Luc and Monta? Not So Picante

For years, hoops pundits have knocked Monta Ellis for not being efficient.  Knocked for absent-minded defense.  Knocked for not passing the ball enough. Knocked for making too few of his shots.

At times this season, Monta Ellis has served the Bucks well.  He gets to the rim as much as Brandon Jennings and finishes better when he gets there.  His passes put teammates at point blank range more than any other Buck.  When the tempo races, Ellis uses his speed in a multitude of ways: outpacing defenders, snagging loose balls, cutting off passing angles in transition D.

So it’s not all bad for Ellis this season.  But he is making just 40% of his shots.  That’s a valid criticism that sticks, and it has held up for over a half-decade now.

Not all is lost.  If the Bucks want that number to improve, the move to make is fairly simple.  It would help his shooting percentages as well as his overall efficiency.

Stop putting him on the floor with Luc Mbah a Moute.

Or at least do it as little as possible.  With the pair together in the starting lineup, they get a big chunk of minutes together.  In a lot of ways, it makes sense on paper.  Mbah a Moute can guard the bigger perimeter wing threat and let Ellis, who is a much poorer defender, take the easier defensive assignment.  Luc isn’t going to score much, but Ellis can create his own shot and take the burden off the Mbah a Moute in that regard.

Or can he?

When Mbah a Moute is on the floor (as has been the case for 620 of Ellis’ 1594 minutes this season), Ellis’ shooting percentages sink.  (Image and data from

At first glance, it would seem that the cause would be that when Mbah a Moute is in the game, defenses can sag away from him, totally surrendering to him outside shots and only paying attention to him as he works in or near the paint.  As NBA perimeter players go, Mbah a Moute is as big a non-threat to score from outside as anyone.

The first and last numbers don’t matter as much.  At the rim, there will always be traffic most of the time — whether the help is coming from Luc’s side or not.  Ellis is athletic enough and skilled enough to finish there on par with most NBA guards.  (Also, many of these shots are in transition.)

The same can be said for the above-the-break 3′s.  Up there, defenses are not going to help much, there’s plenty of space, and if there were ever a shot not to help on, it would be a pull-up Ellis 26-footer that could fly free and easy in a room with 11-foot ceilings.

It is those pesky three numbers in the middle that are disheartening.  On those shots, Ellis converts 28.5% with Mbah  Moute on the court and 40% with him off.

Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings do not have the same dip with Mbah a Moute.  Both have better range than Ellis and can generate looks from the top of the three-point circle, especially using high pick-and-pop action.

For all the criticism of Ellis, his preferred shot is still at the rim.  But no NBA player can get there on every play, so Ellis certainly mixes in his other favorite shot: the pullup. He relies on shifty moves and a quick release to find daylight among taller players, and he usually does it around 15 to 18 feet from the basket.  Presumably, the task comes easier with Mbah a Moute somewhere else.

Here is an example from the loss to the Bulls:

At this point, Ellis has the ball, and he has already come around a screen from Ersan Ilyasova that forced a switch.  He is being guarded by Taj Gibson and should be able to use his speed to get past the bigger player.

But there is help waiting.  Per usual, there is help from the weak side — in this case, Joakim Noah.  The surprise is on the strong side where Luol Deng waits.  Deng is paying Mbah a Moute virtually zero attention.  (It’s a safe bet which way he has his weight shifted.)

Ellis eases up on the drive and opts for a stepback jumper.  Deng gets there to turn a simpler shot more difficult.

And now Deng has the momentum for a runout opportunity awaiting as Mbah a Moute watches and waits to see if the shot goes in. (Luckily for the Bucks, the ball bounced off the rim straight to Samuel Dalembert.)

So what can be done?  Ideally, one of the pair could come off the bench.  Would it make sense to use Ellis as a primary player/sixth man the way the Spurs use Manu Ginobili or the way the Thunder used James Harden a season ago?  Perhaps. Would Ellis endorse the switch, if the Bucks could still find him 30+ minutes per game? That’s another matter entirely.

(At this point, I would advocate for Tobias Harris over Luc, but I may be alone in that regard so I won’t.)

One last thought: Putting the ball in Luc’s hands helps.  Defenses have to guard the ball, and Mbah a Moute has done a nice job this season alternating between baseline drives and post-ups.  But sometimes it appears that when he goes to these moves, he is locked in on scoring.  Until he becomes a better passer out of the post, this tactic probably won’t help.

But help they need.  The Bucks have a lot of trouble winning the games where Monta makes 5-of-17 field goals.  If you have an idea, please share.  All brainstorms are welcome below in the comments.

Tags: Luc Mbah A Moute Milwaukee Bucks Monta Ellis

  • sabatma83

    This is no surprise, when you watch the Bucks you can tell that the offense runs so much smoother with Luc on the bench. When opposing teams has their worse and smallest defensive player on him (Steve Nash) and he still can’t take advantage, thats bad. I don’t know why Boylan feels the need to start him all the time, I feel he should just be in to guard the stars (Lebron, Melo) and spot defensive situations. Let Tobias and Mikey D have more run.

  • Colin Ziolkowski

    Ellis with Mbah A Moute is only the start! The fact that the Bucks Front office has committed to a career assistant as head coach is a killer! On top of that, he does everything the same as Scott Skiles! The fact that they both are too stupid to play Henson,Dalembert,and Gooden tells me they just don’t get it! First of all Henson is a very talented lottery pick who should have never fallen to #14! It’s they only reason he doesn’t get consistent minutes. When he’s in the game he produces! Just look for yourself and you’ll see. The last 2 games he’s played, he’s scored 9 points in each game and had 3 & 5 rebounds as well while averaging 12 minutes a game. He has the length to cause havoc for stretch 4′s and has quick enough feet to defend the block! All season when we face big lineups, we haven’t seen Ersan,Henson, and Sanders play together at all! We have this ridiculous Scott Skiles rotation every night and he’s not even on the sideline anymore! We get nothing on offense from the second unit at the 4. Drew Gooden played his but off last season. He is one of the highest paid players on the team and he can’t get into the rotation even though he’s a proven vet! Same with Dalembert! No offense to Udoh but Sam is a bigger defender with more length and he would bring a lot to the second unit depending on match up if we had a real Head Coach to make the decisions! It get’s sickening sitting at home or at the Bradley Center watching clueless coaches losing winnable games because they don’t know how to sub! Henson sat on the bench the whole second half against the Knicks while Melo had his way even though everyone knows he struggles against length! We keep blowing big second half leads to teams like Cleveland who we should beat like all the other good teams do! This roster is so good that anyone can win with it, but it’s the NBA and sometimes it comes down to the Chess match between coaches and we always lose that! It takes a good HC to get the most out of the talent and we don’t have that! So we’ll win sometimes and we’ll lose games we’re supposed to win but at least we don’t have to pay 2 HC’s right! Even if it costs us our season! GO BUCKS!!

  • Jameel JR Evans

    Theres no way Luc Bah A moute should be a starter. He can’t score defenses don’t even guard him. He is not as effective on defense as he was in previous years. Either JJ or Dunlevey should be in that SF spot. Oh yeah don’t get me started on the other good players that don’t see playing time. Good thing they snapped to senses and started illiasova again.