MILWAUKEE — Ask Monta Ellis about his career-low shooting percentage, and his answer will be simple. He’ll say that he’s getting his usual shots, that he just needs to knock them down.
Ellis is a scorer, so naturally he believes he can make just about any shot on the court, and he certainly has during his eight-year NBA career.
But as this season’s numbers continue to pile up, it is becoming clear how Ellis has to score in order for the Milwaukee Bucks to be successful. One of the most dangerous players in the league driving to the hoop, Ellis is hard to defend when he’s focused on that part of his game, like he was in 2007-08, when he shot 53.1 percent for the season.
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This season, on attempts closer than five feet from the basket, Ellis is a 55.8 percent shooter. He’s at 50.0 percent on shots from five to nine feet. The drop comes after that, with his accuracy falling to 32.4 percent on shots from 10 to 14 feet and 31.7 percent on shots 20 to 24 feet away from the basket.
A huge part of Ellis’ career-low 39.8 percent shooting is his struggles behind the arc. Ellis, a 46.1 percent career shooter, is 7 for 19 on three-pointers from the corner this season but just 8 of 47 on every other three-point shot. Back in 2007-08, when Ellis had his best shooting season, he took only 0.6 three-pointers per game. This season he’s shooting 3.3 per game.
As a guy who’s asked to create for himself and others, Ellis is going to have the inevitable tough attempts late in the shot clock, but surprisingly 69 percent of his shots have been taken with 15 or fewer seconds off the fresh 24.
“It’s the beginning of the season, it’s a long season,” Ellis said. “You go into slumps sometimes. You’ve just got to keep kicking at it. My teammates and the coaches have the confidence in me. I just have to keep shooting my way out of it.”
Since Ellis arrived in a trade with Golden State during the middle of last season, his teammates have seen his impact on the offense, even when shots aren’t falling. Ellis has proven to be an excellent passer, and he’s most successful doing that when he’s driving the lane or coming off the pick-and-roll.
“He’s such a good scorer that he draws a lot of attention,” Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute said. “If you get on the same page with him, as far as getting open, you can get a lot of good looks because he draws so many people and draws a lot of attention. He does a nice job of finding guys and finding the open player. He’s a good player.”
In Sunday’s victory over Brooklyn, Ellis was the efficient scorer Milwaukee needs him to be. The vast majority of his shots were high percentage, leading to a 24-point night while attempting just 13 shots.
Ellis followed that performance by dishing out 11 assists against Sacramento on Wednesday, constantly finding the open man under the hoop for a layup. Mbah a Moute was a big beneficiary, with nearly half of Ellis’ assists coming on his buckets.
“This goes back to last year,” Mbah a Moute said. “Every time I play with Monta, I kind of know his game and he kind of knows my game. He looks for me, and I look for him. I know when he drives, I know where he’s going to pass the ball and when he’s going to pass the ball. It goes back to last year, he’s a really good passer.”
And though Ellis certainly can help his cause by taking better shots, his ability to create for teammates is just as important. When he plays like he did against Brooklyn and Sacramento, impacting each game in different but useful ways, the Bucks will be successful.
“I was just doing whatever I could,” Ellis said. “The ball fell in my hands, and I made open plays to open guys. (I was) just playing basketball.”