Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro.
Greg Monroe is tricky business to rank in the modern NBA because it’s hard to figure out how to balance his strengths and weaknesses, as the Milwaukee Bucks are finding out after signing him to a three-year, $50 million deal last summer, only to see him finish the season coming off the bench.
On the one hand, he has indisputable offensive talents. On the other, he’s a veritable red carpet on defense. Will the Bucks find a way to use him this year and compensate for his liabilities? Or will he end the season somewhere else, such as New Orleans? While his future holds plenty of questions, his past tells us who he is, and it’s not likely to change very much.
Statistically, Monroe is a better player than people realize. His 7.5 Win Shares last year ranked 28th in the NBA, according to Basketball-Reference.com. His 21.8 Player Efficiency Rating was 17th, and there were only 13 players who were better than him on both counts. However, those things don’t effectively measure defense, and as we’ll discuss shortly that is not very good — particularly in the Bucks’ system.
If he can be less of a liability on that end or get paired with a teammate who can cover up his shortcomings (say, Anthony Davis), then he has a slight chance to move up. But it’s hard to see him suddenly becoming a presence on the other end of the court in his seventh season.
In spite of his flaws, his presence on the offensive end and his rebounding are too good to keep him off the court entirely. He averaged 18.8 points and 10.8 boards per 36 minutes last year.
Even if he continues coming off the bench in Milwaukee, he’ll still get plenty of minutes. And similar to what Enes Kanter is doing with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Monroe could actually thrive in a bench role, where his offensive talents will be hard for most benches to contend with and where his defensive shortcomings will be less painful. So while his starting job is in jeopardy, his minutes are safe. That means there isn’t a lot of room between his floor and ceiling.
Monroe is one of the better low-post scorers in the league. According to NBA.com, only five players touched the ball in the post more than he did last year. He was also sixth in points in the post. And he was second in assists out of the post. Furthermore, on post-up plays tracked by Synergy, he was fourth in total points.
While 86.5 percent of his buckets came within 10 feet of the basket, they came in a variety of ways. Monroe netted 109 hook shots, 84 jump shots and 279 layups. He created 211 of his buckets. He scored the other 280 off the pass. His shot chart doesn’t reflect his versatility. His scoring is more about a variety of skills than range. Having a big man who can create shots inside is a luxury many teams don’t have.
While I’ve been harsh on Monroe’s defense, allow me to qualify that a bit more. Monroe doesn’t fit well in the Bucks’ style of defense. And he’s often playing alongside Jabari Parker, who isn’t the ideal frontcourt partner to help cover up his liabilities.
Matt Lurie from RealGM.com broke down the Bucks’ issues on defense and highlighted Monroe’s role with a corresponding clip for an example:
For every step forward the Bucks took last season, they have taken two steps backward this year. A lot of their problems trace back to the addition of Greg Monroe and Jabari Parker into the starting lineup.
For starters, Monroe has not been able to execute the scheme nearly as well as John Henson or Zaza Pachulia. When defending pick-and-rolls, he is asked to come up a few feet below the pick and shadow the ball-handler until the next action. Monroe has been extremely slow in open-space, and the Bucks have been really bad at rotating to the rim when Monroe fails to recover back to his man.
According to NBA.com, the Bucks’ defensive rating was a pretty sad 109.2 when Parker and Monroe were on the court together (compared to 105.2 overall), which backs up Lurie’s claim. And it was 4.3 points per 100 possessions worse when Monroe was on the court, period.