Can't work?

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.

Stat Soup:

  • 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.

Twitter: @SherwoodStrauss

Email: [email protected]

14 Responses

  1. wg

    some factors:

    1) ellis is often matched up with the opposing team’s two guard. it’s hard to play straight up defense against someone who’s bigger and stronger than you.

    2) ellis’ minutes. smart plays him a lot of minutes and he’s expected to be a prolific scorer.

    we’ve seen glimpses (especially his rookie year) of his ability on defense. with the right system/coach/teammates/playing time, i think he could be a good defender. unfortunately, he has none of those things now, so it’s less clear.

    you can (perhaps rightfully) criticize ellis’ judgement when playing defense this year; but it’s difficult to suggest that ellis’ defensive capability is less than curry’s.

  2. Garrett

    Monta’s a worst defender than Steph? What?! Are we forgetting the play monta made by himself to disrupt a Blake Griffin alley oop – without fouling?! Or the play before that where monta packed Blake before he could dunk. I agree monta has his faults but anyone who plays as many minutes as he does is going to have defensive lapses throughout a game. Here’s an idea instead of ” Damning” Steph or Monta for their defensive weaknesses( one the few things you can condemn these two amazing players for) Why don’t you damn Riley for not finding adequate backups for these guys BEFORE this season began. There are other players out there who can do what Monta and Steph do but on those teams(the good ones at least) they have others equally talented that can replace them in the game and makeup for their starters short comings.Look at Memphis for example when Mayo & Conley arent getting it done they have Sam young, Xavier Henry , Greives Vasquez , Tony frickin Allen all who are good role players and could start. IF anyone should be let go it’s Larry Riley , he certainly made some good decisions but he left our bench backcourt shallow and talentless( except for Reggie). You and Tim are SO off, NO big man is going fill the void that either monta and steph will leave if their traded, and any hopes for postseason would be lost we might as well be the kings.

  3. Vinnieq

    He’s just a bit too young to be the leader of a team.. Was brilliant under Davis’ wing..

    • bo wright

      maybe smart is not as smart as they think i think we need a real center and a proven choach

  4. WetLunGz

    Am I the only one confused as to how anybody thinks steph is better than monta? There both shooting the same fg percentage but monta is leading in ppg 26 to 19, curry does shoot the 3 better at 41% to monta 37%. Curry shoots a higher % ft at 93, but only attempts 3 to monta 6(76%). They both average 3.5 rbs per game but granted monta plays more mpg. Monta and steph are almost even with 5.6/5.9 assist, 3.3/2.8, 2.3stls. They are very similar players and one most go.. curry is younger and could get a lot better. Monta has gotten better every year adding or improving his game every year, he is probly close to peaking or already doing so, but even if he stops now he is one of the top 10 players in the nba. I would argue as far as size/athleticism goes, monta is faster, stronger, quicker, more agile, and in better shape than curry. Monta gets knocked around all game and he shows he is strong and can play thru minor pain. Steph has a glass ankle and I worry every tiime he steps on somebodys foot. Its really hard to say who’s a better player. As of right now id say monta, in 5 yrs, steph cud b the better player. Nwho knows. I just don’t get how people can say steph is better than monta and not even question it. Maybe they don’t qeustion ne thing…

    • knight

      The argument isn’t who is the more skilled player; which is certainly Ellis on the offensive end. Amazing how he can finish so often and his offensive work should get him on the all-star team this season. Both are poor on the defensive end. Just watch Ellis alone on defensive possessions. He roams, looses sight of his player responsibility, can’t get through/around screens and most importantly can’t/won’t stop his player from penetrating the lane. He wants to gamble and use his quick hands for steals from behind. 2 a game doesn’t justify it. Entire defensives break down if these incredibly skilled ballhandlers penetrate and can create clear shots for themselves and their teammates. Warriors opponents get so many clear, open shots with Warriors defenders scrambling to recover and contest a shot. It’s the main reason the Warriors have to run and outscore teams in the big numbers every game. A bigger, strong, skilled defensive guard who can match up with the opponents best guard is needed. It also doesn’t mean their teammates are skilled defensively, particularly the skinny 5. Perhaps a young, hustling Curry can improve to guard the opponents smaller guard but Ellis has never shown he wants to play team defense. Get as much for him now that his stock is at its highest. How many successful playoff teams have had the Warriors philosophy to win games? They all could shut down their opponents when needed.

  5. Jimmy

    Monta is the only thing going for the Warriors up to this point. Don’t bash the only shred of talent the Warriors have

  6. Eric

    I completely agree, Sherwood.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am a Monta fan. I love watching him play. I love listening to him talk. But…
    During defensive possessions, one can often see Monta sort of standing off to the side waiting, not staying in front of anyone or doing anything in particular. It’s been particularly bad when he’s playing through ankle sprains or “flu-like symptoms”.

