Greg Monroe has been playing like a man on a mission for the Milwaukee Bucks. A mission to will his team to the playoffs. Monroe first came to Milwaukee in the Summer of 2015. At the time he believed the Bucks gave him a better chance to reach the playoffs for the first time in his career than either of the big market teams in pursuit of his services, the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks. Of course, the three years and $50 million didn’t hurt either. Milwaukee is typically not a priority destination for high-profile free agents so it shocked the world when Monroe agreed to sign with the Bucks. He is without a doubt the biggest signing since Bobby Simmons came from the Clippers to the Bucks in 2005, and maybe the biggest in Bucks history.
As typically comes with a lot of money is high expectations. Monroe has failed to live up to those extremely high expectations the fans hold of him. He has been unfairly held to standards that his skills are not able to match. However, that doesn’t mean that Monroe has not been effective in a Bucks uniform. Last year in Milwaukee he posted his second highest Player Efficiency Rating of his career at 21.8 (league average is 15). This year he is on pace to set his career high with 22.3. His block percentage (percentage of 2 point field goals he blocks while on the floor) is up. As is his assist percentage (percentage of teammates field goals he assisted), win shares per 48 (number of wins contributed by Monroe), and his true shooting percentage (measure of shooting efficiency that combines 2 pt and 3 pt field goals and free throws).
As limited as Monroe’s skill-set may be, his abilities far out-way those limitations. He has a good understanding of his strengths and weaknesses and knows how to maximize his strengths as a player. Monroe is an above average passer for a big man, skilled low post scorer who has outstanding footwork, developing off-hand, and great communication skills on defense. Monroe’s increased hustle and willingness to do the dirty work has taken his game to the next level. Over the last three games Monroe has averaged 22.3 points per game and is shooting 76.9% from the field while averaging 9.7 rebounds and 2 steals. I looked back at the film and figured out how he has been able to help lead the Milwaukee Bucks to three wins over that span.
The first aspect that stands out to both myself and other fans out there is Monroe’s effort. He has really taken his effort to the next level and is modeling the type of play his teammates can rally behind and replicate. It is important for the Bucks, a team with a moderate amount of talent in the NBA, to do the dirty work that other teams aren’t willing to do on a consistent basis. Monroe has led that charge and it has helped to produce three victories in the past three games for the Bucks. You will see Monroe diving on the floor for loose balls and sprinting down the court to get in good position on both ends of the floor.
On this following play Monroe starts the fast break for the Bucks by anticipating the pass beautifully and getting the steal. He fumbles with the ball a little bit but is able to recover and quickly pass the ball to Giannis Antetoknoumpo. Monroe continues to sprint the floor and Giannis does the right thing and rewards the big man. The result is Monroe’s first career alley-oop dunk. I’m joking, I hope. This play is a perfect example of Monroe using his energy and hustle to spark the Bucks when he comes off the bench.
Most of the improvements Monroe has shown have surprisingly been on the offensive side of the ball as his defense has slipped a little in the past three games. His season defensive rating (individual efficiency at preventing the other team from scoring) is 106.3 compared to the past three games where it has been 104.7. Moose has never been an adept defensive player and has struggled to fit into Milwaukee’s scheme since day one. Moose’s slow feet have prevented him from efficiently being able to help stop dribble penetration and then recover to his guy in a timely manner. He has also struggled with the defensive rotations that are so key in this Bucks chaotic scheme. However, I have noticed that Monroe’s communication skills have really increased this season and especially the last few games. Through league pass I can hear him barking out to his teammates and communicating with them as he often has a good vantage point while roaming the middle of the lane.
Monroe also has his hands up constantly on defense. Having your hands up on defense is a fundamental that is taught to kids first learning to play basketball. It is so important at every level however as it makes passing lanes smaller and always ensures that you are ready to catch or tip a pass not intended for you. When Monroe’s man has the ball he uses his active hands to swipe at the ball while also shuffling his feet. Although he gets beat off the dribble often this has led to a few steals and deflections along the way. This increased activity has lead to Monroe’s career year in steals.
Monroe has shown a lot of effort in stepping out on ball screens until the ball handler’s man can recover. Sometimes big men will stay in the lane or come out too hard and that allows the ball handler to come off the screen for a wide open jumper or the ability to split the big man and attack the lane. At the beginning of this play Monroe has come out to the three-point line to help on a Drummond ball screen. Monroe helps effectively until Brogdon is able to recover to his man. Monroe then drops back to the lane where Drummond has rolled and is able to box Drummond out so the Bucks can secure the rebound. For future reference also notice how Monroe immediately sprints down the middle of the floor after the Bucks secure the rebound.
Moose has done a great job of translating his hustle on the defensive end to the offensive end. This has begun as soon as Milwaukee has gained possession in the backcourt. Moose can often be seen sprinting the floor for a secondary transition bucket. Where and how Monroe sprints the floor is the key to the sprint being successful. To begin with Moose picks the opportunities. He realizes when it is beneficial and when he has the chance to get a bucket for his team. Secondly, and most importantly, is where Monroe sprints when he is going down court. He typically sprints right down the middle of the floor. This allows the Bucks to throw the pass on either side of the hoop and for Monroe to use his big body to shield off the defender and catch the pass. By catching the ball in the center of the court it allows Monroe to use either side of the basket to finish and to use the rim to stop the defender from potentially blocking the shot.
On this play he does just about everything mentioned in the above paragraph. After Middleton knocks the ball away and Vaughn comes up with it Monroe immediately starts to run the floor. When Milwaukee gains possession of the ball Monroe is in the middle of the lane with his defender, Lopez, outside the three-point line. Monroe immediately sprints down the middle of the floor and is able to beat Lopez to the lane on Milwaukee’s end of the floor. Vaughn then hits Monroe in stride as he’s able to use the rim as an extra defender to keep the 7 foot Lopez from blocking the shot and lay the ball in with his strong left hand.
I have constantly raved about his activity on defense and have shown how that has translated to offense. Monroe also demonstrates this constant activity in half court sets. He has been very active after setting a ball screen. One of the best things Monroe can do after setting a screen is to immediately roll to the basket. This forces the defense to react quickly and doesn’t allow them time to set their defense. Monroe has done an outstanding job of immediately moving after he sets a ball screen. Since Monroe is mainly a player who scores around the basket he constantly rolls down the middle of the lane.
Monroe’s footwork is a piece of art. He has beautifully mastered the pivot and is able to turn that into buckets around the hoop. Monroe also uses his strength and width down low in order to create enough space to get his shot off. He mostly finishes with his strong hand (his left) but has also developed his right hand into a respectable option. On the play below he spins middle to no avail and then pivots back and shoots a baby hook over his right shoulder for two points. The degree of difficulty to complete this move and not travel is very high. It has taken Moose years of practice in the gym to get this type of footwork mastered. Monroe has to use all of these savvy moves and more in order to make up for his lack of athleticism other players have. Monroe has done a great job in these last three games of being aggressive and taking those shots when they are there. Anytime he senses a mismatch in the post he aggressively pursues the ball down low.
The Milwaukee Bucks have won their last three games to send themselves into the All-Star break with some momentum. Whether or not the Bucks are able to continue that run after the break will depend a lot on the players surrounding Giannis Antetokounmpo. Moose has been a main proponent to that mini win streak. He has shown that winning is everything to him. He has picked up his effort, energy level, and overall game to help replace what was lost when Jabari Parker went down. Greg Monroe is making $17.1 million dollars this season. It is about time that he rewards the Bucks for the huge contract and shows the NBA that he is a force to be reckoned with.