My Worst Take: The Warriors should have traded Stephen Curry instead of Monta Ellis

It's Daniel’s turn to make true confessions.

We’ve each been taking turns in the box to be flogged for Our Worst Takes. So far:

And now for your reading displeasure, we present Daniel Hardee’s (old) take that

The Warriors should have traded Stephen Curry instead of Monta Ellis.

Opening Statements

Daniel

I recall a decade ago when face of the franchise Monta Ellis was sharing the court with bright-eyed rookie Stephen Curry. They were both 6-foot-3 combo guards whose strengths (scoring off the dribble) seemed redundant, while their combined lack of size made them a liability on the defensive end.

Back in that time, Curry showed flashes of promise that were derailed by perpetual ankle injuries. Ellis, no stranger to a major ankle injury himself, was one of the scant few remnants of the magical We Believe team that the organization systematically dismantled.

So when the new ownership group led by Joe Lacob sent Ellis packing in a trade to Milwaukee, I was pretty depressed. It seemed like the franchise was continuing in the cycle I had known for all my life: get a good player like Mitch Richmond, Chris Webber, or Jason Richardson, or Gilbert Arenas, or Baron Davis…and then let them go without making the team better.

At the time, I surely thought Ellis was the known commodity, better player, and bigger alpha dog than Curry, and I was upset that Curry stayed while Ellis left.

Apricot

Hold on, in all of this well-written narrative, where is the part where we roast you for your crap take?  

Duby

Ok, wait. So just to confirm, at the time of the trade, you still thought Monta was better than Steph? I know this could open old wounds for the community, but the case for Monta was paper thin back then (it’s ridiculous now). How did you still hold Monta so high in your regard?

Discussion

Apricot

Sure Monta was lightning fast and sometimes the only watchable player on the court. And he could make very difficult shots. But he also could make shots difficult. After Mopedgate and his less-than-suave media greeting to rookie Steph, my feelings about him cooled.

Hold on, I think somebody or other made a great video about this. Oh yeah, it was you!

Daniel

Hey! My first viral video! Did you know I recorded this audio on my Playstation 4 microphone because my studio equipment was stolen? A story for another time...

Duby

For me it was when Nellie asked him to move to point guard, and Ellis was like “nah.”

This all came out a bit later, but reading Don Nelson’s words on trying to get Ellis to play the point is pretty much the reason why I was so sour on Monta:

As much as I love Monta I thought he was just - because of his size and not his ability - a 6-3 two guard its very hard to win with a small two guards in our league. When I first had him, I tried to get him to think more like a point guard if he could ever be a point guard. He did have the ability to pass. He does have that. He’s doing more of that now. But you know, a player has to be willing to see that and to do those things. His approach when he was younger was like a lot of guys. He’s not ready to do that. So he was going to be what he was.

Monta was great as a sixth man off the bench. That’s how I used him in 2k, and that’s how he spent the bulk of his career after leaving the Warriors. The problem is that if you are 6’2” and don’t play defense, don’t want to facilitate your team’s offense, and aren’t willing to develop those parts of your game, you are screwing your team. 

By the time the trade occurred, it was pretty clear that Steph was the future here. But even if Steph’s glass ankles weren’t going to last in the league, I felt like there was still more than enough evidence that Monta was never going to be anything more than a mediocre player that was fun to watch on offense. 

Daniel

“fun to watch on offense” wow way to undersell the man who has as many 40 point games as a Warrior as Kevin Durant!

Did you know that from the 1990 season until the 2020 season, the Warriors have had only four men average 25+ PPG for a season? Curry, Durant, Chris Mullin, and Monta freakin Ellis. Monta scored at volume that was historically rare for this franchise. He was the gunslinger who showed no fear against any opponent, which was pretty important for Warriors fans who were tired of being abused by the rest of the NBA.

He was unintimidated by that Oklahoma City Thunder team that went to the 2012 Finals with Durant, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook.

He went shot for shot with a legend of legends in Kobe Bryant.

Monta was a gamer who was worth the price of admission, a man who refused to quit on the franchise like we had seen other players do (ahem, Stephen Jackson). The Warriors had failed to retain all the other good guards they had during the 2000s, so I perceived his exit as yet another Golden State plan prematurely ended.

And the fact that Curry’s inconsistent health was hanging over the franchise made me wonder if the Dubs were just starting a new cycle of “good player who won’t last”.

Apricot

Yes, Monta’s peaks were dazzling and great entertainment. But even the eye test showed that the team hummed with Steph and not Monta. And the stats backed it up.

