By Brian Spencer
Joe and Jane Casual NBA Fan are probably not Monta Ellis fans.
But, then, they’ve probably never even heard of him either, except perhaps in passing, in 2008, after his boneheaded decision to ride a moped shortly after signing a lucrative $66 million extension with the Golden State Warriors resulted in a torn ankle ligament, surgery, suspension, and an ensuing debate about his mental fitness (and that of the Warriors’, too, for giving him such a deal).
When the book closed on Golden State’s 2008-09 season, their new franchise player had suited up for just 25 games and the team finished 29-53, their worst record in 7 years. Rumors flew that Ellis wanted out, that head coach Don Nelson wanted him out, and that then-GM Chris Mullin was eager to sever ties as well.
The whole charade was a big, disappointing shame, at least for us here at ETB. Disappointing that Ellis made a bad decision and then headlines for all the wrong reasons, disappointing that he missed so many games and the league missed one of its rising young talents for all but a few blinks, disappointing to see his name dragged through the rumor-mill mud. The whole thing was a big, embarassing soap opera for all parties involved… and though Ellis’ actions instigated it, the bumbling ways in which Mullin and Nelson dealt with the matter further compounded the problem.
Fortunately, this now appears to be water under the Bay Bridge. Ellis is healthy, the Warriors are… well, they’re still losing, but they appear to be getting better. There’s still time for the casual NBA fans out there to meet Monta and marvel at the things this kid can do on the basketball court. He gained notoriety for The Great Mopend Incident, but it’s time to leave that in the rearview window for now and focus on the positive: Ellis is one of the most unstoppable one-man offensive shows the NBA has to offer. LeBron, Kobe, Carmelo, Dirk, Durant, Wade… Monta. And not necessarily in that order.
He’s not a flawless player. He sometimes tries to do too much, his lack of size (6-3, 180 pounds) makes him a liability on defense (though he plays the passing lanes with the best of him; see 2.3 steals per this season), and his 4.2 turnovers per is the most in the league. Still…
It’s an overused descriptor, but when I think “electric,” I think Monta. His quickness is elite, he has the ability to create his own, open shot almost at will, he’s brimming with confidence. He’s also become an iron man for the Warriors in this, his fifth NBA season, as he averaging a league-high 41:42 minute per through 35 games.
Averaging almost 42 minutes! He’s already played the full 48 minutes in seven games; most won’t do half that many all season long. It’s concerning, and Nelson could be setting him up for a late-season fade, but for now it’s a gift that keeps on giving to anybody tuning in to check out the Warriors.
Let’s see: he’s the league’s sixth-leading scorer at 26.1 per and is second in steals, behind just Rajon Rondo. He’s shooting a respectable 47% from the field on 22 attempts per (tied for second most behind Kobe’s 23.6). His points, steals, and 5.3 assists are all career bests; the turnovers are, unsurprisingly given how much he’s handling the ball, a career worst.
He’s scored 42+ points twice, and 30+ points in 8 of his last 11 games, including 39 Friday night in the Warriors’ 108-101 comeback win over the Sacramento Kings. Ellis scored the bucket that finally pushed his team over the hump for good late in the 4th quarter, then moments later drove the lane and dished to a wide-open Anthony Morrow for the three-point nail in the Kings’ coffin. Final box: 39 points (15-29, 52%FG), 8-8 FT, 6 assists, 4 boards, 2 steals, and 4 turnovers in 46:03 minutes.
He’s earned a spot on this year’s Western Conference All-Star team (unlike, ahem, others) and deserves some time under the national spotlight. And just for the record, we’ve been on this bandwagon since our early days.
Monta Ellis Photo Credit: Icon SMI