Greg Monroe: The Choice Between Adaptation or Regression

“This is no doubt partially due to the diminishing number of traditional big men, but it is also related to the clear advantages that athleticism has over opposing post presences. An overwhelming amount of speed and explosiveness is beginning to trump dominance in the paint.”

Spencer Kier, The Death of the Traditional Big Man in the Evolving NBA Landscape

Divider


From the day the Pistons drafted the rebounding machine that is Andre Drummond, Monroe was the odd man out. What he, or the NBA for that matter, did not realize at the time is that he was not just the odd man out in The Motor City, but rather in the grand scheme of the NBA’s style.  A classic Georgetown big-man with a variety of post moves and good passing ability, Monroe was a consistent double-double threat for his time in Detroit.  His stats became suppressed once he had to split touches and post space with Drummond, and the stats he did put up became increasingly empty.

The alarming vulnerability revealed in Monroe’s game, however, was the degree to which his rim-defense was mediocre and non-impactful.  As a postdefender, he shows a troubling tendency of having lapses in his defensive rotations which, unfortunately, has remained his achilles-heel in Milwaukee. 

usa-today-8845255.0Even though he is 6’11 with a 7’2 wingspan, he resembles a classic power forward rather than a center. However, due to his playing style and inability to stretch the floor, the modern NBA play-style relegates him to minutes played exclusively at the 5. The NBA’s transition towards “pace and space” offense, as well as the premium placed on shooting, has further diminished Monroe’s value in today’s NBA; as I alluded to in one of earlier article’s, as his time progresses with Milwaukee, I see a permanent role for him similar to Enes Kanter’s role with the Thunder. This role would entail his minutes being utilized as an offensive punch off the bench who can occasionally play big minutes, but only with the right match-ups. During 2015 free agency, teams saw Golden State succeed with the small-ball model, but the league still wasn’t fully tilted towards that model yet. This enabled Monroe to garner max-contract interest from teams such as New York and Milwaukee. Monroe luckily entered free agency just before the tides conclusively turned against his favour.

Greg-Monroe-e1402944215738Fast forward to today, and the biggest regret that Milwaukee has, as made evident by their shopping of him this trade-deadline, might be their signing of Greg Monroe. Thankfully they were wise (or lucky) enough to agree to give him a 3 year contract, with a player option in his third year. If he is going to be continually relegated to his new bench role, I don’t foresee him sticking around for a third year, even though it will be hard to get $18 million a year in 2017 as a player with his skill-set (there are always dumb front offices though).

To be blunt, he’s just been awful on the defensive end, and it’s becoming increasingly painful to watch him play unapologetically poor help defense:

There are often plays in which the ball will get dumped to the man he is guarding in the post, a quick baseline hand-off will be given back to the guard, and Monroe will happily stand beside his man as the guard gets a free run to the rim.  To be fair to the Bucks, it was a calculated risk for them to sign him, and it was rare that they were going to be able to get a recognizable free agent. The signing alone reflected well on where they were going as an organization: sometimes your gambles just don’t pay off the way you want them to.

Looking to the future, Milwaukee has a talented young nucleus of Middleton, Parker, and Antetokounmpo, each of whom have shown enough promise to build a team around. Monroe was envisioned to help a team that in the 2014-2015 was an elite defense (second in defensive efficiency) but struggled to be an efficient offensive team (25th in offensive efficiency). The hope was for Monroe to come in and replace Henson and other rotational bigs, providing a viable offensive threat in the post.  Unfortunately, he has been the defining factor in the regression of the Buck’s defense, and additionally, the relative lack of shooting on the roster has stifled Monroe’s ability to operate freely on the block.

Monroe has done an expectedly good job of hitting the bevy of cutters (at the 1:42 and 2:24 mark) that Milwaukee sends through the paint due to their inability to impose a threat from the outside.

 

One can also not deny the impressive footwork and assortment of pump-fakes and spins that Monroe has at his disposal; unfortunately for Monroe, big-men, like Bogut, who have a similar passing level to him can provide more impactful minutes than him because of their capability to defend at a high level.

Philadelphia is already connecting the dots with their recent 1st-round pick Jahlil Okafor: Okafor is an excellent offensive talent, but he also struggles defensively, especially in the pick-and-roll. In a league with elite wings and guards able to run the P&R with increasing effectiveness, slow, plodding big men get killed possession after possession as starters.

iUnless Monroe is able to truly extend his range and become a legitimate threat from the outside, he is not going to play 30 minutes a night for Kidd’s Bucks. This unfortunate fact, as Monroe was one of my favourite players to watch in Detroit as a person who still thoroughly enjoys a beautiful post move. As much as I can be a basketball purist at times, I am also very conscious of the way the NBA going and the force at which it is transitioning. For every post up that is lost, an astonishing three is buried from a distance we have never seen before. The transition might be difficult for the aforementioned purist, but for an NBA player who has spent more than half of their life building their skills in a certain way, it’s even more so difficult to be told that they are inconsequential and irrelevant.

Such is the life of the un-athletic post big man: for every Enes Kanter, Al Jefferson or Greg Monroe there is, there is a Paul Millsap, Al Horford or Demarcus Cousins, each with expanded skill-sets that fit into today’s NBA.

The truth can be hard sometimes, but the reality is that Monroe has a difficult reality to face; either adapt, or be relegated to a role he never envisioned as a talented big in his prime.

– Arman bery