Tim Kawakami has a smart, nuanced piece on the intractability of an Ellis-Curry future. I’m solidly behind his overarching thesis, though I disagree with certain particulars (I favor trading Ellis, I think Curry’s the better player, I’m not a Carmelo fan, etc, grunt, grumble, etc.).
My defense of Stephen Curry’s defense can be reduced to this: Monta Ellis is marginally worse. And I’d forgive you for disagreeing because: Currydrins keeps fouling his way towards the folding chairs.
I attended the Spurs-Warriors game, suspended in a nervy fear. Whenever Tony Parker dribbled towards Stephen Curry, the shrill shriek of a whistle threatened. Like a dog, I heard the whistle in the absence of when normal humans could–only because it was haunting my psyche during every defensive possession. Watching Curry guard people is like watching those players choose when and how to bench him.
So how can Ellis possibly be worse? He often gets caught out of position, often jumps into a fray for a steal attempt, often tries to play passing lanes when passing lanes are playing him. Monta’s freelance positioning can eat at the integrity of the unit–like if you decided to take an airplane wing and glue it to the aircraft’s nose.
- A stat as obscure as it is staggering: For the top 13 iterations (in terms of minutes played) of Curry-Ellis lineups, all 13 have given up over one point per possession. As in, it’s impossible to find a Curry-Ellis lineup that succeeds on defense.
- Stephen Curry has played a grand total of 31 minutes without Monta Ellis on the court.
- Somehow Monta Ellis is +7.9 per 100 on defensive possessions this season. Stephen Curry is +2 points per 100 defensive possessions this year. So far, Monta lineups have been leaking points on defense, even when Curry rides the bench.
- Reggie Williams is essentially defense neutral (+.3) in terms of plus-minus.
(And just to make your head explode)
- Synergy sports ranks Monta over Steph for individual defense situations.
What else do I slurp from this stat soup?
It’s mind boggling that Monta can be a better individual defender than Steph, while his lineups consistently do worse on that side of the ball. To augment my initial explanation of how this happens: Monta’s gambles often cede points to guys not guarded by Ellis. Ever see a defense break down, and see the offense swing the ball around while the D hopelessly tries to recover? Of course you have–especially if you’ve watched the Warriors. My theory is that Monta’s excursions tend to compromise the defense in ways that benefit all five opposition players–not just one.
I’m not sure why Curry plays so little without Ellis by his side, but it might be nice for Smart to try something different. A few more Williams-Curry lineups won’t cure Golden State’s bubonic bad defense plague, but it’s worth testing.
The statistical upshot is what we’ve known, deep in our spleens: Curry + Ellis can’t work on defense. I’m not overly concerned with their offensive overlap because the Warriors seem to distribute the ball quite well despite lacking a pure point guard (Ranked 10th in assist rate). Based on defense alone, somebody’s gotta move.
Stats aside, I can’t trust any Curry-Ellis unit to guard the three point line today, tomorrow, or even in a cross dimensional futuristic time warp. Many fixate on how both players are small, short, or skinny. I say: What about short-armed? Both Monta and Steph have wingspans roughly equivalent to their heights, which is normal for a person…but not an NBA person. It might surprise you to know that draft measurements list Derrick Rose as shorter than Monta Ellis. Ellis is half an inch taller, but Rose has a 6″8″ pterodactyl wingspan to counter Ellis’s 6″2″ T-Rex elbows.
So let’s stop fretting over the inability of either Warrior to be a “true point guard” when the frontcourt’s presenting a slightly sweatier version of the All Star three point contest. The Warriors can hide one of these guys on D, but two is asking too much.