“Monta Ellis is probably our best offensive player.”
As I was heading to the BMO Harris Bradley Center Saturday night, that’s what I overheard a father tell his kids as he was briefing them about their home team.
Those kids probably walked out of the arena thinking Ellis is the Bucks’ best defensive player, too.
Unfortunately, neither statement is exactly true. Ellis is having the worst shooting season of his career and he’s long had the reputation as a subpar, inconsistent defender.
But on this night, Monta Ellis had it all.
Ellis was tasked with chasing around sharpshooter J.J. Redick for the better part of 40 minutes. Redick came into Milwaukee averaging 18.8 points per game in his last five contests, while shooting 48.6 on three-pointers during that span. The 6’4 guard is having a career year in his contract season and will be a coveted trade piece in a couple weeks. There’s a pretty good reason why:
NBAers scoring more points per minute on higher efficiency than Redick: KD, LeBron, Amar’e, Bosh, Kevin Martin. That’s it.
— Evan Dunlap (@BQRMagic) February 2, 2013
Redick struggled to shed his pesky counterpart on the perimeter all night. When he did manage to get open looks, he missed. Redick shot just 5-15 from the field (2-9 on threes) and finished with 15 points and eight rebounds.
Bucks head coach Jim Boylan took the opportunity to rave about Ellis’ defense at length in his postgame press conference.
“The defense that Monta Ellis played tonight on J.J. Redick was as good as you’ll see all year,” Boylan said. “For the entire time he was out there, Monta was just totally focused defensively. When he’s playing like that and he’s focused, he can guard just about anybody, and tonight he did just an unbelievable job on J.J.”
This could be a positive development for the Bucks, as Ellis has had his fair share of fits guarding quality shooters — say, Richard Hamilton — coming off picks toward the top of the key. At times, he has looked simply disinterested in fighting through screens at all. It was a different story Saturday night, however.
“I just didn’t want to put anyone else on [Redick],” Boylan said of Ellis, who played in all but four minutes of the game. “I just loved the way he was playing and the energy he had on both ends of the floor.”
With Redick having an off-shooting night, there weren’t many Magic players capable of picking up the slack. Arron Afflalo (strained left calf) and Jameer Nelson (left forearm contusion) were announced out prior to the game, while Glen Davis (fractured left foot) didn’t travel with the team. Orlando suited up just 11 players and the likes of E’Twaun Moore, Moe Harkless, DeQuan Jones and Ish Smith all saw extensive action.
Nikola Vucevic led the Magic’s charge with 20 points (10-16 fg), 12 rebounds and six assists — displaying impressive passing skills out of the post. Redick and Moe Harkless (19 points, 7-16 fg, 14 rebounds) were the only other Orlando players to score in double figures.
The Magic did manage to out-rebound the Bucks by 10 and grab 20 offensive rebounds, much to the chagrin of Boylan.
“The Achilles’ heel that we have right now is the offensive rebounds we’ve given up,” Boylan said after the game. “We’ve talked about this in the past. A couple weeks ago, we had a meeting about it. We talked to the guys and we all got on board. We were pretty good for a couple games and now maybe a little bit of slippage. We’ll see if we can shore that up again.”
This has been a legitimate concern for the Bucks all season. They’re corralling only 70.2 percent of available defensive rebounds this year, which is third-worst rate in the NBA. Boylan cited a lack of concentration as the main culprit.
“We’re just not finishing the play well,” he said. “To me, that’s a little bit of focus right there. We’re not a big, physical team, so we rely on everybody to get involved in the rebounding game. At times tonight, we just didn’t have enough activity.”
Larry Sanders — who has pulled more than his own weight on the glass, ranking 19th in the NBA for defensive rebound percentage (min. 20 games) — bounced back after a couple lackluster performances and a bout with the flu. He scored 17 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked six shots. It’s pretty amazing we’re to the point where Sanders posts this type of stat line and no one even blinks an eye.
Brandon Jennings (20 points, 8-16 fg, five assists) and Ellis (21 points, 7-16 fg, 11 assists) provided a refreshingly efficient scoring attack, while Mike Dunleavy (11 points, 4-9 fg, four rebounds) and John Henson (9 points, 4-7 fg, five rebounds) led the bench brigade. Ersan Ilyasova continued his strong play with 16 points (6-13 fg; 2-5 on threes), eight rebounds and two (!) blocked shots. He has made at least two three-pointers in eight straight games, hitting 62.5 percent (20-32) of his attempts over that stretch.
Milwaukee heads out west this week to take on the Nuggets and Jazz in a back-to-back starting Tuesday before coming back to host the Pistons Saturday.
The Bucks still have 36 games remaining in the regular season, but that isn’t stopping Boylan from peaking at scores and standings.
“We want to keep a little arm distance from Boston, Philly, Detroit and Toronto – the teams down there,” he said. “And we want to climb up. I think Atlanta lost tonight, so we pick up a game on them. Our goal is to look forward and look up and try to chase those teams in front of us and not worry so much about the ones behind us.”
Milwaukee currently sits at the 7th spot in the East, where just 3.5 games separate them from the 3rd seed.
Down to the D-League:
The Bucks have re-assigned Doron Lamb to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA Development League. He will be suiting up for tomorrow’s game against the Canton Charge, according to Bucks PR. It appears his left ankle sprain, which he sustained during his first stint with Fort Wayne in mid-January, is no longer a concern.
The rookie has yet to translate his college shooting touch to the next level. In 23 games for the Bucks, he’s shooting an abysmal 34.7 percent from the floor, 25 percent beyond the arc and 53.3 percent at the free throw line. In his previous two-game stint in Fort Wayne, Lamb averaged 7.5 points per game on 22.7 percent shooting from the field (5-22; 1-5 on threes).
Lamb hasn’t appeared in a game for the Bucks since Jan. 5.