Despite being just a year ago, the summer of 2014 seems like ancient history for Milwaukee Bucks fans. Coming off the worst season in team history and a 15-67 record, the team appeared to finally be in the starting stages of a rebuild that was focused around a solid crop of youngsters that included Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Brandon Knight, John Henson and their second overall pick, Jabari Parker. Then on July 1st, less than a week after the team picked Parker, the team acquired head coach Jason Kidd in a trade from the Brooklyn Nets to take on that same position in Milwaukee.
As I looked at in my Five Questions piece about the Bucks’ (then upcoming) offseason, Kidd brought a whole different culture to the team that’s built around using their long, athletic players to apply high ball pressure to create turnovers or force the opponent to put up contested shots on the defensive end. Alongside that, Brandon Knight seemingly worked himself into the role as the leader of the Bucks’ offense. During the first half of the season, Knight averaged 17.8 points and 5.4 assists per game on 43% shooting, highlighted by shooting 41% from beyond the arc.
Despite that terrific play from Knight, however, the Bucks brass knew that Knight’s improved play would eventually come with a mighty payday. Following the 2014-15 season, Knight would become a restricted free agent, which meant that the team would have to pay top dollar to be able to keep him around. With that thought in mind, the Bucks decided to deal Knight to the Phoenix Suns in a three-team trade, bringing in a package headlined by Michael Carter-Williams.
The deal basically meant that the Bucks valued future cap flexibility over the potential of making it past the first round of the playoffs. And that mindset continued this offseason, as they dealt Ersan Ilyasova and the remaining two years and $16 million on his contract for two unguaranteed contracts (Caron Butler and Shawne Williams), that would later be waived in order to create more cap space. But the purpose of getting that flexibility and the immediate backwards steps on the court was to be able to use that cap space to immediately reload. And they have.
In the three weeks since, the team were able to utilize that supply of cap space in a handful of different moves. Starting with a draft-day deal that landed veteran backup point guard Greivis Vasquez from the Toronto Raptors, the Bucks seemed to be focused on trying transition from an underdog team to a top-flight Eastern Conference contender. The last four and a half months of moves truly came to fruition on Thursday morning, as they agreed to sign Detroit Pistons power forward/center Greg Monroe to a three year, $50 million contract, with a player option prior to that third season.[newsbox style=”nb1″ display=”tag” tag=”Free-Agency” title=”More from 2015 NBA Free Agency” number_of_posts=”2″ show_more=”no” nb_excerpt=”0″]
On an initial look at this signing, Monroe brings two specific qualities that the Bucks have lacked: rebounding and an inside scoring threat. After Larry Sanders left the NBA in the beginning of January, opponents averaged 11.5 offensive boards against Milwaukee, the eighth highest total in the NBA. Additionally, the team finished 18th overall with a 49.7% total rebound percentage; in comparison, Monroe’s Pistons have been a top-10 rebounding team for the past few seasons. While a lot of that rebounding success has to do with Monroe’s front-court partner, Andre Drummond, Monroe has showcased himself as being more than able to hold his own on the boards.
Per NBA.com’s Player Tracking numbers, Monroe had 16 rebound chances per game. On those chances, Monroe successfully grabbed the rebound 64% of the time, a higher percentage than Tyson Chandler, Enes Kanter and Zach Randolph. Monroe was able to accomplish that feat by combining a great nose for the ball with sheer tenacity.
That tenacious approach carries over to how he approaches his work as a inside threat. Monroe loves to start many of his possessions by working in the high/pinch-post area, where he can use his 6’11, 240 pound frame to set screens on the guards. After those screens are set, Monroe likes to do one of two things: find an open teammate or just drive towards the rim.
Monroe is one of the best facilitating bigs in the league, sporting incredible court vision from the top of the key or when working his way towards the rim. Over his career with Detroit, Monroe has averaged 2.3 assists per game, ranking among the top-10 NBA centers in that department.
