Warriors coach Don Nelson has an earned reputation for being tough on young players. Given a choice, Nelson would rather not try to squeeze an inexperienced player into his rotation. And he certainly would never want to rely on one late in games.
That’s what makes this whole Nelson-Monta Ellis relationship so interesting.
Nelson is not only depending on the 21-year-old Ellis at crunch time, but he’s also force-feeding him the point guard position while he’s at it. Apparently, Ellis is so intriguing to Nelson that the coach is willing to go against his own unwritten rule about giving a youngster too much too soon.
The other day, I asked Nelson if he had ever given a young player as much responsibility as he’s given Ellis. He thought for a moment, qualified his answer by saying he had coached some pretty good young big men, but said no. Never before in his 27 years of coaching at the NBA level had he asked more of someone so young.
Nelson knows full well that Ellis might cost him a ballgame or two this season. Which, if you think about it, is pretty gutsy considering that the goal of the players, organization and fans is to make the playoffs this year.
So why is Nelson doing it? Because he believes that while Ellis’ inexperience may hurt here and there, his ability to make plays will be far more a positive than negative — and hopefully sooner rather than later.
You could make a case Ellis’ turnover with 13 seconds remaining against the New Orleans Hornets on Nov. 7 cost the Warriors that one. But you’d also have to acknowledge then that Ellis’ eight-point fourth quarter the game before against Dallas helped get them a win.
Point is, Ellis’ upside is so obvious that Nelson has to get him on the floor — and a lot of the minutes are coming at point. Nelson made it clear early in training camp that he thinks Ellis must turn into a full-time point guard if he is to become an elite player. He has said Ellis could be a point guard in the mold of San Antonio’s Tony Parker.
Maybe. But certainly not yet. That’s going to take a little while.
Which brings us to another point. Even though Nelson is 66 and he was brought in here to get the Warriors into the playoffs ASAP, he isn’t quick-fixing this situation. Nelson’s gut is telling him Ellis is a key to the Warriors’ future. So don’t look for Ellis to languish on the bench while Nelson gives his veterans the opportunity to bring home wins.
Nope, instead, the old coach — Don Nelson — is going to hand the reins to his young pro, just two years removed from high school — Monta Ellis.
The move says a lot about both of them.