Scouting Monta: Beneficial to Kobe?

J.M. Poulard —  January 6, 2012

Earlier this week, Darius did a terrific job of asking whether the team should in fact run its offense through Kobe when both Pau and Bynum were more productive and more efficient in their scoring opportunities. But then, as if to respond to the ongoing debate about his shot selection against the Nuggets, Kobe had this to say:

“If you mean (to ask me) if I’m going to shoot less, the answer is no. It starts with me. I do what I do and we play off of that. That’s not going to change.”

In other words, we shouldn’t expect anything to change as far as how the Lakers run their offense. When Kobe was in his prime, he could easily get away with such an outlook given his immense athletic gifts. Indeed, Bryant was at the peak of his physical form and thus could blow by defenders and consistently finish at the rim regardless of those that got into his path to deter him.

But the Kobe Bryant of today has to pick his spots with respect to when to attack the basket. He is not always able to consistently get to the rim because he is a bit slower now and thus defenses rotate in time to thwart his attempts. According to Hoopdata, Kobe is averaging 3.1 shot attempts at the rim so far this season, his lowest figure since they began tracking the stat in 2007.

But the biggest area of concern in Kobe’s game so far this season has to be his undying love in his jump shot. It’s one thing when the Lakers star is scorching hot and just cannot seem to miss; but it’s completely different when the face of the franchise just keeps firing away jumpers that do not seem like they have a chance to go in.

At some point, one would think that he would change his approach and attack the basket and see if he can’t get a few foul calls to put himself at the free throw line. And if that fails, well perhaps it’s time to rely on teammates with favorable matchups.

Enter Monta Ellis.

Last week, in a game against the New York Knicks, Monta Ellis played like he felt he needed to compensate for Stephen Curry’s absence (he missed the game with an ankle injury). He took terrible shots and tried to get the offense going by himself but kept failing to produce. And then at the 8:03 mark of the third quarter, Warriors head coach Mark Jackson sat his leading scorer for the remainder of the period.

The end result was that when Ellis was inserted back into the game at the start of the fourth quarter, he played differently. He noticed that when the Warriors actually ran their offense and shared the ball, they got some terrific looks. Thus, Monta shifted his game and became the team’s point guard, and he was masterful at the position against the Knicks. He ran the pick-and-roll with David Lee throughout the entire quarter and either scored or assisted on 25 of the Dubs 28 fourth quarter points.

A few days later, Golden State traveled to Phoenix to play the Suns. With Stephen Curry only playing 23 minutes due to foul trouble, Ellis once again switched his game up and became a playmaker instead of a scorer. When the Suns, trapped him, he spoon-fed the likes of Kwame Brown, Dominic McGuire and Ekpe Udoh for a few easy baskets. He also found Klay Thompson for a few open looks.

And yet, if we made a poll asking player was the better and smarter playmaker between Kobe and Monta, Bryant would win in a landslide. And rightfully so.

Ellis has often been labeled as a gunner, only interested in getting his points regardless of the outcome for his team. But if we look at the numbers, they will paint a different picture for this season.

Heading to the matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night, Kobe Bryant had attempted 173 shots in seven games while Monta Ellis had taken 102 in six games. And, according to Synergy Sports, Kobe has spent a larger share of his time in isolation situations (35.2 percent of his field goal attempts) in comparison to Monta (29.7 percent of his attempts).

This in of itself is not necessarily troubling mind you; it’s not uncommon for scorers to spend a large chunk of their offensive possessions trying to breakdown their defender in one-on-one situations, especially when the shot clock is set to expire.

The area of concern in this case isn’t necessary the volume of shots (although it could be occasionally) but rather the shot selection.

Synergy Sports tells us that Kobe Bryant is at his most effective when attempting field goals coming off screens and as the pick-and-roll ball handler. Indeed, his shooting percentages in those respective situations are 65 percent and 57.1 percent so far this season; which are incredibly high figures. Mind you, the Lakers’ guard has attempted 62 shots out of isolation situations (converting 30.6 percent of those attempts) versus a combined 48 shots out of the pick-and-roll and coming off of screens.

Monta Ellis is a little bit different on this front. He has attempted 30 shots out of isolation situations so far this season and has posted a respectable 36.6 percent accuracy rate from the field in those situations. Nonetheless, he has displayed a little more variety and attacked defenses from different spots.

So far, Monta’s best scoring opportunities have come mostly via isolations, pick-and-rolls and fast breaks. Thus, the bulk of his shot attempts have come out of these scenarios. His pick-and-roll field goal percentage is on par with his isolation figure as a result they have tried to get him to take the majority of his shots in both situations.

On the season, Ellis has attempted 30 shots out of isolations and 26 out of the screen-and-roll action. In addition, he has gotten 14 scoring opportunities in transition.

The number of attempts may not be an eye-popping figure, but the Warriors’s guard has shown the ability to put a little bit of diversity in his game. The end result is that Ellis is less predictable than some other high-scoring guards, and he also gets more opportunities to get his teammates going because defenses have to focus more attention on him given all of the movement he does with and without the ball.

Make no mistake: Kobe Bryant is clearly the better player by virtue of talent, production, accomplishments and experience. Nonetheless, an argument can be made that Monta Ellis has played smarter so far this year, and I’m not sure this sentence would have ever been uttered in seasons prior.

Thus, when the Lakers and Warriors play head-to-head on Friday night, the contrast may in fact be well evident in their games as both players take completely different approaches on how they play the shooting guard position.

The Lakers will never wish they had Monta instead of Kobe, but there may be nights where they wonder if they would be better off with Kobe taking a page from the Monta book…

J.M. Poulard