The Milwaukee Bucks are going to spend the 2015-16 hoping for great benefits from a trade that didn’t exactly happen.
On paper, it looks simple. The Bucks traded Ersan Ilyasova to the Pistons for Greg Monroe, Caron Butler and Shawne Williams, replacing a long-range threat at power forward with a center that can score and rebound, and adding two veterans in Williams and Butler.
Of course, that’s not how it went down – the Bucks traded Ilyasova to the Pistons for Butler and Williams, thereby creating the cap space that they filled by signing Monroe. The situation still worked out the same – the Pistons knew Monroe wasn’t coming back, and wanted a 3-point shooter, while the Bucks wanted Monroe and needed to move Ilyasova to make room.
Last season, the Bucks were one of the NBA’s best defensive teams, finishing third in the league at 102.2 points allowed per 100 possessions, but only went 41-41 thanks to a 26th-rated offense. They had weapons to get them points from the perimeter, starting with Ilyasova, 3-point gunner Khris Middleton – another acquisition from the Pistons – and the amazing raw talent of 20-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Inside, though, it was a different matter. When Jason Kidd needed defense at the rim, he went with Zaza Pachulia or John Henson in the post, and while they are both outstanding at that job, neither one of them provides a serious offensive threat. You can win with a defensive specialist in your lineup – ask the teams that took home rings with Dennis Rodman, Ben Wallace or Bruce Bowen – but it is a lot easier when everyone can score.
The other issue was that, while Pachulia and Henson were both top-tier defenders, they weren’t able to keep opponents off the glass on a regular basis. The Bucks were league-average on the offensive glass and bad at defensive rebounding.
Monroe, who will replace Pachulia in the lineup, will change a lot of that. He’s a rebounding machine – pulling down 11.9 per 36 minutes last season despite playing alongside the league’s best pure rebounder in Andre Drummond – and scored a career-best 18.5 points per 36 minutes – six more than Pachulia.
The advantage is obvious. Monroe gives the Bucks more rebounding, especially at the defensive end, and much more offense. He doesn’t have Ilyasova’s range, but he will certainly stretch defenses more than Pachulia. Remember, this is a good enough player that the Knicks and Lakers were both chasing hard after him before he chose Milwaukee.
Monroe can also pass the ball, which is important when you think about the 2015-16 Bucks roster. While Henson will still play an important part, he’s not going to be a starter on a team that also has Middleton, Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams and a 20-year-old kid named Jabari Parker. Those four, along with Monroe, would give the Bucks a starting lineup where every player was born in the 1990s.
Is Monroe the perfect player? No, he’s not. He works hard on defense, but he’s not a great athlete. That keeps him from being a shot blocker of any real value, and he’s too slow to be an elite defender. There will be times, especially given Parker’s defensive issues, that Henson might be the best option at center.
That’s nit-picking, though. Monroe is a gifted center who was desperate to escape Detroit, where he was being asked to play out of position next to Drummond for a team that has been rebuilding for years without any progress. That ground him down mentally, especially last season, when he knew he was leaving at season’s end.
Now he’ll be on a talented young team, playing his true position. Don’t be surprised him to be an All-Star next season, probably alongside Drummond, as part of an improving Bucks squad that is going to scare the East for years to come.