Hiding Greg Monroe: Why The Milwaukee Bucks Defense WIll Be Fine


The old adage “the best defense is a good offense” applies to much of the modern NBA. So long as you can out-offense your opponent you give yourself an excellent chance to win. The Milwaukee Bucks operate at the opposite of that standard.

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Instead of overwhelming offensive efficiency the Bucks look to swarm opponents defensively, using a complex scheme that relies on double teams and length. With that in mind, how does the Bucks huge free agent acquisition, Greg Monroe, fit in with the team’s defense?

The answer is as murky and convoluted as True Detective’s season two plot.

The first step in unraveling the mystery is to understand that Greg Monroe’s defense is bad. He’s a lumbering behemoth of an offensive threat, bullying his way to 15.9 ppg with overwhelming girth and power. Along with his rebounding (10.2 rpg), it’s his offense that has Buck’s fans frothing as they anticipate the start of the season.

But defense? No, that’s not Greg Monroe’s game. Says Rob Mahoney of SI.com:

"Defensively, Monroe is big enough to get in the way of opposing scorers but blocks shots at the same rate as Mike Dunleavy. A rim protector he is not; Monroe has neither the feel for coverage nor the vertical lift to really challenge opponents at the basket, making it all the more important that he be flanked by a player who can."

Of the four Milwaukee front-line threats (Jabari Parker, Greg Monroe, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and John Henson), Monroe has the second lowest block percentage at 1.3%. That’s ahead of Jabari Parker’s .6%, but well behind Giannis’ 2.8% and John Henson’s impressive 9.3%. That’s why Rob Mahoney suggests that it’s important to be flanked by a rim protector.

Here’s where the Buck’s defensive scheme will get interesting. Instead of leaving Jabari Parker to guard opponent’s PFs (his natural position), the Bucks should use Antetokounmpo as Monroe’s primary flanker. Giannis is longer, quicker, and has more defensive feel than Parker.

Take a look at Giannis Antetokonmpo’s 2014-15 defensive highlight reel.

His closing speed on fast breaks notwithstanding, the most impressive part of Giannis’ defensive game is help defense. That’s because he’s huge, fast, and his arms go on forever.

That should prove to be a phenomenal benefit to Greg Monroe, whose natural tendency is to to play within nine feet of the rim both offensively and defensively. Only .076% of his offensive shots in 2014-15 were from ten feet and beyond.

Monroe’s game was built on playing near the rim. He’s a clogger. That leaves a gaping defensive hole when the Bucks go up against stretchier fives like: Marc Gasol, Al Horford, Jonas Valanciunas, Enes Kanter, and Nikola Vucevic.

With Giannis Antetokounmpo lined up opposite Monroe, the Bucks will look to lean heavily on help defense. More specifically, they will have to trust Giannis Antetkounmpo to close the empty space in the paint when Greg Monroe gets pulled away from the rim.

Defensively, Giannis is the perfect counterpart to Greg Monroe. He’s the lightning to Monroe’s thunder. The Corvette to Monroe’s Range Rover. The flash to Monroe’s crash.

Is Antetokounmpo capable of filling that void? Sure, we saw plenty of that ability last season. Defensively, Giannis is the perfect counterpart to Greg Monroe. He’s the lightning to Monroe’s thunder. The Corvette to Monroe’s Range Rover. The flash to Monroe’s crash. It should be a great pairing.

Look for the Bucks defense this season to resemble the Zaza Pachulia anchored units of last season. From a numbers standpoint Pachulia and Monroe have defensive similarities. Both have low block percentages (Monroe 1.3%, Pachulia 1.0%). Both have low defensive win shares (Monroe 2.8, Pachulia 2.9). And both struggle to move with lateral quickness.

That’s part of the reason securing John Henson long-term is part of the Milwaukee Bucks plan. Last season, Henson was able to come off the bench and curb opponents scoring in the paint. Sure he wasn’t the offensive threat that Zaza Pachulia was; but that’s not really his game either. Look for Henson to provide a similar defensive impact, this time coming in for Greg Monroe.

This season there’s no Ersan Ilyasova–a so-so defensive player, but a large body with serviceable speed. The Bucks do get back the services of Jabari Parker, but he’s no defensive stalwart either, lacking both the quickness and size to hang with quicker NBA wings and forwards.

How will the Milwaukee Bucks defense look this season with Greg Monroe manning the middle? Remarkably similar to last season; with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s lightning-fast help defense and John Henson’s natural gift for rim protection masking the potential negative impact of Greg Monroe’s iffy defensive ability.

Next: Could Giannis Antetokounmpo Really Play At Center?

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