What if Monta Ellis Was Still on the Golden State Warriors?


On March 13, 2012, the Golden State Warriors made a statement to the NBA and to their fanbase that they were ready to become a winning franchise.

The Warriors organization agreed to a monumental trade that would send guard Monta Ellis (the face of the franchise at the time), forward Ekpe Udoh, and center Kwame Brown to the Milwaukee Bucks for center Andrew Bogut and guard Stephen Jackson (who was eventually traded for Richard Jefferson and a first-round draft pick).

The Warriors had been without a dominant center for a long time, and with Bogut, they finally got one. With this trade, the Warriors also made it clear that Stephen Curry was now the face and the future of the franchise. Much of the Warriors faithful were upset not only that Ellis was traded, but also that he was traded for Bogut, who wasn’t playing at the time due to a broken ankle. However, Bogut, as of recently, has emerged as a key part of this Warriors team.

Mar 9, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Monta Ellis (11) makes a shot under the reach of Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut (12) in the second quarter at ORACLE arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

This season, Bogut has been limited to 26 games due to ankle and back issues, and the Warriors are 15-11 in those games and 43-32 overall (as of April 3rd). However in the Warriors’ last 11 games (all with Bogut in the lineup), the Warriors are 8-3 and they’re making a strong push to the playoffs.

Bogut is providing that solid inside presence that the Warriors sorely lacked. Bogut is such a quality defender and his ability to block and change shots has vastly improved the Warriors’ defense as a whole. Also, now that Bogut is mostly healthy, he’s showing more spring in his step, which allows him to get more rebounds and finish more on putbacks and dunks. The emergence of Bogut as an offensive threat has allowed David Lee to get better looks as well and gives Stephen Curry another option on offense (and another alley-oop buddy).

In addition, Klay Thompson has solidified his role as the starting shooting guard for the Warriors, and he is certainly an up-and-coming talent.

This season, Thompson has an impressive stat line for a second-year player as he is averaging 16.2 points/game, 2.2 assists/game, 3.9 rebounds/game, 41.5% shooting from the field, 39.5% shooting from the 3-point line, and 85.3% shooting from the free-throw line (as of April 3rd). Thompson is clearly a good three-point shooter, but he still has room for improvement in a couple areas. He can improve on his overall field goal percentage by driving to the basket more to get better looks.

If he can drive to the basket more, he has a better chance of getting his teammates involved more too. Lastly, the Warriors are best when the guards are aggressive on the boards and rebounding consistently. Given his impressive size for a shooting guard (Thompson is 6’7″), he can also improve upon grabbing more rebounds both defensively and offensively.

So, what if Monta Ellis was still in the starting lineup for the Warriors? Would this Warriors team still be in the position they’re in now?

If the Warriors traded for Bogut and were able to keep Ellis, the team would still be stuck in the deep, dark depths of dysfunction.

Why? Because Monta Ellis’ personality and actions on the court epitomized why the Warriors were stuck in the doldrums of losing. Don’t get me wrong, Ellis is extremely talented and is fun to watch. However, if he is the star or face of a team, the team is not going to successful. Ellis is small for a shooting guard (he’s 6’3″), Ellis needs the ball in his hands the majority of the time on offense to perform well, and Ellis’ ball-hoggish ways can completely shut down a team’s chemistry.

If Ellis was still on the Warriors, they would have the center that they’ve always wanted, but they’d still have a small backcourt, not much ball movement, and not as much team chemistry.

Mar 02, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Monta Ellis (8) brings the ball up court during the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers defeated the Warriors 105-83. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

After Stephen Curry was drafted in 2009, head coach Don Nelson said in training camp that he wanted to start Curry at point guard and have Ellis play shooting guard. Of course, Nelson was known for his small-ball, fast-paced system, but he was heavily criticized for this decision.

Fans and analysts claimed that a backcourt that small would never win consistently, despite the immense amount of talent between Curry and Ellis. With Ellis starting at shooting guard, he’d often have to guard opposing shooting guards who were bigger and stronger than he was, like Joe Johnson, Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade, and Kobe Bryant. In addition, this small backcourt couldn’t match up with quicker, more athletic backcourts.

Ellis’ size created overall defensive weaknesses and mismatches, and without much defensive prowess in the Warriors frontcourt, the Warriors were the worst defensive team in the NBA for several seasons. Warriors management ultimately decided that Curry was the future of this team, and, since he was able to play point guard, they needed to acquire a bigger backcourt mate, like Klay Thompson.

