Now Monta Ellis

Posted on April 17, 2008 by


Last summer the sportswriters named Monta Ellis as the Most Improved Player of 2006-07.  In response to this selection, I wrote the following column:

Not Monta Ellis

The title pretty much summarizes the argument.  If you look at the numbers – and I mean at more than points scored per game – it would be hard to argue that Ellis was the most improved player last year.  Of the seven candidates I examined last summer, Ellis was the least improved. 

What about this year?

Table One reviews the first three years of Monta Ellis playing NBA basketball. 

Table One: The First Three Years of Monta Ellis

When we look at Ellis in year one and year two, we see modest improvement overall.  Much of this was driven by increases in shooting efficiency.  With respect to rebounds, turnovers, and personal fouls, Ellis actually declined.  Despite these numbers, though, Ellis still took home the MIP award.

One could argue that sportswriters don’t look at all these numbers in handing out these awards. But perhaps that view is too harsh.  Maybe the sportswriters are just looking into the future. 

From year two to year three, Ellis has taken a major step forward.  Again, shooting efficiency has improved.  But he has also improved with respect to rebounds, turnovers, and personal fouls.  When we turn to Win Score per 48 minutes [note: this is not WP48, but the simple model per 48 minutes], we see that Ellis has improved from a mark of 5.5 – which is below average for a shooting guard – to 9.8.  In other words, Win Score per 48 minutes has increased by 4.3.

The season just ended last night, so I have not had time to look at every player (hope to get to that this weekend).  But let’s compare the leap we see in Monta’s numbers to what we see from Hedo Turkoglu. 

Why Turkoglu? asked 20 NBA experts to choose the Most Improved Player in the NBA.  Nine different players received one vote, but only Hedo Turkoglu was named by more than three experts. In all, Turkoglu received nine votes.  So, one could argue that Turkoglu is the front-runner for this award.

Table Two: Turkoglu for MIP?

Turkoglu’s numbers this year are a step up from what he did in 2006-07.  With respect to everything except steals and turnovers, Turkoglu offered more in 2007-08.  One should note, though, that 2006-07 was Turkoglu’s worst season as a pro.  If we compare Turkoglu in 2007-08 to his career numbers prior to this season, we don’t see as big a leap.  Whereas his Win Score per 48 minutes increased by 3.5 from 2006-07 to this season, the difference is only 2.1 when you compare Turkoglu this year to his prior career number (and the leap is only 1.8 if you excluded 06-07 from his prior career number).

Yes, Turkoglu has improved.  But is he the Most Improved? 

Again, I haven’t looked at everyone.  But I think you could argue that Monta Ellis has improved more than Turkoglu.  Certainly Ellis has taken a bigger leap forward in Win Score per 48 minutes.  And yet Ellis has received no support in voting for this award.

Of course, I think Ellis is not actually eligible.  At least, it would be odd to say that the same player is the Most Improved two years in a row. 

I should close by emphasizing that the numbers do not say Ellis is the MIP two years in a row.  The numbers indicate he was not the MIP last year.  But in 2007-08, he might have a legitimate case (then again, maybe when I look at all the eligible players the case might fall apart).  Unfortunately the sportswriters – who must have known Ellis was about to take a major leap forward (note sarcacm) – can’t really give him the award this year.  I wonder how much it would cost, though, to scratch out 2006-07 and put 2007-08 on his trophy from last year?

– DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.