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Why Greg Monroe didn't work and how to fix the Bucks

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Full Disclaimer: I am a Pistons fan first. I watched the Bucks a lot last year, but not every game by any stretch. Between the knowledge I already had and the prep I did I would like to think that I have a pretty good grasp of the situation, HOWEVA, I am more than willing to admit that I might be off. As such if I am horribly off and/or generally talk out of my ass just say so and I will do my best to correct it. Anyways, here goes.

So what's this then?

So before the past season I did a post about Greg Monroe for Bucks fans, unfortunately the actual article was lost to stupidity on my part, but I will own up to the fact that I said something along the lines of Monroe being damn near a sure thing to work out really well for the Bucks.

Wow, you were wrong. Why were you so wrong?

There are a few reasons, the first, and most important one is not something that only I was guilty of, but a lot of people were heading into this season. Everyone was on the Bucks bandwagon because they had made the playoffs and were super young. We all missed something though by not really thinking about the changes to the team between the trade deadline and last offseason. Overall they got rid of:

  • Brandon Knight: A really good shooter, the team's best scorer, and probably just their best player at the time.
  • Ersan Ilyasova: A very good outside shooter.
  • Jared Dudley: Very good shooter.
  • Zaza Pachulia: Pretty good/scrappy defender. Decent shooter for a center. (Although had a down year shooting in Dallas.)

Those 4 guys were obviously not the only changes, but you should see a pattern there, 3 of them were really good outside shooters, in fact they were (by percentage) the 2014/2015 Bucks #1, 3 and 4th best outside shooters.

The Bucks replaced them with (primarily):

  • Michael Carter-Williams: Couldn't throw a ball into the ocean if he was standing on the pier.
  • Greg Monroe: Almost total non-shooter. (Actually shot ok from midrange last year but shot it from there very rarely)

You should see the problem. From the previous season where they were the surprisingly good team, to this past season where they were the surprisingly bad team, they got rid of damn near every good shooter on the team, and replaced them with 2 guys who can't/don't shoot at all. That is the start of the problems and what I missed.

The second thing that hurt a lot was Jabari Parker, I (and most others) assumed he would be shooting 3s, and be at least ok at them. This was not the case at all last year, it was well into the season before Parker even attempted a 3, and he didn't shoot well on them when he did.

Combine the swapping of players with Jabari being a total non-shooter and you go from the most regular starting lineup (by number of games started) of: Knight/Middleton/Giannis/Ersan/Zaza, a lineup with 2 snipers, a very solid shooter, a decent shooter, and one non-shooter. To a most regular starting lineup (once again, by games started) of: MCW/Middleton/Giannis/Parker/Monroe. A lineup with 1 sniper, 3 non-shooters, and 1 guy who can shoot in the midrange in a bit, but a non threat from deep.

Once again, I (and others) can legitimately point to it being surprising that Jabari was not a shooter at all as a way to deflect the blame. HOWEVA, another thing to keep in mind with all the changes, is that 3 of the guys who left were veterans who were heady defenders (if not awesome ones), and replaced them with MCW, Parker, and Monroe. MCW and Parker are still young and not really much good on defense, and Monroe is just not much good on defense. Combine all of the above, and really, no one should have been surprised that this past season would be a struggle for the Bucks.

In fact, looking back now, with 20/20 hindsight, it's a little confounding that anyone thought this team would be good last year with their mixture of bad shooting and young/bad defenders. Its a good example of people not spending enough time to really look at a situation and instead just going off of general public opinion and the narrative. (And once again, I apparently was quite guilty of that.)

What about Monroe specifically?

At least some, and some of it is stuff that I was surprised by. More than anything else, Monroe's defensive effort and the one or two slight scuffles with teammates kind of shocked me. In his time with the Pistons, they were an absolute shit show and there is no way around that, and he was always a professional and despite him still being a bad defender he usually played hard and clearly worked hard to be a better defender. By his last season in Detroit he was honestly good enough on defense that I would've said he was pretty close to a net neutral on that end because of all the work he put in.

But last year he visibly had some issues with effort on defense and the boards, it was not really a pandemic where he just wasn't playing hard or anything, he just wasn't giving 110% damn near every possession. And the problem is, that when you are fairly slow footed and ground bound like Monroe is, if you go from “playing really hard every play” to “usually giving solid effort” that causes a bigger set back for your overall game than it does for most guys. Instead of being “actually not too bad” he was “actually pretty bad” and that was an issue, especially for a team that was hoping to win games primarily on the back of it's defense. This is something that I don't feel too bad about missing though, because even Zach Lowe said that Monroe would only improve on defense with the Bucks.

