellis has the greatest variation of NBA players in fan and media perception. To many in the Bay Area he is a top shooting guard in the league. To most in the national media Stephen Curry is the darling, and Monta Ellis the athletic, inefficient scorer. 

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury is the strongest, most consistent pro-Curry voice. When I just Googled "Monta Ellis," the third news-related item I saw was a Kawakami blog post entitled "Trade Monta Ellis to Chicago for a Rugged Defender." 

Kawakami's argument isn't just that Ellis is overrated, but that the Warriors need a big man that can defend and score efficiently, and that the Bulls have that in excess along with a need for an explosive scoring guard. Kawakami sees Ellis as the Jannero Pargo or Ben Gordon the Bulls could once again use.

Monta Ellis averaging 24 and eight right now. He's only 26 years old. And a trade for a Taj Gibson-type is a serious consideration. Maybe Monta Ellis and Steph Curry don't belong on the same team. But why is the assumption that the younger, though more-injured guard is the one to keep?

We all saw Curry look great in two straight Marches. We doubted whether he was a true point guard, and Monta doubted whether they can play together. Don Nelson played Curry as a rookie and annoyed Anthony Randolph with comments that he plays rookies if they know how to play. Curry thrived in Nelson's free-flowing offense and had a lot of "efficient" points and assists and not many turnovers. 

In Monta's next year he scored a lot and did so rather efficiently. Curry didn't progress exactly as hoped and it was suggested that the Nelson system was great for Curry and bad for Ellis. Still, plus-minus statistics can be used to show the Warriors are better with Curry on the floor than Ellis. And thus Curry is superior.

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 25:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors congratulates his teammates during their game against the Toronto Raptors at Oracle Arena on March 25, 2011 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agree
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And now the Warriors have their third coach in three years, and Monta is off to a tremendous start while Curry has been injured. 

It's like the Westbrook-Durant story, but the Warriors and those two players aren't as good so it's not talked about. Curry is articulate, smiles a lot and seems involved in community work. His dad played the game right way, and so does he.

But Monta Ellis is a poor man's Allen Iverson without Iverson's charismatic "screw you" attitude. He's still talked about like he's a more successful Dajuan Wagner. 

In the NBA TV postgame studio last night it was announced that Monta Ellis had scored 38 points. Someone shouted, "How many shots?" He had taken 30. And he dished out seven assists. He produced fairly efficiently.

Maybe Chuck et al. would have wanted Andris Biedrins or Kwame Brown taking more shots for the Warriors? If they don't get the ball served to them within a foot of the basket that's going to be hard.

And it's not like there's something flukish about Monta's first five games. In fact, he's shooting worse on threes and from 16-23 feet than usual. He's not finishing at the rim at a higher rate than he has in the past, suggesting his performance isn't sustainable. He is getting to the rim a bit more and is being assisted on 50 percent of those attempts compared to 39 percent last year. Why? Seven percent of his baskets have come off cuts this year, up from 2.6 percent last year.

The biggest difference I see in breaking down his stats is that he's had four assists per game to the rim while last year he only had two. Maybe Monta is beating his men more this year or suddenly has better vision, but I would imagine it has to do with how the other four players are moving when he has the ball. It sure seems like the offense is playing to Monta's strengths much more under new coach Mark Jackson. 

Dwight Howard-to-the-Warriors rumors are currently floating around, and I imagine Monta Ellis would be even better running the pick and roll with Howard than Kwame Brown. 

The Monta Ellis story should teach us that it matters how you use a player and who you surround them with. 

I wonder how many people remember that Baron Davis shot 30 percent on the 4.4 threes per game he took during the "We Believe" 2006-07 season. 

Points, assists, plus-minus, TS Percentage and other statistics can all tremendously help us understand the NBA but we cannot forget that context matters. And that how you view someone as a human being shouldn't dictate how you view them as a basketball player.