What if Monta Ellis didn’t shoot 3′s?

The goal posts moved on Monta Ellis. Since Ellis came into the league in 2005, NBA teams have put more emphasis on efficiency and less on per-game production. In the face of that changing barometer for what makes a player great, Ellis’ game has remained seemingly unchanged. This stubbornness combined with the overall lack of efficiency in his game has led some pundits to write him off completely as nothing more than a chucker. After all, this season Ellis posted the lowest PER of any player who averaged 18.5 points or more.

But there is still hope for an efficient Ellis, and it wouldn’t take a total overhaul of his offensive game to do it.

The criticism perpetually surrounding Ellis always seems to far outweigh the praise, but that clouds over the fact that Ellis has some impressive talents. Over the last four years, the only guards who have gotten to the rim more consistently than Ellis are Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook, and Tyreke Evans. Playing alongside point guards Steph Curry and Brandon Jennings, Ellis has averaged at least 5 assists per game for four straight seasons.

Ellis checks a lot of boxes in the plus column for a starting guard in the NBA. His biggest problem, at least on offense, is his poor shooting percentages. Ellis can shoot, so his statistics are more a result of reckless shot selection.

This season he shot a paltry 41.6%. While he shot a respectable 45.8% on 2-point attempts, his overall % was dragged down by his abysmal 28.7% connection rate from three (4.0 attempts per game.) 3-point shooting is the hole Ellis’s game in which he may eventually be buried. While he’s had seasons of success (36% on 4.7 attempts per game in 2010-2011), Ellis is just a 31.8% three point shooter for his career which is nowhere near good enough in today’s NBA.

But what if he stopped taking 3’s? That might be a bridge too far for Monta or any NBA guard for that matter. And the Spurs and Grizzlies series showed us what can happen when a defense can ignore a perimeter player. So what if he stopped taking bad threes? This season Monta shot nearly 34% on catch-and-shoot 3’s according the Synergy. But he shot only 24% on threes off the dribble. EUREKA!

What if he cut out off the dribble 3’s completely? Might he be a more efficient player with a more PER-friendly stat line? Here’s a look at Monta’s stats from last season as they were compared to how they would have been had he eschewed off the dribble 3’s and distributed those possessions proportionally among other usage categories (2-point attempts, fouls drawn, assists, and turnovers.)

Old Monta: 19.2 ppg, 6.0 apg, 3.1 TO, 41.6 FG%, 28.7 3-pt%
“New” Monta: 18.8 ppg, 6.5 apg, 3.4 TO, 44.4 FG%, 33.7 3-pt%

That’s a solid improvement.

So how likely is it that Monta could actually modify his game in this way?

The choice to cut out threes is actually not unprecedented. Just look Dwyane Wade. In 2010-11, Wade averaged 2.7 attempts from downtown per game. In 2011-12 and 2012-13, he averaged 1.1 and 1.0 respectively. Non-coincidentally, Wade posted the highest FG% of his career (52.1%) this season.

But can/will anyone in the Bucks’ organization motivate Ellis to make this change? That remains to be seen.

What is clear is that the Bucks are ready to commit to Ellis to the tune of $36 million over the next three years. Is he worth that money? Let look at Monta’s production and salary as compared to two similar scoring point guards: Ty Lawson and Deron Williams.

Ty Lawson
2012-12 Stats: 16.7 ppg, 6.9 apg, 2.5 TO, 2.7 rpg, 1.5 stl, 46.1 FG%, 36.6 3-pt%
2013-2014 Salary: $10,786,517

Deron Williams
2012-12 Stats: 18.9 ppg, 7.7 apg, 2.8 TO, 3.0 rpg, 1.0 stl, 44% FG%, 37.8 3-pt%
2013-2014 Salary: $18,466,130

Monta Ellis
2012-12 Stats: 19.2 ppg, 6.0 apg, 3.1 TO, 3.9 rpg, 2.1 stl, 41.6 FG%, 28.7 3-pt%
2013-2014 Salary: $11,000,000

On the upside, Ellis scores more points, grabs more rebounds, and gets more steals than both Williams and Lawson. On the downside, he assists less, turns the ball over more, and shoots a worse percentage from inside and beyond the arc. He’s also a total space cadet on defense (but we’re not solving that here!).

Monta’s market value rests on his lightning first step and ability to create offense for himself and others. But don’t sleep on the fact that Ellis’ game could still evolve. He is only 27 years old, and if you look at what his stats might look like if he cut out low-percentage threes, his contract begins to look far more reasonable. Look at Deron Williams’ stats side-by-side with “New” Monta’s.

Deron Williams: 18.9 ppg, 7.7 apg, 2.8 TO, 44% FG%, 37.8 3-pt%
“New” Monta: 18.8 ppg, 6.5 apg, 3.4 TO, 44.4 FG%, 33.7 3-pt%

Sure Williams would still average more assists than Ellis and shoot the three-ball better, but would any team really rather pay Williams $7+ million more for an extra assist and a few more threes?

This season, Ellis famously compared himself to Dwyane Wade and proclaimed, “Monta Ellis have it all.” But the fact is, Ellis would be a better player if he gave up some of that “all,” and fashioned his game around what he does best.

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  4. Don’t cross the swags
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