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The one other thing that surprised me about Monroe/the Bucks in general (because this is at least partially a coaching decision too) is that Monroe still was almost a total non-shooter, despite the fact that (by %) his jumper was more reliable last year than ever before. Obviously when you are as good at the hoop as Monroe is, you don't want to have him taking too many jumpers, but look at his shot chart, he shot a decent clip on his midrange shots. Whether it was Monroe or the coaching staff who made the decision, I don't get why they wouldn't try and see if he could keep up those percentages on a higher volume given the problems with shooting the team had. If teams had been even remotely concerned about guarding Monroe when he wasn't right at the hoop it could have helped quite a bit.. But then again, if he had gotten braver on letting jumpers fly, his percentages might have plummeted so it may have not worked, mostly I just don't get why they didn't at least try it. Remember, they were so desperate for some shooting that they freaking started OJ Mayo quite a bit last year.

Did Monroe do anything good?

Yeah actually, and the good is enough that I really think he probably received too much blame for the Bucks poor season. First off, he was an absolute rock scoring the ball for the Bucks, and he did it in a really important way for them. Middleton and Giannis scored more per game than Monroe did, but he actually had the highest per 36 scoring on the team. This is a pretty accurate reflection of him being the Bucks' best “bucket getter” which is basically a term for a guy who you give the ball and ask him to go get a bucket. And statistically, Monroe still had a really nice season scoring just over 15ppg (in under 30 minutes) on a rock solid TS% of .562, and once again, almost all created by himself. He also passed the ball pretty well, and generally was the Bucks most consistent scorer. If you take Monroe off the Bucks, they have a pretty gaping hole in their “shot clock running down someone bail us out” offense.

Anything that wasn't his fault that hurt him?

Yes, the main thing was the arrival of Point Giannis. There had been talk of Giannis maybe playing some point, but I don't think anyone really took it seriously. Then it happened, and it was awesome, and Giannis was awesome at it. When Giannis got his first triple double is where Monroe really started to look like he might not fit long term with the Bucks, because before he had been part of the problem (with his defense) but he was also part of the solution because they desperately needed his bully ball scoring with such a cramped lane. But with the ball in Giannis' hands, and him being such a monster going to the hoop, having a good roll man became way more valuable to the Bucks. And that is how Miles Plumlee went from an end of bench afterthought in the Brandon Knight trade, to a guy who looked really good and signing a 4 year $50 million deal. Before Point Giannis, tossing Monroe the ball was the Bucks best offensive option for buckets. Suddenly Giannis running the pick and roll was, by far, the best option. And Monroe has good hands and can finish in traffic, so he isn't a horrible roll man, but he just can't jump enough to really be more than ok with it.

Even further exasperating Monroe's fit, was Jabari Parker emphatically starting to find his rhythm in the NBA game and on the Bucks. Between becoming a ferocious weak side cutting dunker, and finding his mid-range game, suddenly Monroe became even less needed. Parker wasn't as good as Monroe at just getting buckets, but he certainly could do it pretty effectively, and he is obviously expected to only improve.

Combine these 2 things, and suddenly Monroe went from being the Bucks' best offensive option, to not being very compatible with their best offensive option (Giannis) and Jabari Parker started to encroach more and more on Monroe's iso scoring, and back door cutting offense. (Although Parker's back door cuts were aided by Monroe's slick interior passing.)

So what does that mean for the future for Monroe?

Monroe actually has more to say about his future than anyone else does. He has a player option after next season, and whether he takes that or not will have not only the obvious affect of him hitting free agency this off season or not, but also would have a major impact on what his trade value would be. Some teams would prefer him as an expiring, while others would prefer the extra year. The problem is that I have absolutely no idea if he will take that option or not. He will be slotted to make just under $18 million dollars that year, and I'm not sure he would get more than that on the open market. I would certainly like to think he would, but a lot has to do with how he plays next year. On top of that, if his holding out and taking the qualifying offer from the Pistons is any indication, he is not above taking less money to ensure he gets out of a situation he is not really thrilled with. (He has never said anything bad about the Pistons, but he's also not stupid. The Pistons were building around Drummond and not him from the moment SVG arrived.) As such, I will not even pretend to have a clue what he will do in that regard, just know that it will have a major impact on the situation of both Monroe and the Bucks.

