I still recall the excitement of the free agency period in the summer of 2015. The Bucks had just given the Bulls a tough series in the first round of an unexpected playoff visit and the Giannis Antetokounmpo hype was getting its legs. Jabari Parker looked very promising before his ACL injury, Khris Middleton got paid, and the future looked bright for the young Bucks.
Enter Greg Monroe, a hot free agent who chose small market Milwaukee over New York and Los Angeles – a sign that the Bucks meant business. The then-25-year-old brought two things the Bucks desperately needed – rebounding and post-scoring – launching the Bucks into the playoff conversation in what was considered to be a weak Eastern Conference. For 3 years and $51 million, the Bucks got their stud center. Right?
But “Moose” didn’t live up to expectations and the Milwaukee Bucks fell woefully short in a disappointing 2015-2016 campaign. While Antetokounmpo and Parker showed they were for real, Monroe showed that he didn’t fit in the lineup. His defense was lacking, and the fast-paced Bucks offense didn’t play to his strengths. He had his bright spots and didn’t even play that poorly, but his role with the franchise was questioned. Trade rumors circled throughout the offseason with suitors like the Kings and the Pelicans. But Monroe stayed put, and I personally didn’t understand why the Bucks didn’t unload his contract.
Fast forward to mid-December 2016, and I understand what he brings to this roster. Monroe has made his doubters look foolish with stellar play from the bench. In Friday’s 95-65 win over the rival Chicago Bulls, Moose had 14 points, 12 boards and 3 assists in 23 minutes with a +14 point differential. That’s nothing like the Monroe we saw for most of last season, so let’s dive into the numbers and figure out what the hell is going on.
Monroe is Milwaukee’s third leading scorer at 9.4 PPG
Or 17.6 per 36 minutes. And he’s doing it while being seventh on the team in minutes. That may not mean much considering the Bucks have seven guys averaging between 7.4-9.4 PPG, his efficiency better than most on the roster. His eFG is 50% and he’s hitting 85% of his free throws, easily a career high.
He’s second in rebounds with 6.7 RPG
Once again, he’s doing this in only 19 minutes per game. His post presence still lacks on defense, but he averages 12.5 rebounds (3.5 offensive) per 36 minutes. That’s the best rate of his career and best on the team unless you count Thon Maker’s small sample size of 28 total minutes this season.
Monroe is passing the ball better than ever
His 2.3 assists per game are the same as last year, but 4.4 per 36 makes for the best pace in his career. The first offense clearly flows through Antetokounmpo and Parker, but Jason Kidd has freed Monroe to lead the second unit making him a hub of the offense, acting as a scorer and facilitator.
He’s a plus/minus stud
Marc Gasol, Karl-Anthony Towns, Brook Lopez, Al Horford, Marreese Speights. That’s the list of centers with a better offensive output than Monroe, who has a .69 ORPM this season. He’s been solid on defense as well, sliding into the top 30 with a 1.49 DRPM. Basically, per 100 possessions the Bucks are scoring nearly a point more and allowing a point and a half less while he’s on the court. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but last year he was slightly worse offensively and had virtually no impact on defense, where he was 48th out of the 60 players who qualified at that position.
With a new contract for Miles Plumlee and John Henson getting starter’s minutes, Monroe hasn’t seen the court as much this year, but coming off the bench has been good for him as he’s helped the Bucks to a 13-12 start in the disastrous cluster that is the Eastern Conference. You could even argue that the 2016-2017 season has been the best of his career.