Who do you want your offense to run through with the game on the line? Counting down from 30th to 1st (one per team), I’ve ranked the League’s go-to guys…
MONTA ELLIS, Golden State Warriors
Underrated as they are, Monta Ellis’ skills on the basketball court aren’t as glossed-over as the path he took to get the opportunity to display those skills.
The same blueprint by which Sebastian Telfair faltered, Monta has succeeded — the undersized guard coming straight out of high school with a child’s build and eye-popping, possibly misleading stats in tow. And Monta didn’t have the security of Lottery pick money. As a second-round pick, he had to make his impression immediately and deliver on his potential faster than FedEx. Five years after the 2005 Draft, he is secure in his bank account ($11 million per year through 2014) and in his spot as one of the top guards in the NBA.
But at a time when he should be putting his stamp on the Warriors as his team to lead, Monta is again being overlooked. Going into this season, Stephen Curry has supplanted Monta — in the eyes of the public and reportedly in the eyes of G-State management — as the face of the franchise. All-Star big man David Lee is also being placed high on the marquee. But the Warriors will either make noise or sit silent this year based on Monta Ellis.
While you were sleeping through those late-night West Coast fourth quarters, Monta was generating buckets better than all but a handful of players in the League, scoring 25.5 points per night (6th in the NBA) to go with 5.3 assists and 2.2 steals. The only other player in the League to even average 15-5-2 was Chris Paul; Monta was literally in a class by himself.
Don’t let the system fool you. Does Monta’s game flourish in a fast-paced, high-octane brand of basketball? Of course. Would he suddenly become just an average player if he had to slow it down? Of course not. In a League that caters to perimeter players who can create offense, Monta is among the best at getting to the rim. Even without posing much of a threat as a three-point shooter (33% 3PA), he can blow past any defender and finish with contact.
Why doesn’t he rank higher than 18th on this list? Because something has to be said for the fact that, ever since Monta became Golden State’s No. 1 after Baron Davis left, the team has failed to crack 30 wins in a season. And while Monta has proven prolific at getting buckets and setting up teammates for buckets, he still has to mature as a floor leader and smarter scorer.
Still, Monta had his shining moments. He dropped 37 points at Dallas (13 in the fourth quarter) in a G-State win; put up 45 points against Indiana in a game where the Warriors trailed by 15 in the first half, led by two at the end of the third quarter, and ended up winning by 19 after Ellis’ scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter to blow it open; and he finished with 37 points — including two crucial free throws with 2.3 seconds left to cap Golden State’s comeback from an 18-point deficit — to beat the Celtics.
According to 82games.com, Monta finished 17th in the NBA in “clutch time” scoring — 4th quarter or OT, 5 minutes or less on the clock, 5-point margin or less — dropping 35.0 points per 48 minutes. His field-goal percentage in the clutch was down (38.2%), but his three-point shooting was up (37.5%), and he was more productive scoring in the clutch than Dwyane Wade (32.6 pts), Manu Ginobili (33.7 pts) and Chris Bosh (30.9 pts), to name a few All-Stars.
While Monta has been to the playoffs once (sharing the backcourt with Baron) and had another 48-win season that didn’t result in a playoff berth, the last two years under his watch have been rough. If he hasn’t developed losing habits, however, there’s no reason to believe Ellis can’t lead a Golden State resurgence sooner than critics think.
Monta is on board with the new regime, he dedicated himself this summer to getting even better, he had a stronger supporting cast around him and a new coach. And if the Warriors know what’s best for them, he will have the ball in his hands when it’s winning time.
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19. Danny Granger (Pacers)
20. John Salmons (Bucks)
21. Rudy Gay (Grizzlies)
22. Stephen Jackson (Bobcats)
23. Baron Davis (Clippers)
24. Ben Gordon (Pistons)
25. Andre Iguodala (76ers)
26. Yao Ming (Rockets)
27. Mo Williams (Cavaliers)
28. Brook Lopez (Nets)
29. Andrea Bargnani (Raptors)
30. Michael Beasley (Timberwolves)