Milwaukee Bucks: The Greg Monroe Problem Lingers

Apr 13, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (15) backs down on Indiana Pacers center Jordan Hill (27) during the second quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 13, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (15) backs down on Indiana Pacers center Jordan Hill (27) during the second quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Greg Monroe seems destined to come off the bench. Can the Milwaukee Bucks find a role that suits him and still win?

Sometimes things just don’t fit. Your old favorite pants, a square peg into a round hole, or a bucket-getting big man that plays bad defense on an up-and-coming NBA team. You can put your head down and hope that if you just wait a little longer everything is going to click into place, but that won’t solve the problem. Irrational optimism gets the best of us all sometimes.

The Milwaukee Bucks appear to be using the “maybe it’ll be better this season” approach when it comes to center Greg Monroe. After a summer filled with trade rumors, Monroe is back in Milwaukee, ready to showcase his post moves and porous defense in the Bradley Center for at least one more season.

The conversation around Monroe and the Bucks wasn’t always this awkward. In the summer of 2015 his signing was celebrated as proof that big-name free agents could be lured to Wisconsin. Monroe was supposed to give a jolt to a Bucks squad coming off of an unexpected playoff appearance.

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It didn’t quite work out that way. Monroe was as advertised on offense, averaging 18.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per 36 minutes on 52.2 percent shooting. The problem is, he was also as advertised on defense. With Monroe on the court, Milwaukee allowed 109.2 points per 100 possessions. His defensive box plus/minus rating was only 0.2 and his block rate was only 2.5 percent.

The Bucks sputtered to a 33-49 a season after finishing 41-41 and making the playoffs the year before.

Monroe was never going to be a good fit for Jason Kidd‘s aggressive defensive scheme that requires the center to harass the lead ball-handler in pick-and-roll sets. The system requires quick decisions regarding when to trap, when to switch pick-and-rolls, and good communication.

Continuity is important and, like any system, the players get better as they get used to playing with each other.

Even playing simple, competent help defense was too much to ask from him. Time didn’t seem to help Monroe, as his defensive problems lasted all season.

Zach Lowe’s description of Monroe from 2013 sounds a lot like 2016 Monroe:

"Monroe is a very good offensive player, but he’s a glaring liability on defense in a league getting smaller and quicker. He’s a turnstile trying to contain the pick-and-roll out on the floor — a mess of bad footwork, poor timing, lazy reaches, and bad choices.When Detroit has him hang back at the foul line, ball handlers can zip around him with an easy crossover or launch wide-open jumpers as Monroe, petrified at giving up a rim run, retreats a step farther than most bigs would dare — often with his arms down."

Monroe isn’t a bad player, he just doesn’t make sense in Milwaukee. He’s obviously very good offensively. In a different era, Monroe might have been a star. But the game has changed. Organizations build their teams around point guards that can shoot and distribute, and wings that can shoot threes and get to the rim. Oh, and you better be able to guard your position otherwise YouTube videos of your defensive shortcomings will become internet fodder.

This season Bucks coach and basketball slapping aficionado, Jason Kidd says Monroe will come off the bench. Although, apparently Monroe didn’t know that until reporters told him on Media Day. Oops. That’s awkward. Methinks Kidd and Monroe need to go to NBA couples counseling so this type of miscommunication don’t happen in the future.

A bench role seems perfect for Monroe. The Bucks can start a competent rim protector like John Henson or Miles Plumlee to cover for Jabari Parker‘s defensive lapses, and Monroe can feast against backup centers without having to worry as much about defense. He might not like it, but unless they make a trade, bringing Monroe off the bench may be the only way to make all the pieces on their roster fit into a workable rotation.

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  • If the Bucks struggle out of the gate, the trade rumors are likely to start up again. The injury to Khris Middleton has dampened expectations, so it’s tough to predict how exactly this season will pan out. Don’t count out a Giannis Antetokounmpo super leap season where he averages a triple-double and leads the Bucks to an unlikely playoff appearance. Don’t bet on that either.

    Monroe has a player option in his contract for next season, but it’s hard to say whether or not he will choose to return to the Bucks or hit the open market.

    The ballooning salary cap suggests there’s money to be made, but I have some doubt as to whether a team would give Monroe more than the $17.8 million he’s due to make next season. His skill-set isn’t as valuable as it once was.

    For comparison, Al Jefferson got three years and $30 million from the Indiana Pacers this offseason. Jefferson is older than Monroe, but they are similar players — low-post scorers, poor defenders. Would he even get the four-year, $64 million contract Timofey Mozgov (that still seems weird to type) got from the Los Angeles Lakers?

    Teams want their high paid centers to be rim protectors. Monroe is not that. For now he will continue to do what he does best (and worst) in Milwaukee. Never rule out a midseason panic trade by a GM that needs to save his job and has convinced himself Monroe is his team’s missing piece.

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