In the 2007-08 season, Monta Ellis was one of the most explosive and efficient young scorers in basketball. Thanks to his blazing speed, explosiveness, and deadly mid-range game, Ellis was able to score 22.3 points per game while shooting 54% from the field in 2007-08, a nearly unheard of field goal percentage for a high-volume backcourt player. Ellis was particularly unstoppable in the month of February, when he scored 26 points per game while shooting 60% from the field.
Thanks in large part to Ellis’ contributions, the Warriors won 48 games in 2007-08, barely missing the playoffs in one of the strongest Western conferences ever. The team lost Baron Davis the following off-season, but it looked like Ellis’ emergence as an elite scorer would soften that blow and allow the Warriors to remain competitive.
Then Monta got on that moped, and things went downhill fast. Monta’s injury limited him to 25 games in 08-09; when Ellis returned to the lineup for the 09-10 season, he wasn’t the same player he had been in 07-08. Thanks to lingering effects from his injury, Don Nelson’s apparent apathy, the Warriors’ lack of ball movement or an offensive system, and Monta’s own lack of discipline, Monta went from being one of the most efficient scorers in the league to one of its most notorious chuckers. Ellis scored 25.5 points per game last season, but took 22 shots and 6 free throws a game to get those points, and would often huck a three or contested deep two with 18 seconds on the shot clock just to see if Don Nelson was paying enough attention to tell him not to do it. The once-dynamic and fearsome Warriors had become a boring, ineffective team that happened to shoot a lot, and Ellis’ game was the clearest symbol of how far they’d fallen.
Flash-forward to Wednesday night, when the Warriors buried the Rockets with 132 points, with 46 of those 132 coming from Ellis. More importantly, Ellis was hyper-efficient, getting his points on only 24 shots and 12 free throws, resulting in a True Shooting percentage of 78.6%.
What did Ellis do so well on Wednesday night? First of all, he attacked the rim often, and was successful when he did so; Ellis took 7 shots inside of 10 feet against the Rockets, and made all of them. Second, Ellis and Steph Curry, who struggled to figure each other out last season, appear to have developed a chemistry — Curry handled the passing (11 assists to Ellis’ two) and outside shooting (all nine of Curry’s field goals came from 16 feet or deeper), and Ellis was given free reign to slash and score.
Most importantly, Monta found his mid-range game again. Monta seemed to think he was a great shooter in 09-10, but he isn’t one; Ellis’ stroke isn’t very smooth, and he doesn’t have natural range out to the three-point line. What Ellis does excel at is using his speed to make his man back up, pulling up on a dime, and sticking jumpers from the 15-20 foot range. It’s no coincidence that Ellis all but gave up shooting threes during his 07-08 efficiency renaissance — Ellis can knock down jumpers, but they have to be ones he sets up with his driving ability.
Ellis put on a mid-range clinic in the Warriors’ season opener, shooting 3-3 from 10-15 feet and 7-12 from the 16-23 foot range. The important thing to note is that all of Ellis’ shots were from what I call “actual” mid-range, not shots taken with a foot on the line or one step inside of it. Ellis only took two mid-range jumpers longer than 20 feet on Wednesday, and missed both of them. The rest of his jumpers were taken from Ellis’ sweet spot between the top of the circle and the free throw line extended, a step inside the free throw line, or the wings. It was a return to form for Ellis, who was once one of the NBA’s best at the lost art of the mid-range jumper.
Ellis won’t make two-thirds of his jumpers every game, but Wednesday night was a great sign for Ellis and the Warriors nonetheless. If Ellis and Curry can keep playing like they did against the Rockets, it won’t be long before the Warriors are both fun to watch and dangerous to play against again.