Let’s ignore defense (insert joke here), except to say that Steph’s defensive stats are better than Monta’s, and focus on offense. Here’s a chart of Offensive Box Plus Minus. This is an okay stat that is very good a measuring box score offense, which is a Monta strength.  Here is a chart of both their OBPMs. 

So notice Steph was better than Monta by this measure already from the three years they were together. And Monta was never again as good as he was in the years he was with Steph.

And let’s look at On-Off. This is how many points per possession the team gained while the player was on the court. Out of respect to Mr. Ellis, I’m not going to make a brutal chart, but just list his on-offs for the 2009-10 to 2011-12 seasons: -11.5, -7.1, +2.1. Sorry, those are indeed negatives, the team was much better with Ellis off most of the time. Steph’s on-offs: +2.1, +4.5, +11.0. Surely the team had a lot of similar statistics showing the team was just better off with Steph if one had to choose.  I yield the floor. 

Daniel

I literally had 0 idea these stats existed back in 2011 hahaha. I was just looking for Warriors who could entertain the Town and get buckets. Monta did that. And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only Monta stan in Dub Nation, especially if we look back at the hellacious booing owner Joe Lacob received after the trade. Peep the “We Want Monta” shout that drew an enthusiastic cheer over a long-suffering Mr. Lacob.

MONTA WAS A HERO IN THE BAY.

Duby

Hold on for a second there, pal! Did you just completely hand wave away a perfectly tight argument because it used a spreadsheet? How very Monta of you!

“I literally had 0 idea these stats existed back in 2011 hahah. I was just looking for Warriors who could entertain the Town and get buckets. Monta did that. And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only Monta stan in Dub Nation”

Ignorance of a law doesn’t mean the laws don’t apply (just try to tell a cop that pulls you over for speeding that you didn’t see the speed limit sign). The facts at the time were pretty clearly established that Monta wasn’t as beneficial on the court as Curry was - as a rookie. 

Now, this doesn’t need to be an indictment of Monta’s time here. Because I’m with you. I adored Monta (and still do), but I came to grips with the facts that he wasn’t an especially helpful basketball player a long time ago.

Daniel

*WAVES HANDS FURIOUSLY AT SPREADSHEETS WITH CHARTS AND GRAPHS*

I think you’re underselling the ineptitude of the organization over many years. Did we forget the way they broke up team after team, and shipped out so many fan favorites?

I was so broken by then as a fan and filled with resentment, it was going to be pretty hard for me to have faith in the team’s next plan after they just cast out one of the last vestiges of We Believe.

Whether or not Steph’s on/off blahdy blah was superior to Monta’s wasn’t as important to me then as to holding on to any good thing we had in Oakland. At the time, we didn’t have much to brag about in terms of our basketball.

Duby

I hear you, and I should admit that I probably side qualify for this worst take - I was upset about the trade because I thought we should have kept Ekpe Udoh… 

Apricot

And furthermore — wait what did you say?

(stunned silence)

(quietly backs away to the door, exits, slams door shut)

Duby

But the bottom line for me was that by this point we all knew (ok, most of us knew) that Monta was a ball dominant, inefficient scorer that was actively holding the team back. Look, I feel your pain, I’m pretty sure I cried actual tears when the Warriors traded Chris Gattling (along with some guy named Tim Hardaway). But after watching the post We Believe era, it was abundantly clear that Monta was only ever going to be an empty 20 points per game and nothing else. 

Remember that even back then, we all knew that Nellie had asked Monta to move to PG and been rejected - so it wasn’t like Monta was some dynamically evolving player that was going to get better somehow. 

The Final Arguments

Daniel

Let me ask Steph about Monta’s stature with the team.

“Monta was THAT GUY” -- Steph

Pardon me for being upset that the face of the franchise was traded after a history of the team not knowing what the hell they were doing. ANY MORE GRAPHS AND CHARTS FOR ME?

Also, clearly I was dead wrong. But that’s why this is called My Worst Take!

Apricot

By the way, I really liked this part of All The Smoke where Steph talked about how Monta had been supportive of him even when they were seen as being in competition (starts around 4:00)

It really bothered me, this idea that Monta wasn’t supportive, which I and many fans believed. 

But anyway, yes we can conclude that Daniel’s take came from a good heart, but an incorrect heart… a heart shaped like a tiny gnome wearing suspenders.

Duby

You know what else is funny about this? Like when an argument isn’t really about just one thing, but a bunch of little things set off? The entire Steph vs Monta debate was really an encapsulation of the battle that still rages to this day: eyeballs versus spreadsheets. A lot of the debate on Monta and Steph was about some fairly deep stuff - on off impacts, shooting efficiency rather than points. And Monta was a more established athlete. You gotta recall that back in the early years, Steph was extremely skinny and not known for athletically taking it to the rack like Monta.


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