Only a year ago, Greg Monroe was the lackluster defensive weakness and odd-man out for the Milwaukee Bucks, someone who continually appeared in trade talks but other teams never seemed interested. What was the market for a guy like Monroe in today’s NBA who couldn’t protect the rim or hit threes?
Last summer, there wasn’t one. But now the Bucks can thank the basketball gods that there wasn’t, and fill Milwaukee’s BMO Harris Bradley Center with more droning cheers of “MOOOOSE” instead.
After starting 67 games in 2015-16, Monroe came off the bench in all 81 of his appearances for the Bucks this season, and, man, did it make a world of difference. He’s provided some much-needed scoring punch to a fairly limited bench, delivering more energy in his new role and thriving with the go-to responsibility of being a backup scorer and rebounding anchor.
On top of that, his defense has notably improved. He’s been better than ever in that regard, demonstrating good footwork, positioning, stout rebounding and almost surprisingly quick hands to get in people’s faces, break up passing lanes and even strip guards when possible.
His 22.5 minutes per game were extremely effective with averages of 11.7 points (53.2 percent shooting, the highest since his lower-usage rookie year), 6.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.1 steals (equating to 18.8, 10.5, 3.7 and 1.8 per 36 minutes).
The result of such production? Monroe ranked 16th among all centers in total Real Plus/Minus (+1.46), and the Bucks were 6.9 points per 100 possessions better off with him on the floor, scoring 5.8 more and allowing 1.2 less to their opponents. The defensive boost is a testament to his improvements and increased effort.
In short, Monroe deserved inclusion in the Sixth Man of the Year race. And he’s carried that impact into the playoffs. The Bucks wouldn’t have stormed out to quite the same 2-1 lead over the Toronto Raptors without him.
Even though Monroe doesn’t match the impact of guys like Khris Middleton and the ultimate athletic, versatile, two-way monster that is Giannis Antetokounmpo, he’s been killing interior defenses and second units throughout the season. That’s been no different against the Raptors.
Through the first three games, Monroe is sitting at terrific averages of 16 points, 8.7 rebounds and two assists a night, shooting 54.8 percent from the floor and a perfect 100 percent from the charity stripe with his 14 total free throws. Unsurprisingly, the Bucks have scored 8.2 more points per 100 possessions when Monroe is in the game. And, again, their defense has been better with him; 4.4 points better, to be exact.
In Game 3, the Bucks blitzed the Raptors off the floor to the tune of a 104-77 win. They communicated non-stop on defense, rotating quickly so as to disrupt Toronto with their endless length, energy and favorable mismatches. As Middleton led the way on offense with 20 points and seven assists to go along with Giannis’ 19 points, it was Monroe that once again powered the second unit.
The Raptors weren’t able to stop him, as they haven’t all series. On his way to racking up 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting, he was constantly finding the right spots to receive dump off passes around the basket from his teammates and tally quick scores:
If things aren’t quite so easy, he’s always able to put his nifty footwork and strong finishing to good use to score past opponents on the low block:
Oh, and as for those quick hands and positioning he’s been using well this season, this steal on Delon Wright was a great example. As Monroe aggressively shifted forward on a pick-and-roll and jabbed his arm across Wright’s body, he dived in and came away with the ball. To continue the momentum of the game and the surge of his own stellar second quarter, Monroe ran upcourt and found himself yet another basket (shown in the first clip):
In addition to his scoring, Monroe has upped his passing game. He’s adept at picking out shooters and cutters when he sees an opening. He ranked third among all centers playing less than 25 minutes per game in assist percentage at 16..
Sure, it would be nice if Monroe had a three-point shot. But his offensive game is still really well-rounded. From his finishing near the basket to his passing from the post and elbows, to his ranking this season in the 88th percentile as the roll man in pick-and-rolls, he can do so much to add another dimension to the Bucks’ offense.
The fact he’s helping defensively, too, just shows what a long way he’s come over the past year.
As the Raptors look less and less convincing, they’re finding out the hard way that Monroe isn’t easy to stop. When he’s just one cog in the Bucks’ long, switchy, explosive team behind the likes of Giannis and Middleton and impactful rookies such as (should-be Rookie of the Year) Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker, life is even tougher for them.
The Sixth Man of the Year discussion didn’t include Monroe for many basketball fans this season. Instead, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams were the common poster boys (who shot just 38.6 percent and 41.8 percent since January 1, respectively). Quietly, though, Monroe bounced back from a heavily criticized, trade-rumor-filled year in 2015-16 in tremendous fashion. He’s thrived in his new role, all while providing some sound defense.
Now, it’s showing on the playoff stage. And it sure is fun to see him kicking off a (potential) first-round upset with this Bucks team.