Ellis, Jefferson have their value questioned

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Monta Ellis.jpg

One of the most divisive debates in NBA circles is the value of a high-volume scorer whose efficiency isn’t all that great. Those who doubt their value say that any player can create a low-percentage shot attempt at any time, and creating shots is not an inherently valuable skill. The counter to that argument is that not all shots can be high-percentage looks, and not many players can put up 20 shots a game that have any chance of going in.

The best scorers are usually the ones allowed to shoot the most. But sometimes getting too shot-happy can make great scorers end up hurting their team’s offense.

While it’s (very) far from perfect, +/- does help to determine the value of players with high output and middling efficiency. Last night, the Warriors pulled off a huge upset against the Atlanta Hawks. The key run for the Warriors came when Monta Ellis sat on the bench. During the eight minutes Ellis sat, the Warriors outscored the Hawks by 19 points. That’s a tiny sample size, but it supports the full-season data on Ellis — the Warriors are a staggering 15 points per 100 possessions worse when Ellis plays than when he sits.

The Warriors reportedly were not interested in dealing Ellis for O.J. Mayo and Hasheem Thabeet at the deadline, and nobody is quite sure why. Ellis is a supremely talented scorer, and is only two seasons removed from shooting 60% for the entire month of February. Right now, however, his talent has been consumed by his bad habits and reckless shot selection.

The Timberwolves fell short against the Thunder on Sunday, but the game did feature one of the most extreme +/- gaps ever. The Timberwolves outscored the Thunder by 35 points when Darko Milicic was on the floor. When Jefferson was on the floor, they were outscored by 37 points. Like with Ellis, this isn’t an isolated incident for Jefferson. During the last full season Jefferson played, 2007-08, the Timberwolves were 9 points per 100 possessions worse with Jefferson on the floor despite the fact Jefferson put up great numbers. Jefferson’s defense is thought to be a bigger problem than his shot selection, but his 51.8% True Shooting percentage is nearly identical to Monta’s 51.9% mark. Kevin Durant’s 180-degree turn in his +/- rating does serve as a cautionary tale to those who put too much stock in the statistic, but Durant was a far more efficient scorer last year than either Ellis or Jefferson are this season.

In their post documenting Sunday’s +/- phenomena, Canis Hoopus questions how valuable Jefferson will be to the Wolves going forward:

“When healthy, Jefferson is a magnificent offensive player in the low block.  When healthy, he is also an atrocious defender.  What if Darko plays effectively during the remainder of the season?  Do we really need an up-close-and-personal example of how Love + a capable defender > Jefferson + Hollins?  Do we really need to see how a legit 7 footer with modest passing skills is a more capable addition to the Triangle than a guy who can go nuts in the low left block?”

Ellis and Jefferson are both supremely talented young scorers. However, in their current roles, they may hurting their struggling teams more than helping them.