PHILADELPHIA — Warriors fifth-year guard Monta Ellis has thrown his name into the All-Star mix with an explosive start to the season. He's averaging 24.7 points and 5.2 assists per game, both career highs.
He's doing it with an electrifying style of play, based on his speed and ability to get to the rim. He's doing it without much help, as the Warriors' predominantly young squad has been plagued by injuries. And he's doing it despite the fact he's just 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds.
"Allen Iverson was a little smaller," Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose said, "but Monta definitely reminds you of him. (Ellis) gets up a little higher, but they've got a lot of the same moves. They're real clever with the ball even though you know which direction they're going."
Ellis' dominant play is reminding some of perhaps the greatest small player of all time. Ellis and Iverson will face off today as the Warriors visit the Philadelphia 76ers.
Iverson — who spent his first 10-plus NBA seasons in Philadelphia before being traded to Denver, then Detroit — made his second debut with the 76ers a week ago today. He, by most accounts, isn't the Iverson of his prime. And he doesn't think Ellis is, either.
"I don't think he's the next AI," Iverson said. "I think he's the first Monta Ellis. He can do so many things I can't do: as far as the way he jumps. He's super fast, real aggressive. He can do a lot of things on
Iverson is a 10-time All-Star and was the league MVP in the 2000-01 season. While averaging a league-high 31.1 points per game, Iverson led Philadelphia to the 2001 NBA Finals without a co-star, surrounded by a few solid complementary pieces.
The Warriors traded away Jason Richardson and Stephen Jackson and elected not to re-sign Baron Davis, giving Ellis the keys to the franchise.
Meanwhile, injuries to Andris Biedrins, Ronny Turiaf, Kelenna Azubuike and Brandan Wright this season have left Ellis with inexperienced talent and a few veterans past their prime. But Ellis has responded by taking his game to new heights.
"I think Monta is an excellent young player," said Joe Dumars, the Pistons president of basketball operations. "Monta has the ability to score in bunches. He's one of the top young guards in the league."
Ellis is doing more than scoring, though.
Much like Iverson, who averaged more than 41 minutes per game in nine consecutive seasons, Ellis is showing durability — which is an added twist considering he played just 25 games last season after left ankle surgery.
Ellis leads the league in minutes per game (41.0). Five times this season, Ellis has played all 48 minutes. According to the Warriors, the last player to accomplish such a feat was Iverson, who did it during the 2005-06 season.
Ellis is also second in the league in steals at 2.4 per game (Boston point guard Rajon Rondo leads the league at 2.6). Perhaps more impressive, Ellis defends the opponent's best perimeter player, whether that's Oklahoma City small forward Kevin Durant or Phoenix point guard Steve Nash.
Still, despite the development of other aspects of his game, Ellis is dropping jaws around the league with his scoring ability.
"He's explosive, he's quick, he's strong, he can spin-dribble," 76ers coach Eddie Jordan said. "He can get what he wants to get. He has a nice midrange game. He has a nice 3-point shooting range game. He's just an aggressive scorer. He's got quickness, power and explosiveness and he loves to get to the rim."