“Greg Monroe desperately needs a change of scenery.”
“The Bucks have reportedly been shopping around center Greg Monroe.”
“Greg Monroe is likely on his way out of Milwaukee.”
That same Greg Monroe now stands as the x-factor in the Bucks series against the Raptors.
In the past year, negative headlines have followed Bucks center Greg Monroe endlessly. After what was considered by many to be a failed season last year, the blame was placed primarily on Monroe and his lack of defensive prowess. Additionally, in a Bucks offense that operates on fluidity and motion, he spent far too much time in isolation sets, taking away all the rhythm that the Bucks were trying to generate. He seemingly did not have a spot on this team.
The solution? While many thought it was to ship Monroe out of the Cream City, the real answer was found in one place that many $16 million players rarely find themselves: the bench.
However, instead of being a failed venture, Monroe emerged as a legitimate 6th Man of the Year candidate. He anchors a bench group that has been one of the keys to the Bucks success thus far. He adds a scoring punch that is rare in bench groups, and his offensive arsenal often opens up opportunities for others.
Often times, Monroe does not have to play the majority of his minutes against the opposing team’s number one center. For someone like Monroe that is athletically limited in a league where centers are becoming more and more athletically freakish every day, this has played a large part in his rejuvenated success.
Nowhere has his integral role to the Bucks been more obvious than in these last three games against against the Raptors. In Game 1, Monroe posted a dominant line of 14 points and 15 rebounds, truly anchoring the Bucks in the interior. With the Bucks starting center being the lanky Thon Maker, Monroe was able to fight pound for pound with the Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas when Maker was on the bench, helping to hold him to a mere 9 points on 2-5 shooting. Monroe also helped the Bucks by grabbing 5 offensive rebounds, giving them the second chance opportunities that often are necessary to beat a team with the Raptors level of talent.
In Game 2, Monroe shot an efficient 6-9 from the field for 18 points, enough to help keep the Bucks within striking distance. He displayed his offensive versatility especially. For his first basket of the game, he muscled through Valanciunas for an and-one, a play where his will to win was apparent. For his second field goal of the game, he found a hole in the Raptors defense to receive a back-door pass for as easy dunk. Then, he set himself up on the elbow a few plays later to hit his oh-so-sweet jumper off of a pass from Malcolm Brogdon. Although they could not pull it out in the end, Monroe’s presence on offense helped them stay in the game heading into the fourth quarter after it started to feel like it could be slipping away.
In Game 3, Monroe sent in a great all-around performance, scoring 16 points, grabbing 7 rebounds, and dishing out three assists to go along with two blocks and a steal. One sequence in particular showed his offensive ability, as he used nifty footwork to spin off of Valanciunas and duck under him for an easy layup. Plays like that are what make him a $16 million player and a truly invaluable asset to the Bucks. Take a look for yourself, at the 1:00 mark below:
So far in the series, Monroe has been borderline dominant. Whatever he wants to get on either end of the floor is his, and he has shown the hustle and determination to make anybody foolish to suggest otherwise.
His stabilizing effect on the young core is paramount to this team. Although this is his first playoff experience, it sure does not seem to faze him. Monroe is as strong and steady as ever.
With the Bucks currently holding a 2-1 lead, the series is within their grasp. If Monroe can lead the second unit to produce to their capability, look out; the Bucks are coming.