Milwaukee Bucks: How Did We Get Here, Greg Monroe?

Nov 6, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd draws up a play for Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (15) against the New York Knicks during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. The Bucks defeated the Knicks 99-92. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 6, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd draws up a play for Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (15) against the New York Knicks during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. The Bucks defeated the Knicks 99-92. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

As the Milwaukee Bucks prepare for their upcoming season, Greg Monroe remains the subject of much discourse. How did we arrive at such a junction just one year after signing him?

During periods of struggle, it is only natural for the affected peoples to find an object to blame, a sort of scapegoat that may be blamed for the collective struggles of the group.

This phenomenon should be all too familiar to Milwaukee Bucks fans, as embattled center Greg Monroe has become a bit of an enigma, coming to symbolize the failed optimism and disappointment that became the aftertaste of the 2015-2016 season.

Psychologically, the reasons behind this blame are easy to understand; no one wants to pin the franchise’s failures on young, exciting talents like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, and Monroe’s status as a fresh face occupying a disappearing archetype made him an easy target.

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One look at the numbers tells us that pinning the Bucks’ struggles on Moose, or any one source at all, is oversimplifying a complex issue. Monroe finished with the second best offensive and defensive ratings on last year’s team, and was, along with Antetokounmpo, one of two Bucks to post positive offensive and defensive box plus-minuses.

However, it’s clear now that Monroe simply doesn’t have a place long-term within the Bucks’ vision as it stands presently, due most in part to a clash of styles. The respective fit or lack thereof, not any measure of skill, is the culprit behind the uncomfortable marriage of Monroe and the Bucks.

As would be expected from such a situation, the Bucks front office has reportedly attempted to trade Moose many times dating back to last season’s All-Star Break. Eight months later it’s easy to infer that a workable deal for Monroe just isn’t out there.

The new season is fast approaching on the horizon, a new season that will in all likelihood involve the play of Greg Monroe,. As the Bucks’ braintrust works on finding the best ways to work around an ill-fitted center, let’s take a look at just exactly how we ended up in this spot.

Before we get into the free agency that brought Moose to Milwaukee, it must be understood that, in a vacuum, Greg Monroe is a good NBA player, and perhaps even better in some respects.

This is something that is acknowledged far too little in Bucks circles, and while the fit may be what’s more important to the team’s overall success, it’s important to remember just exactly what type of player Monroe is.

Moose has the throwback ability to score almost at will in the low post, and per 36 minutes, actually posted the highest points average on last year’s Bucks. Without him, the Bucks likely do not pull off the impossible and defeat the Golden State Warriors in one of the highlights of last season.

In the “clutch”, defined as any game situation within two minutes and five points either way, Monroe was once again reliable, shooting 58 percent from the field. This isn’t an all-encompassing overview of his abilities, but it does serve to explain why Monroe was such a coveted asset during the 2015 offseason.

The former Detroit Piston was ranked as the 16th best available free agent, ahead of the likes of three-time All-Star Paul Millsap and the Bucks’ own Khris Middleton, and was said to be a possible “steal at the max”.

Although a stash of young players on rookie deals meant that the Bucks had ample cap space, general consensus and past history seemed to mandate that Milwaukee would be better off targeting lower-tier big men such as Robin Lopez or Tyson Chandler.

When Monroe did sign with the Bucks, the immediate reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Moose spurned the flashing lights of New York and Los Angeles for the small market of Milwaukee mainly due to a desire to contend.

Coming off a surprising 41-41 finish the year before, virtually every Bucks fan thought that this signing solidified the team as a top-tier squad in the East, as we surmised previously.

"The Bucks now finally have a center who can do some real damage in the paint. Last season Monroe averaged a double-double per game, posting almost 16 points and over ten rebounds each contest."

This thought wasn’t merely cheerleading on the part of Bucks die-hards; leaguewide, pundits and writers deemed the Monroe signing as an important step in Milwaukee’s seemingly inevitable march toward contention.

This isn’t to say that the collective Bucks populous was blinded into ignoring any of their new center’s deficiencies by the sudden attention and relevancy they had accrued. Point-preventing was a known concern for Monroe, however, nearly everyone believed that the Bucks then-vaunted defense could survive the addition of a slower, ground-bound big man.

After all, the frenetic, trapping unit led by Jason Kidd had finished fourth in the league in terms of defensive rating the year previous with a similar-bodied center in Zaza Pachulia.

Of course, this did not come close to becoming reality, as last year’s Bucks regressed to 23rd in the same metric. This unfortunate trend did not go unnoticed for long, as less than two months into the season questions had begun to arise about Monroe’s fit.

"Monroe’s signing was supposed to add gasoline to the fire and send Milwaukee from plucky upstarts to real contenders. Things are never that simple. What has been the biggest issue for the Bucks this season? You guessed it, defense. An area where Monroe has notoriously struggled for most of his career."

By the All-Star break, the Bucks had stumbled to a paltry 22-32 record and rumblings had already begun that the team was shopping Monroe, as well as point guard Michael Carter-Williams, prior to the trade deadline.

Trading their prize free agent signing so soon after acquiring him has the potential to leave a bad aftertaste, but the justifications for making a deal were already clear as early as February.

"If it’s not going to work out with Monroe, I would certainly be concerned about the risk of letting him walk away for nothing next summer, as it would be nice to have some return to show from a genuine free agency coup."

Obviously, no deal has been made, which tells us one of two things. Either the Bucks haven’t seriously shopped Monroe around the league despite reports to the contrary, or the market demand for Moose is low enough to where Bucks execs won’t sell him off at pennies on the dollar. The latter scenario seems more likely, as we discussed on Timeout With Ti last week.

Monroe’s play style is quickly disappearing from the NBA, and most highly skilled players of his type now come off the bench, as he is poised to do this year behind Miles Plumlee. Plumlee is perhaps a less skilled player than Monroe, but one with a fit that justifies his role.

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Moose enters the season as an overqualified sixth man with an uncertain future, and despite all the issues facing both him and the Bucks, it seems both parties will be seeking to maximize results from a less-than-ideal situation.