Monta Ellis: Guts, but No Glory

The Warriors have started off the 2011-2012 season with a 2-6 record (as of Tuesday), with their last loss coming at home against the Jazz on Saturday night. This loss stung a little more than the rest for several reasons. First of all, the Jazz aren’t a particularly good team, so this should’ve been a fairly easy win for the Warriors. Second, the Warriors were in the game until the very end and had many opportunities to seal this win. Despite a slow start, the Warriors, behind Monta Ellis and some timely shooting from Brandon Rush and Nate Robinson, were able to stay in this game without Stephen Curry or Andris Beidrins and a poor shooting night from David Lee. However, with 16 seconds left in a tied game, Monta Ellis committed a turnover that practically lost the game right then and there.

To many Warriors’ fans, Monta Ellis is an elite clutch player. Warriors’ coaches must agree because in every possible situation where the Warriors can take the last shot (even if it’s at the end of a quarter and not in a typical “clutch” situation), they turn to Monta. This makes absolutely no sense though. Yes, he made two great shots last season to either tie the game or win the game. This does not justify him taking the last shot every single time, even at the end of quarters. Besides his two shots last season though, he has not been consistent enough to be the #1 choice in those type of crucial situations. No one really knows if the Warriors have any other great clutch shooters, because no one else besides Monta has received an opportunity. Both Stephen Curry and Dorell Wright had some big shots last season during important games, but neither players were given a chance at taking a potentially game-winning or game-tying shot. Therefore, the Warriors have relied on Monta for all clutch shots.

Monta's Game-Winning Shot vs. Pacers

Monta does have a lot of characteristics of a clutch shooter. He’s extremely confident, he’s quick, and he can create plays for himself. However, he does not have the natural “clutch” instinct. A clutch player needs to know how to manage the shot clock well and have a back-up plan. Generally, he dribbles too much and just wastes time. He must believe that he only needs a couple seconds to get a good shot off because of his amazing speed. By dribbling the ball at the top of the key with no real plan in mind, Monta ends up hurting himself. If he started his drive about 2 seconds earlier, it would give him the chance to find an open teammate, if he’s heavily guarded, or still get off a good shot. Although it’s maddening to admit it, Monta has improved in getting his teammates more involved and is averaging 8.1 assists per game. If he’s guarded closely, he has the skills to pass it off to a teammate, so that should always be an option in his mind. It’s clear based on his track record though that he wants all the glory and credit for winning a game, so he wants to take the final shot no matter what.

Another aspect of Monta’s clutch game this is quite troubling is his predictability. He has a broad skillset, and one would think that he would utilize these particular skills and become more creative with his clutch shots. However, Monta pretty much does the exact same move every time. He generally drives as if he’s moving towards the right elbow of the free throw line, crosses over to the left or steps back, and shoots a left elbow jump shot (watch the videos below to see the two clutch shots that Monta hit last season to see this pattern). Perhaps this explains why Monta has not found much luck in clutch shots recently. Defenders are able to easily predict what moves he is going to make. Also, teams can always send a second defender over towards him because they know he will not pass the ball. If Monta wants to continue to be the clutch player on the team, he’s going to have to change his ways. It’s as simple as that.

Monta’s Game-Tying Shot vs. the Kings

Monta’s Game-Winning Shot vs. the Pacers

Since teams know now that the Warriors use Monta in those types of situations, why not use him as a decoy? Mark Jackson could set up a play so Monta winds down the shot clock, drives to the hoop, and sets up a kick out pass to Stephen Curry (when he returns from injury), Brandon Rush, Nate Robinson, Dorell Wright, or even Klay Thompson. Monta needs to either become a smarter clutch player or the Warriors need to start finding some other options. Even great clutch shooters like Kobe Bryant miss some shots. That’s understandable. However, Kobe has to take the clutch shots because the Lakers simply don’t have any other options to go to in those situations. Monta has options though. He could dish to several of his teammates, or Mark Jackson could draw up a play for someone else like Stephen Curry or Dorell Wright. If the Warriors want to win more of those close games, they need to re-examine their strategies at the end of games.

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