Continuing a series that looks at the players on the Warriors roster this season and the expectations I have for them, I turn my attention to Monta Ellis, the talented starter at shooting guard for this squad:
The opinions on Ellis are many. His most ardent fans argue that his ability to score at will against any defense makes him the Warriors’ best player and an all-star-caliber performer. His most aggressive detractors point to his low efficiency, high turnover rate, poor defense and questionable attitude to label him as one of the most overrated players in the NBA. The truth is probably found somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
Ellis is a phenomenal talent. He is one of the most gifted natural scorers in the NBA. When motivated, he can be a good rebounder for his position, a skilled playmaker and a tenacious defender. But his weakness is that he doesn’t always bring those other parts of his game to the court. I like Ellis, but he must make some fairly dramatic changes to his game this season, which will help Ellis and the Warriors achieve their potential. I think the comments he made in a pre-training camp interview prove that he has grown up and matured. He’s still a work in progress, but I think the seeds are there for Ellis to take the necessary steps to improve his game.
First, Ellis must improve his shooting percentage. Part of the way he can do this is by improving his shot selection and one of the ways he can do that is by taking fewer shots. Ellis shot .449 from the field last season, a percentage that was damaged by poor shot selection. When Ellis was a more selective shooter early in his career, he was a much better shooter. In 2007, Ellis averaged 13.1 shots per game and shot .475 from the field. The following season, he took 15.1 shots per game and shot .531 from the field. In the past two seasons, as his shot attempts have increased and his shot selection deteriorated, his percentages have dropped to .451 and .449. He’s not likely to shoot 53 percent from the field again, but if Ellis were to commit to taking fewer and better shots, his shooting percentage will likely rise. I am hoping to see Ellis average between 16 and 17 shot attempts per game this season. Coupled with a more selective shooting eye, I think we’ll see Ellis’ field goal percentage rise to 48 or 49 percent.
Ellis’ most attractive stat last season was his scoring average (25.5 points per game), but his high shooting volume (22 attempts per game) and low percentage made the high average somewhat hollow. Let’s say Ellis attempts 17 shots per game in 2011, shoots 48 percent, maintains his free-throw percentage and 3-point percentage while upping his free-throw attempts by one per game. In that scenario, Ellis would still average 22.9 points per game. Ellis doesn’t have to give up scoring. He is the Warriors’ best scorer. That’s what he does best. He just needs to do it more efficiently. I think that his increased maturity and perspective, coupled with an increase in talent around him in the starting lineup, will facilitate this process.
Another weaknesses in Ellis’ game are turnovers (3.8 per game last season). If Ellis is truly committed to embracing the shooting guard position as he has claimed, then he will handle the ball less and his turnovers should drop. Another reason for Ellis’ high turnover rate last season was that he was playing too much. Fatigue surely played a role in at least some of those turnovers. Whether it’s Don Nelson or somebody else, the Warriors coach in 2011 should commit to play Ellis between 36 and 38 minutes per game, instead of the 41.4 he played last season. A fresher Ellis is a more productive Ellis. I expect Ellis’ turnovers to drop to about three per game in 2011.
I don’t see defense as a weakness for Ellis, though his constant commitment to defense has been a problem. We saw games last season where Ellis was fantastic on defense, often against some of the best shooting guards in the NBA (Kobe Bryant and Brandon Roy come to mind). Ellis’ main contribution to this team will always be on offense, but increased awareness on defense from Ellis would help the Warriors immensely. He has the ability to be a good defensive guard. There are times when he will be mismatched playing bigger and stronger shooting guards, but he has the quickness and the tenacity to make up for it most of the time. He just needs to dedicate to playing hard on both ends of the court every game. As previously mentioned, Ellis has said that he is committed to playing shooting guard this season. That new resolve might help in this area. If Ellis takes ownership of that position, I expect his attention to defense to improve this season.
The Warriors need Ellis, but they need the Ellis that Warriors fans saw a few seasons ago, a secondary player who excelled at playing off his talented teammates. Ellis has the opportunity to take his game back in that direction that season. I think he will. I expect Ellis to improve his scoring efficiency, reduce his turnovers and pay more attention to defense this season. I expect averages of 22 points, four rebounds, four assists with higher shooting percentages.