If Monroe doesn’t find an open teammate to dish it off to, the veteran center zones in on cutting towards the paint. Per Synergy Sports, Monroe averaged 1.18 Points Per Possession through cuts towards the rim, which put him in the 50th percentile. As the big in pick-and-rolls, he averaged .93 PPP.
Monroe was able to accomplish that by being incredibly fluid with how he rolls his way towards the rim. He’s not particularly explosive, but he drives strong towards the paint, whether it would be through off and on-ball cuts, and especially with those on-ball cuts, it’s impressive to see how well he handles the ball for a 6’11 big.
The complete set of skills that Monroe brings as a pinch-post threat could allow the Bucks to make some pretty big steps as an offensive team. As mentioned in the Five Questions piece, a lot of that offense was centered around working through the pinch-post through Henson or Zaza Pachulia. Having a player that’s so skilled in that role like Monroe is could be huge, as he’s a dangerous passer like Zaza while being able to drive like Henson.
But while his work at the top of the key is solid, Monroe’s bread and butter comes through his success as a post-up threat. According to Synergy, Monroe averaged .87 PPP or 43% on post-ups during the prior season. He was able to attain that by having a complete arsenal of post-up moves: drop steps, spin moves and an ability to hit a little 8-10 foot hook shot from both sides of the paint. That arsenal of moves is showcased below.
While in the low-post, Monroe continues to display his work as a facilitator. In a similar way to Jahlil Okafor, Monroe does an amazing job of being able to quickly scope out the court and where the open perimeter shooters or cutters are located in. Following that, Monroe throws pristine passes to a cutter or perimeter teammate.
Unlike that work from the top of the key, where Monroe was basically a beefed up conglomerate of Pachulia and Henson, Monroe’s post-up work is something that the team hasn’t seen in a long time.
While Monroe’s post skills might not be fully utilized due to Milwaukee’s lack of perimeter weapons, he’ll still be able to help out the team’s offense. Monroe is the type of player that can create some instant office if the team is in an offensive slump. Once he gets going, Monroe will demand double teams, which could create open lanes for cutters (i.e Antetokounmpo or Parker) or space for perimeter shooters (Middleton).
Defense is where Monroe definitely has his biggest issues. Although he definitely works hard and knows where he’s supposed for the majority of times, he’s always been stuck on whether he’s supposed to be guarding power forwards or centers. He’s not quick enough to guard power forwards out by the pinch post, while also having issues maintaining position against elite centers.
Despite those flaws, however, Greg Monroe was (just) about a league-average defender last season. According to NBA.com, opponents averaged 50% from inside the perimeter last season against Detroit, just a 1% increase over what they usually shoot. That stable nature continues from inside the restricted area; opponents shoot 60% from that range, whether Monroe is guarding him or not.
Monroe’s performance on defense should improve as he’ll be aligned next to a crop of talented defensive players. Players like Antetokounmpo, Carter-Williams and Middleton should do a good job of funneling the ball-handlers into Monroe, an asset that he didn’t have during his time with Detroit. As well as this, Monroe will spend a lot of time playing alongside John Henson, who was a shot blocking machine that averaged four blocks per 36 minutes. Henson has the innate ability to defend against both centers and perimeter-minded power forwards, which is a trait that should help mask Monroe’s possible defensive deficiencies.
Milwaukee will look to Monroe to be that multi-faceted scoring threat that it has never really had, and will look at him to be able to run with the young Bucks through transition while also killing opponents in the half-court because of his low-post prowess. While it probably won’t be a move that would have the Bucks leapfrog the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers or Atlanta Hawks as the kings of the Eastern Conference, it should at least help the Bucks pull within finger tips of those teams rather than be sitting in mediocrity.
As for Monroe, he has the option to leave Milwaukee after the second season via the player option if the fit with the team isn’t exactly working out, or if he wants to head back to the open market and continue to take advantage of the new TV rights deal. By that time, Monroe would only be 27 which means that he could be in line for another max deal. This signing therefore seems like a low-risk, high-reward experiment for both Monroe and the Bucks. And that’s how it should be.