Monta Ellis: How possible is an NBA comeback?

Before the advent of modern NBA analytics, Monta Ellis was once praised for his high-volume scoring. Can he find his way back into a league driven by efficiency and ball movement?

Once upon a time, Golden State Warriors fans enjoyed watching Monta Ellis drop dozens of points on opposing guards. A fan favorite, Ellis played with the grind you typically see out of a second round draft pick. He was not always destined to be a Warrior, however.

After using Stephen Curry as a conversation starter with the Milwaukee Bucks, former Warriors general manager Larry Riley found a trade partner for his other star guard. Ellis was shipped to Milwaukee, and Golden State started its ascent into NBA lore.

Where has Ellis been since his stint in Milwaukee? When his time with the Bucks was over, he signed with the Dallas Mavericks, where he averaged 19 points per game while shooting 44.8 percent from the field. This was good enough to earn him a $44 million deal from the Indiana Pacers over four years.

Ellis only made it two years into this deal before the Pacers used the stretch provision to waive him. Was this deserved? Perhaps so. Ellis saw his numbers drop significantly. During his two years in Indiana, Ellis averaged 11.3 points per game while hitting only 31.2 percent of his 3-pointers and shooting 43.3 percent from the field. Yet, he still has eyes on one more NBA contract.

Shams Charania and John Krawczynski of The Athletic reported that Ellis has been pursuing a comeback. Specifically, he seems to have an eye towards the Minnesota Timberwolves, as if they could use more guard play.

Where does Ellis fit within a Minnesota team featuring Tyus Jones, Jeff Teague, and Derrick Rose? Is he a better player than Derrick Rose at this point of his career? Perhaps it is best to ask what Ellis can even bring to an NBA team.

Let us begin by stating what Ellis is not. He is not a capable 3-point shooter, at least by current NBA standards. For his career he has shot only 31.4 percent from deep. In his last five seasons he shot only 30.2 percent on his triples while still taking 3.1 per game. Those are Marcus Smart-ian numbers, yet Ellis does not bring the defense Smart does.

Ellis has never been a defensive stalwart. Specifically, he owns a career defensive rating of 109 and has received his fair share of criticism on that end. To be fair, however, Ellis is quick in both hands and feet, which has resulted in plenty of steals. Regardless, type “Monta Ellis defense” into YouTube and you may not like what you see.

Still, Ellis has some qualities which should at least earn him a few NBA workouts. What could give him a fighting chance at agreeing to another deal? Despite his struggles from deep, Ellis shot 37.9 percent on corner 3-pointers over his last five seasons. The Pacers might have been keen to this, and drew up plays for Ellis to drain shots from the corner.

While these types of corner shooting numbers are not good enough to earn playing time with starters, Ellis could be the recipient of some second unit offense. Off the bench, Ellis and his reputable quickness could also take advantage of mismatches. Although his explosiveness has probably diminished over the years, his crossover may have remained fast.

This clip is from a couple years ago, so take it with the proverbial grain of salt. Ellis gets the bigger, slower Amir Johnson switched onto him and his killer instincts kick in. Watch as he beautifully sets up Johnson to fall for his lightning quick crossover before getting to the hoop.

If Ellis can do this for 10-15 minutes per game, and do it efficiently, he could have a puncher’s chance at getting a deal. Still, this is not too probable. At this stage of his career Ellis is most likely not going to turn around his defensive reputation.

His microwave scoring is nice, but just how many teams needs a 32-year-old guard who has been out of the league for a year? Monta Ellis may need to wait until some team gets bitten by the injury bug before he truly has a shot at returning to the NBA.