Other than that, I have no idea how much the Bucks still want him. They were (allegedly) shopping him this offseason but apparently didn't get the right offer. The thing is that the Bucks are in a tricky situation here, on one hand, Monroe could well be an expiring, in which case they might just shrug and see if he can help them make the playoffs and give some of the youngins another year to prep before taking on major offensive burdens. But if he is going to opt in for another year, then he is straying from helping the young guys ease into larger roles, to getting in the way of the younger guys. Not to mention that the Bucks will be giving Giannis a big pay raise. (Although obviously, they have his full bird rights so Monroe being on the team another year would not stop them from re-signing Giannis)

Thon Maker is a big question mark in this whole situation as well, what position does he play? Is he a center? Will the go all in on point Giannis and then play Maker at forward? Is Thon Maker even good? If Maker plays center and actually looks good, it would almost certainly mean the death of Monroe, since the Bucks have Plumlee signed to 4 years $50 million and John Henson to 4 year $45 million, (and if Maker is really good it would likely mean one of those 2 is going away as well.) and 4 centers is certainly too many. But if they don't play Maker at center at all this season, (and are still giving Monroe heavy minutes) it likely means that they are going to at least make some attempt to make it work with Monroe. However, if Monroe is not starting/playing starters minutes then they are definitely actively shopping him, or perhaps even trying to get him to opt out of his contract and go somewhere else.

Do you think Monroe could still fit long term with this Bucks team?

I actually think he could, mostly because Monroe is a good player, and good players can make it work unless the fit is extremely bad, which it certainly was last season, where 3 of the Buck's best 4 scorers all did their damage at the hoop.

Looking to the future, I think with Delly on board it helps a lot, and MCW playing a lot less helps too. Essentially, having a PG who can't shoot hurts a lot more than any other position, and Delly is a proven shooter and defender so that should be a help for Monroe (and everyone else). Another big reason I have some hope it could work out is that Jabari Parker is still billed as a guy who should start being able to shoot 3s, if he were to become at least a semi-reliable stretch 4 that would also be a boon for Monroe. (and the Bucks in general) Throw in Monroe possibly being a bit more willing to pull the trigger on jumpers, and the Bucks could already be back out of spacing hell, with 3 of their 5 starters being outside shooters, and a center with a decent jumper. (Not to mention that Giannis has made small improvements to his jumper each season.) On top of all of that, the young team will be a year older on defense, Delly is a proven defensive player, and the Bucks will be better defensively next year with or without Monroe.

The last reason that I think Monroe could work long term, and the main reason that I don't think the Bucks should just dump him (yet) is that his ability as a bucket getter still looks to be a major asset to the Bucks. In theory, Parker should be able to do that, and Giannis already started to look it last season. (Not to mention that Kris Middleton is a lot more than just a spot up shooter) But I would be nervous about dumping my most consistent offensive player when there are so many question marks after him. Even though Middleton, Giannis, and Parker (and possibly even MCW if you still have any faith in him) could all be able to step up and become full time #1 scoring options, but it would be a huge risk. And no matter what else you have, it is hard to win in the NBA without a guy who can steal you a few extra points every night when the defense is good. And right now, Monroe is the only clear cut guy they have who can do that.

So do you actually think it will work out?

I don't think Monroe's long term future is with the Bucks, but I do think that they will be a much improved team next year regardless of Monroe's role. Essentially, I don't actually think that Monroe was really part of the problem with the team last season, he just had no ability to fix the problems that plagued the rest of the team. (Which I guess means he is kind of part of the problem, but whatever. I have a narrative so I'll stick with it to the end lol.) And I think that a lot of those problems are likely to get better next season, and if the Bucks were to still trade him before the season starts, and they are a lot better next year, that is not because they got rid of Monroe but rather just the team's natural progression.

The main reason that, despite my optimism about the Bucks as a team, and Monroe as a player, I think that Monroe's long term future is not with the Bucks is because of Point Giannis. Giannis running pick and rolls should probably be the basis for the Bucks offense for the future, and when your second best offensive option is almost totally non-compatible with your first offensive option, to the point of maybe even being a hinderance. You have a serious issue.

In the end I do think that the Bucks should give Monroe another shot now that the team seems to be built a little bit better with the new players and some internal improvements from other players, because he could still prove to be good. But I think that one of the other centers will fit with Giannis so much better that they just won't find Monroe the minutes he needs.

What do you think? How will Monroe do this year? Can he work long term on the Bucks? Let me know! We all get smarter!