The early returns weren't overly encouraging.
Odds for the future seem stacked against them.
Most evidence, be it statistical, anecdotal, astrological, anything, would suggest the Bucks' backcourt combination of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis is capped at "entertainingly mediocre". With Jennings looking more and more like a fixture in Milwaukee's future, the biggest question mark, perhaps on the entire roster, remains Monta Ellis. Will he sign an extension with the Bucks? Do the Bucks want him to sign an extension? Should they?
These questions are vital for the future of the organization, which remains in flux at its very core. So has Ellis shown, in his limited time with the team, any signs of long-term potential for success? The metaphor suggests that even sightless rodents manage to locate food from time to time, so there must be some examples of effective play from Monta.
In fact, there are a few to choose from. Admittedly not a huge selection, but flashes of brilliance scattered among lesser showings. Familiar story, huh? In the first of this two-part series, we'll pick the best game of Monta Ellis's brief career in Milwaukee. Then in part two, we'll identify what he and his teammates did well, in the hopes of finding some ray of hope that such success can not only be found, but harnessed and replicated.
The usual stuff. You know, the sort of things Ellis was acquired to provide: top-option scoring, playmaking, etc. But we're looking for the right kind of production, too. Efficiency is key, as is a solid, sustainable gameplan. Sinking a bunch of long jumpers is great as it happens, but it's not a reliable way to help your team night-in-and-night-out. Good distribution is a big plus, especially with the Bucks playing so many minutes without a true "pure" point guard. Defense, while tough to really quantify in a single game, should at least be passable.
March 27: Bucks 108, Hawks 101 - 33 pts, 8 ast, 4 reb, 15-24 FG (Hoopdata Box Score)
Ellis's breakout game in Milwaukee after a series of underwhelming contests, the Bucks' home win over Atlanta finally showcased Monta in the role he was intended to fill: primary scorer, closer, playmaker, everything. According to MySynergySports.com, Ellis's 1.14 points per possession was his second-highest as a Buck. Monta made all five of his shot attempts at the rim and went 5-8 on long jumpers. The 8 assists versus 3 turnovers were nice, and it's worth noting that only 5 of his own makes were assisted. Defensively, it's worth noting that nobody in the Hawks' backcourt had an outstanding game, though Jeff Teague did score 15 points on 8 shots. Another positive? While Ellis scored and distributed, Brandon Jennings turned in a tidy performance, tallying 18 points on 13 shots. This game is brought down a bit by the jumper-heavy shooting line, though.
April 4: Bucks 107, Cavaliers 98 - 30 pts, 8 ast, 5 reb, 15-25 FG (Box Score)
In baseball, "closing" may or may not be a construct invented by Billy Beane to exploit market inefficiencies by trading relievers with artificially inflated values. In basketball, it may or may not be a convenient way to describe a player's ability to do the same thing he's supposed to do all the time, just in much more deliberate (and selfish) fashion. Whatever it is, Ellis did it against the Cavs, scoring 16 of his 30 points in the final 5 minutes of the game. Cleveland played without Kyrie Irving and, in all honesty, shouldn't have even been close. But they were, so Ellis took it upon himself to make sure the Bucks didn't give this one away. Once again, a smooth stroke from mid-range boosted Ellis's final line as he made 9-15 shots between 10 and 23 feet. And once again, his scoring and distributing opened the door for a nice game by Jennings, who went for 19 and 4 with 4 steals. No basket was prettier than this Ellis-to-Jennings alley-oop, one of his five assists within 10 feet of the rim. However, at 1.03 PPP, this was the least efficient performance of the four, dragged down a bit by five turnovers.
April 11: Knicks 111, Bucks 107 - 35 pts, 10 ast, 6 reb, 14-25 FG (Box Score)
Monta's highest raw scoring output with Milwaukee, and his third highest from all of last season, came in this critical loss to the Knicks. That his team faltered in a must-win game at home against a squad they were battling for a playoff spot dulls the sheen on this one, but there's not much Ellis could have done better. 10 assists, including five at the rim, and 4 steals to offset 5 turnovers. His 6 rebounds were tied for second-most on the team. It was just a colossal performance, even if it couldn't carry the Bucks to victory. Nobody else had a particularly strong game for Milwaukee, but it's tough to blame Ellis too much for dominating the offense. He won't go always go 3-7 from behind the arc, but you'd always prefer a higher volume of shots from that distance than his typical long-2 domain. Combined with a perfect 6-6 at the rim, it was better shot makeup, though he still took too many mid-range jumpers. In the end, the final score is probably the biggest knock on this otherwise excellent performance.
April 18: Wizards 121, Bucks 112 - 31 pts, 6 ast, 3 reb, 14-25 (Box Score)
Another big line for Ellis in an unsightly loss for his team. The box score wasn't quite as stuffed as some of the other choices, but it was the third-highest PPP of his time in Milwaukee, thanks primarily to a minuscule 10.4 turnover rate. Bad news? He took 15 shots beyond 15 feet but made only 6 of them. And while I'm not the biggest fan of counterpart-based defensive metrics, but it's probably fair to hold part of Jordan Crawford's monster scoring burst (32 points on 17 shots) against Ellis. But on the other hand, his distribution was terrific: his assist total seems modest, but all six came either at the rim or behind the arc, the sign of effective plays and active court vision. Monta recorded three steals and two blocks for good measure.
While the sheer volume of production from Ellis against New York is tough to ignore, his breakout against Atlanta takes the crown for me. Balancing his own production against an impressive team effort, Ellis orchestrated an efficient performance for himself and his most important teammate: Brandon Jennings.
Plus, breaking down a loss in part two would just be too depressing.
How about the rest of you folks? Cast your vote for Monta Ellis' top Bucks performance!