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Monta Ellis nabbed his third career player of the week award, but his most recent big scoring night ended in all-too-familiar fashion: with a loss. Looking through the evidence, we ponder whether Monta's scoring is all its cracked up to be, or if his partner in crime Brandon Jennings might have something to do with it.
The week of Christmas ended with a thud for the Bucks, but Monta Ellis' efforts didn't go unnoticed. A night after his 30 points and nine assists were spoiled by a last-second miss in Detroit, Ellis was named Eastern Conference player of the week for his efforts against the Nets, Heat and Pistons.
It's been an eventful week for Ellis, whose 21.3 ppg, 8.3 apg and 4.0 spg paced the Bucks on the court--numbers which by the way don't include the 37 points he posted nine days ago in the Bucks' disappointing home loss against the Cavaliers. And as if his offensive exploits weren't enough, Alex also served up some interesting analysis showing that Ellis' supposedly awful defense hasn't prevented the Bucks from defending the shooting guard position better than any other team in the NBA. Apparently everything is coming up Monta these days, eh?
Speaking of which, I'm guessing voters didn't factor in the meme-worthy self-assessment Ellis offered up for FS Wisconsin's coverage of Saturday's encounter with the Heat. In case you missed it, this is where the facepalm-worthy phrase "Monta Ellis have it all" originated--from none other than Monta himself.
Which raises an interesting question: why have Ellis' best nights so often come in games that the Bucks lose? Including Sunday, the Bucks dropped to just 1-4 in games that Ellis has scored 30+ points this season, and his seasonal splits are virtually identical in wins and losses. All of which might set off memories of Michael Redd's penchant for coming away a loser in his biggest scoring nights--most notably his franchise-record 57-point outburst against the Jazz and his 52-point night against the Bulls.
But the Bucks' inability to win when Ellis shines doesn't seem to mesh with the usual theories about why dominant scoring isn't always all it's cracked up to be. For one, Ellis' big games have been pretty efficient: 64/125 from the field in aggregate, 27/33 from the line and 58% true shooting overall. You'd expect his numbers to be good when cherry-picking his best games, and they are. Ellis has also averaged 5.8 apg in those games, so scoring more hasn't prevented him from setting up teammates at a rate slightly above his season average (5.6 apg). He's also turned it over at a higher rate (3.6 per game), but nothing too out of whack given his higher usage in those games. And while you could certainly argue that Ellis being hot might lead to too many ill-advised jumpers with the game on the line, I'd offer a simple counterargument: do you really think Monta would pass in those situations if he wasn't having a good game? Say what you will about Ellis' jump shot, but his confidence has never suffered from inconsistency.
The not-so-dynamic duo
So while it might be fashionable to conclude otherwise, I just don't see the Bucks' struggles in Ellis' best games as evidence of Monta the Irredeemable. There's other evidence for that, namely the poor scoring efficiency he's posted year after year, but if we're going to rag on Ellis we might as well do it for the right reasons. And if we want to know why the Bucks have lost when Ellis has shined, we should probably start with Brandon Jennings.
In the five games in which Ellis has scored 30+ this season, Jennings has been almost impossibly bad: 23.0% shooting (17/74), 9.2 ppg, and 5 apg. So basically any benefit from Ellis scoring effectively has been more than offset by Jennings' struggles. But I'd again warn against confusing causation and correlation. Is there something about Ellis playing well that makes it hard for Jennings to do the same? Ellis isn't the one missing 77% of his shots, so again I'll absolve him of practical blame. In fact, Jennings' 14.8 shots in those games is only slightly under his seasonal average, so it's not like Brandon's been been prevented from finding a rhythm.
What it does suggest is that Jennings is as wildly erratic as ever, and for the fourth time in as many seasons there have been more bad shooting nights than good ones. The issue isn't so much Jennings' scoring drop (17.6 ppg this year vs. 19.1 last year), but that he's taken a step back from his already-mediocre scoring efficiency in spite of shooting less. Both his raw fg% and true shooting percentage have dropped by 2% this season, which given his high usage rate has made it that much more difficult for the Bucks to score points effectively.