by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford

The first time I saw Monta Ellis play basketball, he was a freshman at Lanier High School in Jackson, MS.

I moved to Jackson from Chicago during my senior year and spent my last five months of high school at Lanier. Needless to say, I’m “833″ all day, a Bulldog forMonta Ellis life, and over the years I’ve kept tabs on the goings on over there, especially when it comes to basketball.

During the time that I lived in Jackson, I saw a lot of good players come through the prep ranks, but Monta Ellis was better than all of them. He was GREAT. To this day I tell people he’s one of the two best high school scorers I’ve ever seen (the other was my teammate at Lanier who after graduation went to Georgetown and played with Allen Iverson). I’ve witnessed a lot of high school cats over the years who could fill it up, but none of them could do it quite like ‘Ta did it.

After putting up ridiculous numbers just a few games into his freshman year, the buzz that he had around town was so phenomenal that I had to check him out.

As I watched him play, it wasn’t the points that got my attention but the way he scored. His game was so smooth and so advanced that after about five minutes you could tell he was on another level entirely. He was using pro moves, stuff that you would see NBA players do, not 15-year-olds. Where most elite prep athletes use speed and athleticism to dominate, Monta had that, but he didn’t rely on it. He was technical with his; almost like he was practicing and preparing for something bigger.

I walked away from that game with the realization that Monta Ellis was a natural born scorer. He would continue to demonstrate that prowess for the remainder of his prep career and five years into his pro career, that’s exactly who he is today.

While a guy like myself can appreciate a player who can go off for 30+ on any given night, stat guys hate Monta. His game doesn’t fit into those neat little boxes they like to use to evaluate player performance. In fact, I read a scathing column by Noam Schiller recently that called Ellis “the epitome of inefficiency” among other things.

Look, I can’t in good conscious defend every game that Monta had because even though he averaged 25.5 ppg last season — taking 1,406 shots to go with a league-high 22 attempts per game — he had some pretty atrocious nights shooting the ball. But that’s basketball. It happens. Pure scorers are anything but efficient at times.

And for those who like to slap the “inefficient” or “shameless chucker” label on players like Ellis ad nauseam and say that he shoots a terrible percentage and his assist numbers are god-awful, I wonder if they’ve ever taken into consideration that Don Nelson’s offense is designed that way. His “green-light” system calls for whoever has the ball to fire away at any given moment.

It just so happens that playing out of position as the team’s PG, Ellis had the ball in his hands a vast majority of the time and it’s just wrong to expect a guy with a scorer’s mentality to all of sudden play like he forget what got him to the NBA in the first place. Besides, nobody has ever accused Monta of being someone who likes to get his teammates involved in the game. So if you thought a move to the point was somehow going to change that, then shame on you, not him.

Additionally, there wasn’t another team in the NBA so decimated by injuries that, at times, they had no other recourse but to start players just called up from the D-League. Given the talent that Golden State had, or better yet, the lack of talent that Golden State had last season, Monta Ellis was the Warriors offense and with that, you just have to take the good with the bad.

While he’s electrifying to watch and will make shots that’ll have you pressing rewind on your DVR, when he’s bad, he’s really bad, and some nights he’ll shoot you right out of a ballgame. That’s just keeping it real.

But even at that, I still wouldn’t go so far as to call him the epitome of inefficiency (he was once top 50 in John Hollinger’s PER rankings), if anything, the poor opinion that people have of his play just epitomizes the bad personnel decisions and the overall dysfunction that is the Golden State Warriors organization.

And before you try and knock Monta for his bad attitude when the Warriors drafted Steph Curry, I offer this: Even though he exhibited extremely poor judgment with the moped incident, if a team pays you $66 million to be “The Man” and then turns around and drafts a guy who plays the same position as you, wouldn’t you be pissed? I know I’d be.

Like him or not, with Monta Ellis, it’s very simple. If you’re depending on him to be your primary ball handler, distributor and scorer, in no time he’ll become your team’s worst nightmare. But if you put him with a “real” PG, move him off the ball, and give him room to just focus on what it is that he does best, then for 82 nights a year, he’ll be someone else’s.

The fact of the matter is, no matter what position you play him on the floor, Monta Ellis is going to get buckets. That’s just what he does.

Always has. Always will.

SLAMonline TOP 50 PLAYERSOVERALL RANKPOSITION RANK
PlayerTeamPosition2010200920102009
Ray AllenCelticsSG50361110
Gilbert ArenasWizardsSG4934109
Lamar OdomLakersPF48331410
John WallWizardsPG47NR13NR
OJ MayoGrizzliesSG4646912
Al HorfordHawksC45NR6NR
Jason KiddMavsPG44451210
Joakim NoahBullsC43NR5NR
LaMarcus AldridgeBlazersPF42391312
David WestHornetsPF4131128
Monta EllisWarriorsSG40NR8NR

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’10-11 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jeremy Bauman, Maurice Bobb, Erildas Budraitis, Sean Ceglinsky, Ben Collins, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Manny Maduakolam, Eddie Maisonet, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Charles Peach, Branden Peters, Quinn Peterson, David Schnur, Todd Spehr, Kyle Stack, Adam Sweeney, Dennis Tarwood, Tracy Weissenberg, Lang Whitaker, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.