Monta Ellis and PT Examined

A lot has been made in the NBA stat analysis community that Monta Ellis is a bit overrated.  Ellis’ rate states are quite gaudy.  He has 25.8 ppg, 5.4 apg, and 4.2 rpg.  On the other side, Ellis is playing 41.5 mpg and has a rather pedestrian 16.9 PER based on his mediocre shooting, mediocre free throw rate (compared to touches), below-average three point shooting (.327%), and his high turnover rate (3.6 TOs per-36 minutes).   Of course it takes a degree of talent to play 41.5 mpg to begin with but you can put me firmly in the camp of those who believe Ellis to be a decent player. 

What interests me about Ellis, however, is not the debate of his worth but how he is absorbing minutes like a sponge.  Ellis is currently second in the NBA in mpg behind Gerald Wallace, who is playing 42 mpg.  What should we be expecting from our NBA players?  Well, 42 mpg is a lot for an NBA players.  There are currently 100 players who have logged a season of 42 mpg or more (minimum of 60 games played).  Going back to the beginning, logging tons of minutes was a 1960s concept. Here is a distribution of the 42 MPG club by decade:

1950s: 9

1960s: 44

1970s: 28

1980s: 2

1990s: 5

2000s: 12 

Some notes on the club: 

-As can been seen, the 1960s and 1970s comprise 72% of the club.

-Looking even more closely, Wilt Chamberlain has the top seven minutes per game season (led by his incredible 48.5 mpg in 1961-62) and makes up 13% of the bunch on his own.  Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson each had 9 on their own too, giving these three 31% of the entire list.  (John Havlicek, who played a ton of minutes in his long career, only appears three times).

-Tiny Archibald has the highest MPG, non-Wilt Division at 46.0 mpg during his history 1972-73 season.  After having 43.1 mpg in 1971-72 and 46.0 mpg in 1972-73 at the ripe age of 24, Archibald missed most of the 1973-74 season with injury.

-It’s not clear what led to the decline in MPG by for the 1980s and 1990s but we can only presume that coaches finally realized that they were dealing with finite resources. 

-The 2000s have seen somewhat of a resurgence of the workhorse.  This is not a league wide trend.  The real explanation is Allen Iverson.  AI had a remarkable six of the 12 players involved in the 42 MPG club.  In fact, Iverson missed qualifying in 2003-04 only because he played in 48 games, though he still averaged 42.5 mpg and just missed 42 mpg in 2007-08 (41.8 mpg).  Iverson’s ability to absorb minutes is unprecedented for post-1970s player of any kind, let alone a 5’11, 165-pound player.   He may be paying the price now but AI might be the most unique player we’ve seen.

-In the post-1970s time, the most MPG is AI’s 43.7  in 2001-02.  Ironically, Iverson barely made our cut, playing exactly the 60 game minimum we required.  His minutes likely would’ve dropped a little if he played an extra 10 or 20 games.  The most minutes in a full season in this time come from Latrell Sprewell for the 1993-94 Warriors, 43.1 mpg in 82 games (Anthony Mason also had 43.1 mpg for the Hornets in 1996-97 in 73 games).

-Turning to raw total minutes in a season, Don Nelson rears his head.  Of the top five minutes played since 1979-80, four played for Nellie: 

1.  Latrell Sprewell (1993-94): 3,533 minutes (Nellie player)

2.  Allen Iverson (2002-03): 3,485 minutes

3.  Michael Finley (1999-00): 3,464 minutes (Nellie player)

4.  Anthony Mason (1995-96): 3,457 minutes (Nellie player for most of the season–Nellie was fired about halfway through the season)

5.  Michael Finley (2000-01): 3,443 minutes (Nellie player) 

Nellie also has nine of the top 50 in this category (mostly Finley, Sprewell, and Tim Hardaway).  So, riding Ellis is completely consistent with Nellie’s previous modus operandi of riding his two guard hard.  The hard minutes didn’t appear to kill Finley or Sprewell, though T-Hard had some serious injuries. 

-None of the big men of this era played as much as Wilt/Russell, even relative to their peers.  Shaq, Olajuwon, Robinson, Duncan, Ewing, and Moses appear in the top 51 in minutes played (3,200 minutes or more in a season) no more than twice. 

-Of this top 51 in the 3,200 minute club, Gary Payton and KG lead the way with five appearances.  Sprewell, Antoine Walker, and Joe Johnson are tied at four.

-If Gerald Wallace and Ellis keep their pace this season, they will be 16th and 27th overall in mpg in a season since 1979-80.

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