When the Bucks built a 29-point lead (and somehow turned it into a modest win) on their first ever trip to Brooklyn Sunday, it was tempting to look at Monta Ellis’ row of the box score after the game and conclude that “his shot” was falling. But the truth is that it wasn’t. It was that those typical Monta shots weren’t even being taken.
Against the Nets, Ellis played a different game than he had in his other 18 contests. Gone were the long, sometimes off-balance two-point jump shots that rank among the least efficient in basketball. In their place were 1) shots off right-handed penetration that got Monta on the fringe of the lane, 2) shots created out of the low-post, most notably when he was guarded by MarShon Brooks, 3) potential shots attempts that Monta passed on. Ellis took four fewer attempts than his average and only tried just three (and made none) beyond 16 feet.
It worked. Monta finished with 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting, while making 8-of-9 free throws and shouldering a huge, 41-minute load in a game that Beno Udrih and Mike Dunleavy both missed due to injury.
Listen, it’s not easy being a shot creator. There are instances — especially when surrounded by big men with limited offensive skill sets like Ekpe Udoh and Samuel Dalembert — that you get stuck with the ball late in the shot clock and it’s time to get creative. A shot that is as efficient as a catch-and-shoot corner three-pointer isn’t going to be available.
According to 82games.com, that isn’t happening to Monta, or if it is, it’s not hurting his game. Ellis takes 33% of his shots with 11-15 seconds left on the shot clock and 36% with 0-10 left on the shot clock. Yet with 11-15 seconds left, his effective field goal percentage is an insufferably low 31.9%, while with the clock ticking down, it’s a more palatable 50.4%. In other words, there is time for Monta to probe his other options on offense for a better shot.
Where are there better shots? For Monta, those better shots are either down the right side of the lane or, preferably, in the hands of someone else. Here, according to Vorped.com, is Ellis’ shot chart for this season. Each region shows Monta’s points-per-shot from each spot on the floor. The NBA average mark for points-per-possession is 1.05. Blue is bad. Woof.
For the sake of comparison, check out the same charts for teammate Brandon Jennings and Klay Thompson, Ellis’ replacement in Golden State.
To his credit, Ellis gets a fair amount of shots in the restricted area just to the right of the rim. That’s his strength. But the rest of the shot selection leaves a lot to be desired.
The adjustment here isn’t a huge one though. Ellis takes the fourth-most number of shots per game from 16-23 feet (5.1) in the league according to the numbers from Hoopdata through December 3rd. That number needs to go down, as does the number of three-pointers he takes from the wing, especially if — let me pause to cast a downward glance at my shoes for a second — he takes them off the dribble. Seriously, why waste possessions like that?
Monta can still take three-pointers. He’s great from the corners with his feet set, and he can get looks from the sets where Brandon runs the high pick-and-pop with Ersan Ilyasova. (You know, now that Ersan is alive again and all.)
But the isolation opportunities and the spot-up jumpers have to be tapered down. In addition to being the least efficient shots by percentage (see the chart from Synergy below), they are not generating foul shots. Through 93 attempts at such shots, Ellis has gone to the line for a pair of free throws just once. (He has a pair of And-1’s also.)
By and large, the Bucks choose shots that most stats geeks would consider to be efficient shots. Monta isn’t as far off from that goal as one might think. He is terrific in transition (and is getting plenty of opportunities), in addition to working well as a pick-and-roll ballhandler and off cuts and screens.
He just needs to let the offense flow to him in those ways more often.