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Martin vs Monta, Again

Here's a snip from J.A. Adande's chat on yesterday. (Emailed in from a reader; link will be added when it gets added to Adande's archives.)

Phil, San Francisco: Hey JA, good to be in the Lounge. A couple of buddies and I are having a debate and I wanted your input: who is the better player today, Monta Ellis or Kevin Martin?

J.A. Adande: I'm really liking Ellis. He's the motorcycle on that Warriors team. I like how he's adapted to playing alongside Baron. I just think he creates more than Martin.

Adande knows basketball, and I like his writing. But he's misguided on this one.

Monta Ellis is a very good player, one of the best young guards in the league... as is Kevin Martin. Both excel on offense. Luckily for us, offense is rather easy to measure. In fact, the particular argument Adande uses -- that Ellis creates more than Martin -- can be measured.

John Hollinger's usage rate measures the number of possessions used, adjusted for minutes and team pace. Ellis has a usage rate of 19.3 this season, #28 among all 65 shooting guards. (Shooting guards and point guards tend to have the highest usage rates.) Ellis is wedged between John Salmons and Juan Carlos Navarro on the list. Martin's usage is about 20% higher than Ellis', at 23.8. He sits between Richard Hamilton and Jason Richardson.

So clearly, Martin has a bigger part in his team's offense than Ellis.

You can create scoring possessions in three real ways: create your own shot, draw a shooting foul, or get an assist. Does Ellis hold an advantage in any of these skills?

  1. Create your own shot: Ellis takes 14.9 FGAs per 40 minutes; 54% of his makes are assisted. Martin takes 16.7 FGAs per 40 minutes; 53% of his makes are assisted. Martin creates his own shot more often than Ellis.
  2. Draw a shooting foul: Ellis takes 5.5 FTAs per 40 minutes; Martin takes 10.0 FTAs per 40 minutes.
  3. Get an assist: Ellis averages 3.7 assists per 40 minutes; Martin averages 2.0 assists per 40 minutes.
Ellis gets 1.7 more assists per 40 minutes than Martin, which theoretically leads to 3 extra points. Through his own shots, Ellis scores 19.7 points per 40 minutes. Martin scores 26.2 points per 40 minutes. Those three extra points by way of bonus assists don't exactly make up the difference.

And we're just taking about shot creation, which was Adande's go-to argument for Ellis over Martin. Never mind that Martin is the vastly superior shooter (Martin is #3 among SGs with a .618 True Shooting percentage; Ellis is #16 with a .570 TS%), a better rebounder (#17 among SGs in rebound rate; Ellis is #43), and essentially even in turnover ratio (despite being responsible for more possessions).

This is how John Hollinger's PER rankings for shooting guards go, as of today:

#1  Manu Ginobili, 25.1 PER
#2  Kobe Bryant,   24.7 PER
#3  Dwyane Wade,   22.9 PER
#4  Kevin Martin,  22.3 PER
#5  Allen Iverson, 21.5 PER
#12 Monta Ellis,   17.4 PER

Again, Ellis is a very good young guard. I'd be ecstatic if Geoff Petrie found a way to acquire him. But Martin is damn near elite.

This isn't to say Ellis couldn't end up better than Martin someday; Monta is 22 years old, after all. (Martin turns 25 in a week.) But that, of course, would require Martin to stop improving. Which he hasn't done yet.

I know Adande doesn't mean to disrespect Martin, but his argument is indicative of the general sentiment out there regarding our star. He's an elite shooter (#11 in NBA in TS%) and an elite scorer (#6 in per-game and per-minute scoring), and he's no worse a defender than, say, Amare Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer or Michael Redd. But unless you pay attention to the Kings or follow the (generally) supportive blogosphere, you wouldn't know it. Some day, when he's doing on the big stages, they'll figure it out.