The Warriors might have lost some of that athleticism and speed by trading Ellis and starting Thompson, but Thompson has more of an ability to guard bigger defenders because of his size and length.

Ellis spent the first six and a half seasons of his NBA career with Golden State, so Warriors management knew what type of player he was. Ellis needed the ball in his hands to fulfill his desire of being the star in any given game. For example, in Curry’s rookie season (’09-’10), Ellis had 1,406 field goal attempts in 64 games to Curry’s 1,143 attempts in 80 games, even though Ellis converted only 44.9% of his field goals compared to Curry’s 46.2% completion rate.

In the 2010-2011 season, Ellis had 1,611 field goal attempts in 80 games compared to Curry’s 1,053 field goal attempts in 74 games, and Ellis converted 45.1% of his field goals compared to Curry who converted 48% of his field goals. In addition, in the 2010-2011 season, Ellis attempted 379 3-pointers, despite the fact that he’s not known as being a quality 3-point shooter. He converted 36.1% of them, whereas Curry attempted only 342 3-pointers, despite shooting an impressive 44.2%.

December 12, 2011; Oakland, CA, USA; A NBA team photographer (left) photographs Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry (center) and shooting guard Monta Ellis (right) during media day at the Golden State Warriors Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In addition, due to his lack of size and his need to control the ball, Ellis had to play point guard at times. Even though Ellis showed improvement in his distribution of the ball over time (he averaged 3.7 assists/game in ’08-’09 and then averaged 5.3 assists/game in ’09-’10), he still wanted the role of scorer more than distributor.

When the Warriors drafted Curry though, they saw a player that could do both. Curry, in his rookie season, fell into a system that cherished Ellis, and the system required Ellis to have the ball in his hands a lot. Warriors management saw Curry’s flashes of brilliance when he ran the offense though, and they knew they could build on that, since they already knew what they had with Ellis.

When Curry and Ellis played together it was certainly fun to watch, fast, and explosive at times, but it resulted in a poor 79-123 record in almost two and a half seasons together. The Warriors ultimately picked the playmaker and more pure point guard, Curry, to run the team instead of the scorer, which has resulted in more ball movement and a playoff-bound team this season.

In the past, because of Ellis’ ball-hoggish ways, the Warriors were never able to achieve the type of chemistry that winning teams have like the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, or the San Antonio Spurs.

After Don Nelson suggested playing Curry and Ellis together in the backcourt, the first thing Ellis said was that they couldn’t play together. He immediately shut down the idea and said it wouldn’t work. Of course, Curry was classy and respectful throughout the whole situation, but this showed the Warriors organization that Ellis wanted the Warriors to be his team and no one else’s. Even though, Curry and Ellis eventually got along and found a way to play together for two and a half seasons, they still had a guarded relationship.

This season, one of the Warriors’ best qualities is their team chemistry. The players claim that this is the most fun they’ve ever had on a team, which is a strong indication of a winning, successful team. Curry and David Lee have become the best players and the vocal leaders on the Warriors, and, according to Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami, it’s because, “A lot of emotional and strategic baggage was off-loaded with Ellis.” Mark Jackson also commented on Curry and Lee’s emergence as leaders by saying, “The way that they handled adversity laid a foundation for what’s taking place today. Leaders were born. David Lee and Steph Curry became the voices of this organization. And it’s great to see what is taking place.”

Nov 19, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Golden State Warriors power forward David Lee (10) embraces shooting guard Stephen Curry (30) after their win against the Dallas Mavericks. The Warriors defeated the Mavericks 105-101. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors’ success this season has been one of the great storylines in the NBA. They’ve won because of their improvement in rebounding, defense, and team chemistry.

The Warriors improved in these areas mostly because of the trade that brought in Andrew Bogut and that sent Monta Ellis away. Bogut provides fierce defense and rebounding and, as of recently, has been playing like the dominant center the Warriors have always wanted.

Because of his lack of size, Ellis became a burden on defense, despite his electric play on offense. On and off the court, Ellis acted selfishly and immaturely, which eliminated any possibility for team cohesion or chemistry. If the Warriors were somehow able to acquire Bogut while keeping Ellis, the Warriors’ chemistry on and off the court would still be missing. Ellis would still want to be the “leader” of the team by being the star of the team.

Bogut, however, has been a leader in the sense that he holds the team accountable on defense and he speaks up when he feels the team can work harder.

If Monta Ellis was still on the Warriors with Bogut on the team as well, the Warriors would still be plagued by the issues that led to them to being a losing team for so long. They’d still be too small, they wouldn’t share the ball as much, and they’d lack the superb team chemistry that they have this season.