Who’s Better: Monta Ellis Or Ty Lawson?

Two of the fastest little men in the game, Monta Ellis and Ty Lawson at once seem so different and yet so similar. Lawson is credited with being one of the NBA’s most underrated point guards while Ellis has become the whipping boy for bloggers everywhere, and yet they probably both hold the keys to their Dallas and Denver’s collective playoff chances.

We asked earlier today which injured point guard would have the best season between Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook. Now we’re asking which player is better right now: Ellis or Lawson? We argue. You decide.

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Ty Lawson is one of the NBA’s up and coming guards while Monta Ellis is a seasoned veteran highly regarded for his scoring ability. Neither player has made an All-Star appearance or been able to get their team out of the second round of the playoffs to date.

So who is the better player?

Most would chose the more efficient shooting Lawson but Ellis has the edge with a better overall skill-set that can be useful to his team on both offense and defense.

Ellis has been a premier scorer in the NBA for the better part of his eight years in the league with a career average of 19.4 points per game. But he is still far from a household name. He is often ridiculed and given the dreaded “volume shooter” tag and is accused of not being a leader.

“You can’t win with Monta” and “He doesn’t do enough to make his teammates better” are just some of the phrases thrown around from some of his detractors. It gets a little old and doesn’t seem to take into account the rosters Ellis has been asked to lead.

The guy is a workhorse who regularly appears among the NBA leaders in minutes played — finishing third last season. The knocks on his playmaking ability are unwarranted as he handed out six assists per game last year and has a career average of 4.7. Lawson bested Ellis in assists last year at 6.9 per game but it’s important to note two things about that: Lawson is a true point guard and his team, the Denver Nuggets, had the fifth-highest offensive rating at 107.6. Ellis is a combo-guard who spent the majority of his time playing shooting guard over the last two seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks… not to mention he was playing alongside another ball-dominant player in Brandon Jennings.

Both Ellis and Lawson use speed as their greatest asset but Ellis, at 6-3, has four inches on Lawson. The height of Ellis makes him a slightly more favorable option in comparison, especially for defensive purposes. Yes, I said defense in a conversation about Lawson and Ellis.

Opponents are less likely to lick their chops against Ellis, looking for opportunities to post him up than they are against Lawson. According to Synergy Sports, Lawson’s opponents shot 47.7 percent against him in the post compared to the 40 percent Ellis allowed in the same situations. Furthermore, according to Basketball-Reference.com, Lawson’s defensive rating was 109 compared to Ellis’ rating of 105.

Lawson (1.5 steals per game) is good in the passing lanes, hiding in the shadows of bigger defenders before springing to life to make steals. Still, Ellis is one of the best thieves in the game at 2.1 steals last year, which was good for fourth in the league.

Where the argument swings pretty favorably towards Lawson is when it comes to efficiency in shooting. Lawson boasts a pretty lofty 54.9 percent true shooting percentage compared to the 49.3 percentage that Ellis shoots. But Ellis is the guy who scores in a better variety of ways overall. You will never catch Lawson on the post and he doesn’t do much coming off of screens outside of pick-and-roll plays. Ellis is a better shooter coming off screens at 39.6 percent compared to just 25 percent for Lawson and Ellis is just a hair better at taking contact in the lane to finish plays because of a stronger physical frame.

Neither player is a franchise changer and both are best served as very good number two complementary options to bigger names. But the hate on Ellis has to stop, especially if Lawson is being used as any type of barometer.

Keep reading to hear the argument for Ty Lawson…

You know how sometimes you meet someone especially beautiful and think you’ve immediately fallen in love? But the more you talk to them, the more you ask yourself “What in the world was I thinking?” Well… that’s how NBA GMs feel about Monta Ellis.

Listen, I know Ellis puts up better scoring numbers than Ty Lawson (19.3 PPG for his career, versus 13.2 PPG for Ty Lawson). Heck, I’m even willing to go so far as to say that Monta Ellis is a fairly good distributor of the ball as well. With both those thing being said, Lawson is the better player, and here’s why.

Ty Lawson may not put up the flashy numbers Ellis does, but he does everything more efficiently. Playing for a veteran-laden team early on in his career (teams that featured Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, and the Ellis-like hired gunner J.R. Smith) that had no need for Lawson to score, Lawson’s early career statistics suffered. Lawson is now the MAN in Denver, and if his track record means anything, he will succeed taking on an even bigger role this season (remember, he was the unquestioned leader of the 2008-2009 North Carolina Tar Heels NCAA Championship team that featured NBA players Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green).

For his career, Lawson has shot 48.6 percent from the field and 38 percent from three. Ellis, on the other hand, puts up shots at a rate of 41.9 percent and 31.8 percent from three! Lawson also averages more assists (5.3 for his career) than Ellis (4.7) with nearly a turnover less per game.

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In case shooting charts need clarification: Ellis is literally an abysmal shooter from every spot of the court (you would think this chart belonged to the likes of Kwame Brown, not a high scoring guard like Ellis) whereas Lawson is a strong shooter from both wings (especially beyond the three-point line) and an above-average shooter from the entire right side of the court.

Lawson is one of the fastest players with the ball in the NBA, but plays under control at all times. Ellis, on the other hand, while being one of the most athletic players for his size, knows one thing and one thing only: shoot the ball.

But, what I think really sets Lawson apart from Ellis is progress and potential. Ellis, at this point in his career, has peaked. He is the epitome of a gunslinger; if I need to try and make up a 20-point deficit fast, sure Ellis is the guy I’m going to call. But if I want a player to control the game, be efficient and keep us around, I’m picking Lawson 10 out of 10 times. We haven’t even seen the best from Lawson yet either while Ellis, (who just turned 28) has reached his peak and whose value has plummeted the past few seasons (remember, he was going into free agency expecting a raise from $11 million and ended up settling for around $8 million).

Lawson has increased his production each of his four years in the league (improving his PPG, APG and SPG each season!). At age 25, Lawson has time on his side as well. Ty has changed from “water bug point guard who can play a few minutes off the bench” to a second-tier level PG.

What it comes down to is Lawson’s superb efficiency and potential. Ellis’ “all-me” offensive mentality has worn out his welcome for two separate teams, while Lawson has just been handed the reigns in Denver.

Sometimes you have to overlook those initial reactions to flashy things (see, I had a point for my metaphor) and look deeper. If I’m picking between these two players, I’m picking the younger, more efficient Lawson over Ellis every time.

What do you think?

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