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Essay: Monta Ellis And The Battle Against Entertainment

Monta Ellis is a dazzling basketball player. The type of pound-for-pound, straightforward talent who’s been one of the league’s most potent offensive threats his entire career. Unfortunately, Ellis’ perception belies what makes him so great: Now in his seventh season and younger than LeBron James, more than ever before Golden State’s best player falls victim to two very strong trends firmly entrenched within contemporary American society: statistical analysis and time zone differential. 

Ellis goes through hypnotic, brilliant stretches of artistry several times each night. As one of the league’s smallest players, he takes part in almost every minute of every game, rarely seeing rest and never asking for it. This season he’s attacking the basket more often than all but two guards in the league (Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Dwyane Wade included). When he does so, it usually begins with people mistaking him for a drunken bull barreling through Crate & Barrel. But more times than not Ellis ends the play by either setting up his teammate with the type of shot that makes playing in the NBA look doable, or putting his one-of-a-kind acrobatics on display and making the type of shot that reminds us playing in the NBA is impossible.

This article isn’t about proclaiming Ellis as the best shooting guard in the league, or even re-defining his reputation in a more favorable light. I’m simply pointing out two factors that facilitate especially harsh judgement when his name comes up in casual conversation. This is my attempt at righting a wrong.

He’s aesthetically pleasing, but far from perfect. When you mix physical defensive limitations with offensive discipline issues, dependability is called into question—especially due to the fact that Golden State runs their offense through him for so much of the game. When Ellis scores, he does so with the ball in his hands for a long time (this season he’s made more shots posting up than as a catch and shoot threat, according to Synergy). Approximately half of his offense comes in either isolation or as the handler on a pick and roll, and despite his assist numbers taking a huge spike this season, Ellis’ reputation is that of a ball-stopper. If we’re further nitpicking, another drawback throughout his career has been an inability to develop the consistent three-point shot desired in the modern day shooting guard (although that point might make his ability to break down back-loaded defensive lines that much more impressive). Basically, in Golden State he’s a square peg—with extensive, sometimes puzzling tree-based tattoos—jammed into a round hole. Too much responsibility has been placed on his 175 pound body.

Those are the bad things. Now onto the good. He’s consistently phenomenal in games against guys in the league who we treat as flawless immortals. Touching on those unfair obstacles Monta Ellis has fell victim to—leading to constant trade rumors and inequitable criticisms—in the day and time of Twitter, Facebook, Google Alerts, and League Pass, a west coast bias remains live and well, and this will forever exist until humans figure a way to equalize time difference. The Warriors don’t have nationally televised games on Sunday afternoon; even with social media spreading the latest basketball news faster than the Contagion disease, if you don’t observe Monta Ellis for yourself then your opinions could end a bit distorted.

Looking at his career numbers, what you’ll see is momentary lapses of inconsistency and what might appear to be selfish play, but looking at him through a visceral lens, using your sense of sight to gather empirical evidence, what you witness is the closest thing today’s league has to a late 90s Allen Iverson.

Whenever I watch him play I’m astounded to the point that there’s only five or so players in the entire league who make for a more enjoyable viewing. He isn’t the best defender, but he tries to be (Ellis is second to Dwyane Wade among all shooting guards with 2.62 defensive plays per game).  The way he’s executing right now, registering just two games with less than six assists so far this season—on a Golden State team that’s shown time and time again that they clearly want nothing to do with him—Monta Ellis is truly someone to appreciate.

Is he the most efficient player who ever lived? No. But some things simply weren’t made to be analyzed with a mathematical formula. With Ellis, there’s an indescribable descriptive void that’s created whenever your own two eyes aren’t scrutinizing his every move. Monta Ellis is more an anti-generational, misunderstood prodigy than a self-centered egomaniac whose style impedes success. From this moment forth, that’s how he should be judged.


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