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

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9 responses to Scouting Monta: Beneficial to Kobe?

  1. I don’t know if we really have to address that question after watching 10 games including the preseason. It’s not about going to Bynum/ Gasol or to Kobe. Offensively, we are still a good team however our “good” looks like it’s just an average in this league today. Lakers as a team whether Bynum/Gasol or Kobe et al have no answer to the offensive transition attack by opposing teams Clippers, Sacto, Bulls, Nuggets, Blazers etc or those iniquities on long ranged shooting Crawford, T. Evans, Aldridge, Butler, etc . On the contrary, this team has improved tremendously in perimeter shooting through remarkable contribution of Blake, Kapono and sometimes Murphy, compared to Brown and Odom.

    I guess it runs with athleticism similar to Olympics held every four years that each Olympic event has a different posture. A new breed of athletes always prop up, they run faster, jump higher and also stronger than former record holders. You can be the best up to certain time only but after that, there will always be someone better than you are in the long span of time.

    Therefore, there should always be seeding in the pipeline searching for new energy, new talent that replaces the older version.

  2. Another terrific game preview from J.M. and one that he has a unique perspective on, given his work on the Warriors World blog. I doubt he’s getting much sleep with the work he’s cranking out but then again I don’t think anybody’s getting much sleep – I keep thinking it’s Saturday instead of Friday, haha.

  3. Kobe doesn’t try to optimize his game within the flow of the team’s game. He tries to optimize the team’s game within the flow of his own game. While that was never the best way to do it (you could certainly make a good argument the other way in the Smush-Kwame years) Kobe, and the rest of the Lakers, were talented enough to do that and still compete at a very high level. That’s not the case anymore.

  4. I’m really baffled why Kobe doesn’t embrace the role of facilitator more. What star player has two better front court players than Bynum and Gasol? Why not emphasize assists over scoring, at least through the third quarter?

    Kobe’s footwork and ball handling (even with his hand injuries), and his size and court awareness, would allow him to rack up assists easier than any other player in the league. Moreover, doing this would certainly open up opportunties for Kobe himself as a scorer, when teams are forced to rotate their defenses to cover the scorers.

    I get that he’s the “Mamba” and all that nonsense, but the Lakers would be a better team (and one more likely to get him his 6th ring) if he took 10 fewer shots per game and picked up 6 more assists. I’m not looking for a triple double, but there’s no reason other than his own decisionmaking that Kobe can’t average a double double.

  5. It is a case of aging and his hand injuries making him less effective in isos. He simply can’t dribble or create space as well as he once did. These numbers just re-confirm what is said daily: the team needs a true PG. The Paul deal was a good idea, even with the downside risk. I bring that up because while I have many issues with Buss and Kupchak, they did try to deal with that problem. Kobe’s iso numbers reflect the problem.

    I think one basic problem with the Lakers is that Kobe, in addition to being the team’s best 2, is also its best 3 and its best 1. If that is true at his age, that means you have a roster problem.

    My only real issue with Kobe is that he is taking too many 3s. He is 7/37 through 8 games. That is 4.6 attempts per game–that figure should be at 2 or 3.

  6. 4)
    That’s like asking Shaq to shoot freethrows more accurately. That’s like asking Derek Fisher to be more athletic. That’s like asking Magic to score 30 a game. That’s like asking Gasol to play Center. Players have a certain talent. Kobe is a SG and not a PG. He also couldn’t play that kind of role anymore. He could have ten years ago broken down defenses and distributed to teammates. He doesn’t have that quickness anymore.

  7. @ Aaron: You took the words right out of my mouth. I am tired of everyone insisting that Kobe needs to change his game. With everything he has accomplished, it’s a shame for Laker fans not to be happy with the player he is, wanting him to reinvent the wheel in his 16th season.

  8. I don’t think anyone is telling kobe not to shoot 20 shots per game. BUT if you are hurt, and you are obviously not able to get to your spots like before. all people are asking is that you make the right basketball play. Theres no need to take a 20 ft fadeaway with two players on you if you can swing it and get a lay up. It’s all situational and unfortunately I think this is more of a macho complex then about winning. When kobe gets close to a triple double we are unstoppable when he takes 25+ shots tell me what the record is. No one is arguing kobe isn’t the best sg in the game or he isn’t the best player of his generation but kobe is taking it as people are trying to throw me off my perch. NO, people just want you to try to incorporate your very talented 7 footers a little more instead of relying on your fade away from the 3pt line. I would argue that if he passed a little more his teammates would get into more of a groove the opponent wouldn’t know what to expect and we’d be a better TEAM overall. how many times after kobe shoots a dumb shot does a player leak out and get an easy lay up? kobe is the best, but the best make the RIGHT play at the RIGHT time. the BEST make their teammates better as well. and this team doesn’t need kobe of old so instead of adjusting his game he’s asking 2 seven footers in THEIR prime to adjust their game and play away from the basket for him. it doesn’t make any sense. He doesn’t want to win he wants to win being the man and dominating everything and that’s just not right. I would argue he’d already have more rings then Jordan if he’d consistently play that way. But up until last year you can’t complain because we were winning and last year it didn’t work, the dude never even practiced with his teammates.