Monta Ellis looked like a different player to most observers last night, but not to those of us who were watching him last year. He wasn’t playing in the shadow of Stephen Curry on opening night, and he wasn’t pitted against him by the fans and media, at least not yet anyway. Last year it was "Curry's team" as soon as the Warriors could print it and Monta was just taking up space. Monta was labeled a ball hog, gunner, volume shooter and whatever other selfish label you can think of. You can read one of those articles here. He was inefficient, a bad teammate and in the middle of trade rumors for the entire season. That last part might still be true, but if you were watching on Wednesday night you saw the same player that Monta was last year. This time, there was just a different script, but he was still the same performer on the court.
Monta Ellis posted a player efficiency rating (PER) of 45.2 in game one while scoring 46 on 18-24 shooting. The most points on opening night since Michael Jordan’s 54 points on November 3rd, 1989. He was a +9 while on the floor and gave the Houston Rocket defense fits in trying to guard him with their best defender, Shane Battier. This game was a coming out party for Monta and his new teammates. Ball movement and player movement were the hallmarks of the Warrior offense. There was no standing around for extended periods of time watching Monta Ellis try to create plays. Stephen Curry's 25 points and 11 assists fit perfectly with Monta's scoring, whereas last year his great performances just occurred next to Monta's as opposed to melding with his. New acquisition David Lee contributed 6 assists and 15 rebounds, numbers that were also missing from last year's movie that featured Monta running without purpose in the half court sets and tiring from playing too many minutes without breaks.
I bring this all up because not too long ago Kevin Durant was considered to be a bad "advanced stats" guy. Then, almost miraculously, he became great over night! Something must have changed within him, right? Durant has certainly grown as player, but hasn't his team as well? Now articles like this and this are written about him. He averages 30 points a game and that's it. Nowhere near his name will you see or hear the words ball hog or volume shooter. The fact of the matter is that both Durant and Monta had similar situations.
Kevin Durant played in a system that didn’t utilize his strengths his first year in the league. Then after a full training camp with new coach Scott Brooks, and a marked improvement from second year point guard Russell Westbrook, things started to click. Coincidentally, the same circumstances are starting to fall into place for the Warriors. Keith Smart is the new coach and has installed a true NBA offense, meanwhile Curry looks much improved in terms of controlling the tempo and game management. David Lee is the best power forward the Warriors have had since Chris Webber and thus, a far more seasoned version of the versatile Jeff Green. With two willing and great passers around him, how long will it be before Monta Ellis starts eating plus/minus for breakfast? Or, how long before others get their seats and realize, they were just late to the theater and the screen was blurry last season.