There were obvious qualities being exchanged when the Bucks dealt Andrew Bogut to Golden State in March. One of the NBA’s most defensively capable centers moved to the Bay Area as undersized shooting guard Monta Ellis took up residence in Wisconsin, preparing his high-scoring show for the Milwaukee crowd.
Suffice it to say, the two players brought baggage along with them. And while that metaphor is worthy of an eye roll, it is an easy way to summarize the struggles Bogut and Ellis have faced since swapping franchises.
Bogut played in just 12 games last season. The lockout truncated the entire league’s basketball schedule, but a fractured left ankle did Bogut in for the remaining 54 games. His string of injuries made him increasingly and frustratingly confined to the bench. It made sense to sell high on him, the former No. 1 overall pick who had only been healthy enough to play one full season to that (and this) point.
It made sense, right? Supplanting a partial season of savvy defense for Ellis’ proven scoring ability (though he has never played a full 82-game season, either) was entirely justifiable to a team vying for a playoff push.
At the moment, it did. Amidst the details of a win-now strategy — one that, for what it’s worth, had the penultimate goal of obtaining a low seed in the playoffs — having broken merchandise does nothing to propel a team forward.
For the most part, he has produced as everyone expected. Through 13 games this season, Ellis is on the NBA leaderboard at 13th in field goal attempts, 13th in points per game, and eighth in usage percentage, consuming 28.6 percent of available possessions while on the hardwood.
“As everyone expected,” it should be noted, does not encompass efficiency. Ellis’ reputation as a chucker is still intact and that he ranks 66th in per-game efficiency according to NBA.com should surprise exactly zero people (unless the shock comes from him not being further down the list, in which case the inverse may be true). Among qualified players in John Hollinger’s PER statistics, Ellis 16.8 lands at 98th, sandwiched between Houston’s Patrick Patterson and the Mavericks’ Chris Kaman. The number looks even worse when including all players regardless of minutes played, since 18 players with small sample sizes have better ratings than the Bucks shooting guard.
Ellis is a scorer and does well to put points on the board, plus when he’s willing — a big caveat — Ellis is a proficient passer and can set up teammates near the rim. But he’s also a defensive sieve, failing to keep up with even Rip Hamilton in the two games the Bucks have played against the Bulls this season. In those games, Hamilton scored a combined 52 points and put together a 45.2 effective field goal percentage. Given, 72.2 percent of Hamilton’s shots were assisted, but he should not be so wide open that the man guarding him a majority of the time — who happens to be seven years Hamilton’s junior — cannot jump the passing lane.
The defensive sagging is something Bucks brass had to take into account when they dealt Bogut and troublesome shooting guard Stephen Jackson to the Warriors in return for Ellis, forward Ekpe Udoh and since-departed center Kwame Brown. Milwaukee’s powers that be could not have accounted for Ellis’ relatively slow start on the offensive end in 2012-13, though.
A sub-19 percent three-point shooting start through the first 15 games doesn’t necessarily qualify as holding up his end of the bargain as being part of an explosive scoring back court.
It’s fair to mention that shooting triples is not Ellis’ forte, but he has put on some clinics of truly horrendous shooting this season, too. Going 6-20 in the season opener against Boston; producing a 27.8 percent shooting percentage (5-18) in the loss to Memphis; and the piece de resistance of awful, a 4-16 performance against the Heat that included hitting one of five attempted treys over the course of 39 minutes and 26 seconds.
Ellis’ showing against Miami is an anomaly, but not as much of one as might be expected. By the numbers, he had two worse shooting performances (2-14, .143 in a loss in Madison Square Garden; 2-12, .167 in a futile home effort against the Grizzlies) in the 21 games he played for the Bucks at the end of last season.
That’s not to bash Ellis, just to say that his slump of a start to ’12-’13 is a concentrated example of what he has done several times in the past. Through his first 34 games as a Buck, Ellis has also had 10 games in which he shot .500 or better from the field, four of them being in this young season. When Ellis has had those kinds of outings, the Bucks have gone 6-4.
That’s what Ellis brings to the table. Like anyone whose play veers toward risky, Ellis can win games with hero ball or position his team on the wrong side of a loss. It might work for a sixth-man like J.R. Smith in New York, but not for a starter on a team lacking an All-Star.
On the court, Bogut is more of a sure thing. The Australian is 0.7 rebounds away from averaging a double-double for his career. Add to that his average of 2.3 assists and 1.3 blocks per game since 2005-2006, and any question about consistency is put to rest. Even with a bum ankle, Bogut put up average numbers in the four games he has played in a Warriors jersey.
But that means nothing if he can’t stay on the court.
Bogut recently revealed that he had microfracture surgery on the injured ankle, not the arthroscopic procedure originally touted. Golden State’s front office has given several projected dates of return for the center, and they have all passed.
As a franchise, the Warriors are trending up. This is happening without Bogut and Ellis, although the ex-Buck is a big part of future plans. On the other end of the spectrum, Ellis is slated to be an unrestricted free agent next summer and the common thought is that he will sign somewhere other than Milwaukee.
The ancillary players in the trade may be more important in this situation, if neither big “get” works out for their new-ish teams. By sending Ellis away, the Warriors cleared up questions about who was running their back court and solidified Stephen Curry’s role as primary ball-handler. The Bucks traded an asset they could not use while simultaneously shipping out Jackson, whose malcontent ways were a bad influence on Brandon Jennings, the franchise’s current face. Additionally, Udoh may be out-kicking his coverage by developing as an individual player and fitting into Scott Skiles’ defense.
Like any game, basketball is about winning and losing. If the Warriors’ gamble on a broken Bogut works out, they will win this trade in the long-term. Ellis could walk after just over 100 games, leaving the Bucks without himself or Jackson, but with Udoh. It seems like a short-term win.
Those are too many if’s, might’s and could’s to declare a winner right now, though.