Who’s Better: Gilbert Arenas or Monta Ellis?

By: 12.10.09  •  22 Comments
Gilbert Arenas, Dime #29

Gilbert Arenas, Dime #29

We argue. You decide.

GILBERT ARENAS (by Austin Burton)
I wonder if Gilbert Arenas watches Warriors games — because Gilbert actually does spend his free time following the rest of the League — and sees traces of himself in the form of Monta Ellis. It makes sense. Both are quick and vicious scoring guards who play the point mainly out of necessity. Both are occasionally misunderstood, often criticized, and always overachieving; two second-round picks who weren’t supposed to cash eight figures a year as the face of anybody’s franchise.

But while Gilbert eventually left Golden State and learned how to win in Washington, Monta is still in that growing-pains phase: He’s mastered the art of fine bucketry, but with just one playoff appearance as Baron Davis‘ sidekick, doesn’t match Gilbert’s level of experience as the leader of a winning team.

When Arenas returned this season from two years of knee rehab, no one knew what to expect. Moreover, no one knew how much attention Arenas should get. When Agent Zero was at his peak, his popularity seemed to stem less from his game but more from the “extra” that came with it: the blogs, the one-liners, the stories of his quirky on-court and off-court antics. Arenas was the NBA’s Chad Ochocinco, his personality constantly overshadowing his performance. Since coming back, Gil has mostly dropped the sideshow, and it turns out that when he’s just a ballplayer, he’s prone to fade into the background.

So if you haven’t noticed, Arenas (20.4 ppg, 6.5 apg) is playing at a high level — albeit not up to his old standards. He ripped Dallas for 29 points and nine assists in a road win, had 32 points apiece against New Jersey and Miami, and last week dropped 34 on Toronto, hitting clutch buckets in the fourth quarter and overtime of an eventual loss.

Just by watching Arenas you can tell his legs aren’t all the way back — whether that’s conditioning or psychological effects of the injuries, I can’t tell — and it’s been reflected in his subpar shooting, rebounding and steals numbers. He’s not as fast or explosive as he used to be, and the biggest story in D.C. this season has been Earl Boykins taking some of Arenas’ shine as the undisputed go-to guy in crunch time.

Still, I would take this version of Arenas over Monta Ellis because he has those intangible advantages of big-game experience and maturity while not losing too much of his athletic ability. Monta is scoring more (24.4 ppg), but he’s also shooting more: 20.8 field goal and 6.0 free throw attempts per game next to Arenas’ 17.8 field goals and 6.1 freebies a night. Monta is leading the League in turnovers, a crown Arenas once fought for annually. Despite a bevy of scorers surrounding him on the Warriors, just like Gilbert has on the Wizards, Monta is still in attack-attack-attack mode, while Arenas has learned to be more of a patient playmaker who picks his spots when it’s time to take over.

Monta Ellis, Dime #44

Monta Ellis, Dime #44

MONTA ELLIS (by Jack Jensen)
While most of the NBA Draft’s second rounds are filled with your typical Goran Sutons and Hassan Adamses, there are the occasional guys that find long-term success in the League. All Sutoning aside, both Monta Ellis and Gilbert Arenas have worked their way up from the second go-around to become two of the more elite scoring point guards in the NBA today.

Ellis is the young blood who never seems to tire — he’s second in the L in minutes per game at 40.4 — while Arenas is coming off of knee problems that have sidelined him for the last two years. With Hibachi back in action this season, he is averaging just over 20 points and a career-high 6.5 dimes a game. On the flip, Ellis is dropping in 24.4 buckets a game, over 5 assists and a League-leading 2.4 steals. So, who’s better right now?

Three years ago, I would have taken Arenas and his plus-28 points per game over our modern-day Ellis (and 95 percent of the League). This season, it’s hard to deny that Ellis isn’t playing the best basketball of his career and playing much better than Arenas.

The 6-3 Ellis — who, at 24, is three years younger than Arenas — has really been the only driving force at keeping the Warriors from becoming the John Wall front-runners of the NBA. Both the Warriors and Wizards stand at seven wins apiece and already look out of contention for any postseason, as they are both last-place in their respective divisions. Ellis still has maturity and leadership issues to work out (so does Agent Zero), but he goes to battle on the court every single night. The kid scraps and fights to win more than anyone on his team and “The City” will rip the Golden State organization apart if it trades Ellis this season. His best games of the year have come in stretches: he had a string of games between November 20-30 where he dropped 34, 37, 42, 18 and 45 points, as the Warriors went 3-2.

That’s not to say Ellis doesn’t have his flaws. Ellis turns the ball over at a higher rate than any other player in the NBA (4.57 TPG) and through 21 games, has only logged one contest with over eight assists; 12 in a win over Memphis. He also tends to get tunnel vision with the ball and forgets his teammates exist on the offensive side of the court. In Arenas’ case, he still lacks the confidence and agility that used to be his calling card.

The Wizards are stacked with talent — albeit injury-prone talent — and still do not come ready to compete on game day. Not saying that the Warriors have good chemistry — they might have the worst — but Ellis gets more done with less talent surrounding him than Arenas does. For not playing in two years, Gilbert has surprised me with his play thus far. Because of the severity of his injuries, I think he has unfortunately left his explosive former self behind and will become more of a jump shooter. Ellis, on the other hand, is quickly becoming my favorite player to watch (besides Wall). He can score on anyone and is fearless on the court. Ellis will never be the type of franchise player to lead you to the promised land alone, but he plays with the sort of All-Star mentality that will make him very successful.

NBA Live 08: Arenas

Right now: Ellis

Who do you think is better?

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