Plugging in Corey Maggette and Stephen Jackson in before Monta Ellis seemed so easy. Maggette could collect opponent fouls and single-handedly improve the Milwaukee Bucks free throw numbers. Jackson would move the ball, hit some threes and take it to the rack. Most importantly, he’d be that tough guy leader the team needed in the locker room.
Things didn’t work out in either occasion.
But that doesn’t mean we should give up on Ellis right away. Maybe he isn’t what makes the Bucks a title team, and maybe that drives me crazy, but he could possibly make them a better basketball team. So that’s something.
Ellis was primarily used as a pick and roll ball handler in Golden State. This wasn’t his biggest strength. He’s never had much of a feel for the point guard position. Last season I recall coach Scott Skiles referring to him strictly as a two guard. Fortunately for Ellis, in Milwaukee, two guards aren’t required to run the pick and roll quite as much.
I’m sure this will shift some to cater to Ellis’ needs, but he’ll likely get way more opportunities to spot-up, catch off cuts and out of the post. If Ellis has the opportunity to spot-up more, we could see his 3-point shooting percentage improve. He’s shooting just 21% on 3-pointers as the pick and roll ball handler but 46% on threes in spot-up situations.
I’m serious about the post stuff too. While he doesn’t have the size of Shaun Livingston, Ellis averages 1.07 points per possession this season in post up situations this season, good for fourth in the league. His strength, leaping ability and athleticism has done wonders for him against opposing guards. As they have with Livingston, Milwaukee will likely look to exploit that. (Thanks to @HPBasketball for making this video last night.)
I’m certain Ellis will get his share of opportunities in isolation as well. And if Ellis is isolating, driving and kicking, that could help Brandon Jennings quite a bit. Jennings is shooting 40% and 37% from 3-point range in spot-up situations this season.
Yes, they both get their shots. Ellis is averaging 19 shots per game, while Jennings is at 17. Unfortunately, they average just 21.9 and 19.1 points per game respectively, so neither is exactly the model of efficiency. But if they play off each other and the offense works to their strengths, there could be some opportunity for the two of them to work well together. Athletically, they give Milwaukee their quickest back court that I can remember and this is the most scoring power the Bucks have had since either Payton/Casell or Redd/Williams. They just have to harness it better.
Defensively this could be Skiles’ biggest challenge. Earlier this season he noted that guys with some of the biggest steals numbers aren’t very good defenders. Both Ellis and Jennings can be big steals guys, as both average 1.5 per game. Jennings has been gambling more than at any other point in his career it seems this season. Both have the ability to pick a ball handler, but they need to make sure they fight that urge as often as possible. There are some serious question marks all over the Bucks defensively right now.
The back court could be a disaster there, Carlos Delfino is getting killed pretty often this season and Drew Gooden has struggled. But Kwame Brown could make a positive impact simply by showing up. The Bucks have pretty much gone without a center since Bogut’s been out. If that makes a noticeable difference for even just Jennings and Delfino, it would be a boon for the team’s entire defense.
Defensive issues aside, I wouldn’t rule out Ellis and Jennings both improving with Monta’s arrival in Milwaukee. They have some strengths that could benefit the other quite nicely if things go right.
In Milwaukee, it’s tough to rely on that happening, but we can still hope.