Is Monta Ellis back?

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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.

Pelican’s Green says Zion ‘dominated the scrimmage pretty much’

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The Zion hype train keeps right on rolling. First were the reports he was in the best shape of his life, then he walked into media day and it looked like he is.

Now Zion has his own hype man in Pelicans coach Willie Green, who said he dominated the first day of team scrimmages. Via Andre Lopez of ESPN.

“Z looked amazing,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said on Wednesday afternoon. “His strength, his speed. He dominated the scrimmage pretty much.”

“What stood out was his force more than anything,” Green said. “He got down the floor quickly. When he caught the ball, he made quick decisions. Whether it was scoring, finding a teammate. It was really impressive to see.”

Reach for the salt shaker to take all this with — it’s training camp scrimmages. Maybe Zion is playing that well right now — he’s fully capable, he was almost an All-NBA player in 2020-21 (eighth in forward voting) before his foot injury — but we need to see it against other teams. In games that matter. Then we’ll need to see it over a stretch of time.

If Zion can stay healthy this season, if his conditioning is where everyone says it is, he could be in for a monster season. Combine that with CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and a strong supporting cast in New Orleans, and the Pelicans could surprise a lot of people — and be fun to watch.

 

PBT Podcast: What’s next for Celtics, Suns? Should NBA end one-and-done?

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NBA training camps just opened and teams have yet to play a preseason game, but already two contenders are dealing with problems.

The Celtics have the suspension of coach Ime Udoka as a distraction, plus defensive anchor center Robert Williams will miss at least the start of the season following another knee surgery.

The Suns have the distraction of a suspended owner who is selling the team, plus Jae Crowder is out and demanding a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not seem happy.

Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and myself go through all the training camp news, including the wilder ones with the Lakers and Nets, breaking down what to take away from all that — plus how good Zion Williamson and James Harden look physically.

Then the pair discusses the potential of the NBA doing away with the one-and-done role and letting 18-year-olds back in the game — is that good for the NBA?

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Report: Price tag on Phoenix Suns could be more than $3 billion

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Six
Harry How/Getty Images
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In 2004, Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns for a then-record $401 million.

When Sarver sells the team now — pushed to do so following the backlash prompted by an NBA report that found an 18-year pattern of bigotry, misogyny, and a toxic workplace — he is going to make a massive profit.

The value of the Suns now is at $3 billion or higher, reports Ramona Shelburne and Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

There will be no shortage of bidders for the team, with league sources predicting a franchise valuation of more than $3 billion now that revenue has rebounded following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a new television rights deal and CBA on the horizon. Sarver purchased the team for just over $400 million in 2004.

Saver currently owns 35% of the Suns (the largest share), but reports say his role as managing partner allows him to sell the entire team (the minority owners have to comply, although they would make a healthy profit, too). Sarver also decides who to sell the team to, not the NBA or other owners.

Early rumors of buyers have included Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), Bob Iger (former Disney CEO), Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, she has a 20% share of the Washington Wizards), and others. There have been no reports of talks yet, and Sarver does not need to be on a rushed timeline.

Meanwhile, a contending Suns team tries to focus on the season despite the owner selling the team, Jae Crowder not being in training camp and pushing for a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not sound happy to be back with the Suns.

Steve Nash on his relationship with Kevin Durant: ‘We’re good’

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In an effort to gain leverage for a trade this offseason, Kevin Durant threw down a “either the coach and GM are gone or I am” ultimatum.

Now coach Steve Nash (and GM Sean Marks) are back in Brooklyn, on the same team and trying to build a contender together. Awkward? Not if you ask Nash, which is what Nick Friedell of ESPN did.

“We’re fine,” Nash said after the Nets’ first official practice of the season on Tuesday. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed. I have a long history with Kevin. I love the guy. Families have issues. We had a moment and it’s behind us. That’s what happens. It’s a common situation in the league.

“We all were hurting, seething, to go through what we went through last year, not being able to overcome all that adversity. Sometimes you lose perspective because you expect to win, but the reality is we were able to talk and discuss what we can improve on from last year. And also keep perspective. We went through a ton of stuff.”

First off, what else was Nash going to say? He knows the power dynamic in the NBA, and Durant has far more leverage than he does — not enough to get Nash fired this summer, but still more than the coach.

Second, Nash could be telling the truth from his perspective. NBA players and coaches understand better than anyone this is a business and things are rarely personal. Grudges are not held like fans think they are (most of the time). Nash saw Durant’s move for what it was — an effort to create pressure — and can intellectually shrug it off, reach out to KD and talk about the future.

What this brings into question was one of the Nets’ biggest issues last season — mental toughness and togetherness. Do the Nets have the will to fight through adversity and win as a team? Individually Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nash and others have shown that toughness in the past, but as a team it was not that hard to break the will of the Nets last season. Are their relationships strong enough, is their will strong enough this season?

It feels like we will find out early. If the wheels come off the Nets’ season, it feels like it will happen early and by Christmas things could be a full-on dumpster fire. Or maybe Nash is right and they are stronger than we think.