    It surprises me that you’re the first person in the (quote-unquote) media who’s actually called him out on that particular bad habit.

    I would guess that he rationalizes it to himself by thinking of how many minutes he plays – he’s got to take some on-court breaks to compensate.
    I also think Smart must be rationalizing this as “Monta’s our rock, Monta’s a net positive even if he has these little slip-ups” or “steals and fast breaks are our only chance at scoring on the Spurs.”

    Or maybe there is some other reason the organization wants to play him 41 minutes a game… having an all-star will engage fans and legitimize the franchise? Or inflate his trade value?

    What makes it all so frustrating is that we’ve actually shown flashes of legitimately good team defense this year. The first 8 games of the season it looked like other teams were struggling to find gaps, and every 6th game or so we look like that team. Maybe it’s just that other teams have figured out how to beat Smart’s scheme, maybe it’s Monta’s sense of entitlement, and probably it’s a mixture of that and injuries and everything else. It’s been such an inconsistent season – it makes it hard to say who the Warriors really are this year.

    I am in agreement about wanting to see more lineups with Steph and no Monta. It seems to spark the front-court a bit more (“oh shit we have to be part of the offense now!”).

    P.s. Good job on the post game show the other night! You looked like a veteran in front of the camera.

  7. Ultra-Humanite

    I can’t believe someone described anything that Kawakami wrote as smart or nuanced.

  8. Daniel

    I’m agreeing with Jerome. Ellis has a much longer time to be on the floor because of Curry’s tendency to get in foul trouble early. It isn’t as if Steph is evenly spacing his fouls over the course of the game. He’s often missing time early in the first period because of it. Also, time spent being a ball-handling playmaker on offense these last two seasons cannot help Monta’s fatigue on defense. Finally…the Warriors’ bigs are horrible. Orlando’s perimeter defense isn’t that great, but their interior defense is, making the perimeter defenders’ allowing of penetration an acceptable thing for them. Funneling drivers to the likes of Lee, Radmanovic, Gadzuric, and Amundson obviously won’t work nearly as well, which exacerbates the backcourt’s defensive lapses.

    This isn’t exonerating Ellis of wrong-doing, but I don’t think you can look at his individual defensive tendencies w/o factoring in the team defensive dynamics, and remembering the team is only one year removed from Don Nelson.

  9. knight

    This is so on-target. Ellis’ lazy/selfish defense clearly outweighs his special offensive tools. The coach and too-biased tv commentators obviously can’t comment on this publicly. Perhaps Curry’s skills can improve considering him being a 2nd year player. The few times rumors involving the Warriors and trades it consistently is mentioned that the other team wants Curry or nobody. NBA teams aren’t stupid.
    Ellis’ ppg. is great but remember how many more possessions are in Warriors games so that number is inflated. Reggie Williams could easily give 15-18 ppg. if he steps in as a starter. Was so hoping to have heard of the Warriors getting involved in the Anthony talks. Perhaps the Nuggets just couldn’t get convinced to take Ellis and perhaps a draft pick and expiring contract or maybe Anthony doesn’t want to live in the Bay Area.

  10. feltbot

    I think the chief problem with the Curry — Ellis backcourt lies not with them, but with the lack of defensive pieces that surround them. The Warriors need a big defensive shooting guard, who can give them 20 minutes of a balanced backcourt (assuming Curry and Ellis back each other up at the point, and average 38 minutes).

    And they need an upgrade at shotblocking center, no doubt.

    The second biggest problem has been Curry’s ankle. He’ll never be a great defender, but he is far worse this year as a direct result of his ankle and conditioning. You can’t judge anything by what you’ve seen so far this year.

    And this is the problem with those stats you’ve quoted. They don’t reflect who the Warriors have had on the court behind these players. And so far this year, that’s been very irregular, and not real good.

  11. Wbfree

    If there’s even a debate, then doesn’t it come down to who has better trade value? Who can you get back that will fit with those who remain?

    The league probably appreciates Curry more than Ellis, but Ellis’ skills are unique and are better for slotting into the perfect Tetris hole than for constituting part of the primordial ooze from which a super team rises. Therefore the best case is to find the team missing that Tetris piece who is willing to part with some 7 foot tall ooze.

  12. jerome

    If Curry has only played without Ellis for 31 mins, how many minutes has Monta played without Steph? Think of the awful lineups that Monta has had to play with that can’t score which increases his differential on the floor. Honestly, who are you more worried about as a one on one defender. I don’t worry as much with Monta as Steph picking up dumb reaching fouls. He doesn’t move his feet as well as Monta and that’s why he is constantly reaching and out of position. Monta’s lateral quickness at least keeps him from picking up dumb fouls and that’s why he’s on the floor longer.