Young Monta has stepped up when Warriors needed boost
By Geoff Lepper,
02/24/2008 02:35:43 AM PST
OAKLAND — When it comes to Golden State's roster, the mantle of Most Valuable Player belongs to Baron Davis. But Davis has the ability to opt out of his contract this summer, and if he departs, that title — along with the attendant pressure to come up with game-winning shots on command — might fall on the shoulders of a 22-year-old who would have been a junior at Mississippi State this season, had he chosen that route.
Monta Ellis may be the NBA's reigning Most Improved Player, but can he take over as Golden State's MVP?
"We all know he can make the (last-second) shot," Warriors guard Kelenna Azubuike said. "He's made a lot of big shots for us, and he has been that guy. When we've run plays for him at the end (of games), he has hit the big shots."
Said assistant coach Keith Smart: "In terms of taking that final shot, Baron has done it before. Monta is coming along. He's developing at the right pace and doing it the right way."
Ellis' improvements — he's averaging a career-high 18.9 points per game on 52.7 percent shooting for the season, numbers that have jumped to 25.7 and 58.9 over his last 13 contests — might be accelerating that timetable.
In the Warriors' 105-102 come-from-behind victory over the Sacramento Kings on Feb.9, it was Ellis' 16 points in the fourth quarter that made the comeback possible. And with Davis on the bench having fouled out, it was Ellis' 18-foot jumper that put Golden State up by four points
with 12.9 seconds to go.
"My time will come," Ellis said. "I'm just waiting my turn. ... We've got a lot of guys who can take and hit (critical) shots. If it's me, I'm going to have the confidence to try to knock it down."
Ellis is certainly concerning others. For weeks, the 6-foot-3, 177-pounder has been the Warriors' response to ever-present slow starts, taking over the ball-handling duties and quickly slashing through the lane to provide eight, 10 or 12 points and thus salvage the opening period.
"Sometimes, I'll be looking at the (scoreboard), and it'll say, 'Ellis has scored 12 of the last 14,' and I'll be like, 'Did he?'" Warriors center Patrick O'Bryant said. "You start counting it up in your head, and it's like, 'I'll be damned, he did.' He does it so fast, and he's so quiet about it."
Ellis is at his most highlight-worthy when he's streaking downcourt as the Warriors' one-man breakaway, but that's not what impresses Warriors swingman Stephen Jackson.
"The best thing about his game right now is, he's scoring a lot in the half-court offense," Jackson said. "It's not just fastbreak points. And that's why his level has turned up. He's scoring a lot in one-on-one (situations), and can't too many guys stay in front of him."
The key to stopping Ellis might be to apply counterintuitive defensive principles. Teammate Austin Croshere pointed out that where most foes will lie back, taking advantage of Ellis' lack of 3-point range to afford themselves extra moments of reaction time, that just gives him more room to gather up a head of steam.
And once that happens, it's lights out.
Now comes the work on the mental aspects of being a team leader. And Smart pointed out one play from the Warriors' 119-117 win over Boston on Wednesday to illustrate how Ellis still has areas to improve.
The Warriors held a two-point lead with 28.7 seconds remaining and gave the ball to Ellis at the top of the key. But instead of retaining possession and firing at the rim with the shot clock about to expire — a move that would have given Boston less than 5 seconds to navigate the length of the court — Ellis passed off to Matt Barnes, whose layup came up short with 12 seconds left, giving the Celtics a chance to tie the game.
Ellis was upset at Barnes, but Smart told Ellis it was Ellis' responsibility not to give a teammate the chance to make a rash decision.
"That's where the youngness of Monta (shows itself). He ran the play," Smart said. "You go back and you put Baron in that situation, he probably doesn't give the ball away."
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