Different Strokes: How Stephen Curry & Monta Ellis Proved They’re Better Off Apart


Last year EA Sports released a new entry into the NBA Jam library, entitled NBA Jam On Fire! It was the best entry in the series since the original 16 bit version launched in the mid 90s. I won’t say how much time I spent playing the new version (let’s just say it was a significant amount).

One of my favorite duos to play with was Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis. Together they were an extremely fast, ball swiping, sharpshooting combination that could be unstoppable if used correctly. They could also be destroyed by a duo that featured a well-rounded point forward or anyone that was paired with Hakeem Olajuwon.

I’m not sure if the game developers intended for this to happen or not, but the unrealistic arcade game actually portrayed Golden State’s backcourt very accurately. Fast, fun to watch, explosive at times, but ultimately not good enough against someone who could use the Heat, Thunder, Clippers, Spurs, or The Rainmakers (especially the duo of Steve Nash/Larry Bird).

In real life there were more problems for the Warriors that resulted in the Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut swap last March. Larry Riley, Golden State’s GM at the time, realized that the team was in desperate need of a post presence on both sides of the ball to complement David Lee’s hollow stat-stuffing ways on offense and weak defensive effort, but more importantly he and the rest of the front office knew that the Curry-Ellis experiment hadn’t worked out as planned.

Between injuries (Curry missed 22 of the 202 games when he and Ellis were together, Monta missed 21. The injuries did not overlap.), a poor record (79-123 in almost two a half seasons together), and the fact that both players needed to play the role of point guard, meant that one had to go. Even though multiple ankle injuries destroyed his 2011-12 season, Curry was selected to be the point guard of the future for the Bay Area beloved Warriors.

It couldn’t have worked out better for both.

At first it was odd to see Monta Ellis walk out onto the same court with a man in an oversized deer costume running around because Ellis’ look oozed Southern California, but his style of play was something the quiet, small market Bucks desperately needed. There was/has been one problem though. Brandon Jennings is playing the role that was formally cast by Curry.

Beyond the simple fact that Jennings NEEDS to have the ball in his hands if he’s going to get on one of his hot streaks (something that’s few and far between anymore), Jennings isn’t anywhere near as efficient as Curry. Jennings’ career PER is 16.4, Curry’s 18.8. Curry also trumps Jennings in career true shooting percentage, .496 to .584.

As the trade deadline approached in February, rumors swirled that Jennings could be shipped out (with Dallas as the rumored landing spot), but that never came to fruition. Instead the Bucks front office made a very smart decision by adding J.J Redick to the backcourt rotation in the 11th hour of deadline day. A dangerous small ball lineup of Jennings-Ellis-Redick-Ilyasova could now launch and unconscious amount of threes a la Houston. More importantly the trade for Redick gave head coach Jim Boylan the chance to let Jennings or Ellis act as a true point guard when Redick plays the 2.

On Wednesday night the Rockets were up six with a little over four minutes to play before the Ellis/Redick backcourt chipped away at the lead, which led to Clyde Drexler having a moment of disbelief:

In the Bucks two wins this week (Dallas, Houston), Monta has been vintage Monta: 17-41 (.41 FG%), 4-11(.36 3FG%), 11-16 (.68 FT%), 49 points, 9 rebounds, 22 assists, 12 steals. Kia might as well give him and his former teammate the conference player of the week awards now.

In 48 hours Curry has shredded nets in four different baskets, embarrassed George Hill and Tyler Hansbrough, and provided us with one of the most impressive individual shot charts of the season:

Per NBA.com
Per NBA.com

The right wing has been Curry’s hot zone this season, he’s made 72 of 128 shots from that area. Amazingly the 56.25% number is the highest percentage on his shot chart. So not only is it his best area, but it’s where the majority of his three point attempts come from.

Here is Curry’s full shot chart for this season:

Per NBA.com
Per NBA.com

Now look at his shot chart from the ‘10-‘11 season  (Curry played 77 games):

Per NBA.com
Per NBA.com

Due to the dual point guard nature of the Warriors backcourt when Ellis was still in town, it limited Curry’s ability to shoot from his favorite area on the court. Instead he took more corner threes, which isn’t a far from a bad thing, just ask Grantland’s Zach Lowe. Without Ellis dominating the ball at times it’s allowed Curry to expand his role and he has responded with the best season of his young career.

Having an all-star (David Lee), a hella fun to watch second year player (Klay Thompson), an intriguing rookie (Harrison Barnes), a sixth man of the year favorite (Jarrett Jack), and a coach of the year favorite (Mark Jackson) has understandably helped Curry blossom, but make no mistake about it, Curry is playing a level we haven’t seen since his senior year at Davidson (even though it wasn’t a true Cinderella story because if you followed college basketball that year it totally made sense that they made a run like that.)

Sure the case could easily be made that he should have been on the all-star team, but maybe that was the best thing that could have happened to Curry. Maybe it made him realize that he needed play just a little bit better if people were going to associate the Warriors turn around season with the rise of Stephen Curry. The only chink in Curry’s armor is that his team has lost 8 of 11 and now finds itself just 2.5 games from the eight seeded Houston Rockets with 24 games remaining.

Meanwhile the Milwaukee Bucks find themselves comfortably holding on to the eighth seed in an extremely weak Eastern Conference. Toronto appears to be the Bucks only threat due to the positive effect the Rudy Gay trade has had on the Raptors, but 6.5 games is a lot to make up when only 24 remain. Even though Jennings is likely to leave via free agency, the Bucks still have an interesting nucleus (Ellis, Riddick, Ilyasova, Larry Sanders), the question is, will they fill their cap room with someone like Josh Smith this offseason, or sign a couple of one year rentals and save the room for the ridiculous 2014 free agent class.

Together the duo of Curry and Ellis was just a fun experiment on an arcade game. Separate, the two point guards are poised to lead their respective intriguing teams to the playoffs this season and to (likely) first round exits, but still it’s better than not making them at all. Who knows Golden State could stun the Clippers (17% chance) or the Nuggets (42% chance) in the first round and Milwaukee mig…

Follow me @ScottDargis


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