Greg Monroe Impresses As Sixth Man For Milwaukee Bucks

Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

At the beginning of the season — just one year removed from signing Greg Monroe to a $50 million contract — there seemed to be more questions than answers in regard to the Milwaukee Bucks’ big free-agent pickup. What a difference a year makes.

Greg Monroe was coming off of a tough year at the start of the Milwaukee Bucks’ current campaign. The Moose never quite seemed to fit with Jason Kidd and the Bucks throughout the 2015-16 season.

In that first year with the Bucks, Greg Monroe’s “old-school” style looked outdated. The fast-paced Bucks were slowed down by his “one-on-one” game inside the post, and his defense and lack of energy was a liability.

The season saw Monroe coming off the bench for the first time in his career, and resulted in a summer of trade rumors.

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But all of that has seemed to change.

Over the course of this season, Monroe has shown a willingness to embrace his role as first man off the bench, despite learning about it from the media, rather than his coach. Not a great start, but things have improved to say the least.

Coming off the bench, Monroe often plays the majority of his minutes against second-unit centers and stretch-fours playing out of position. Those mismatches have allowed the 26-year-old to feast inside the post.

Aside from his proficient scoring — which has never been an issue — the most impressive aspect of Monroe’s game this season is his ability and willingness to pass the ball. It seems every game he will find someone — often Malcolm Brogdon — cutting through the lane for an easy layup.

The attention he draws from defenders in the post or at the wing opens up lanes to the basket, and Monroe has shown great restraint trying to play one-on-one, opting instead to pick up some assists — 3.7 per 36 minutes, to be exact.

A look at Monroe’s numbers compared to last year paints a picture of growth and evolution. His spacing has improved, as well, shooting an impressive 51.4 percent from 10-16 feet. Monroe’s improvement has led the Bucks offense to a +9.5 net plus/minus (per 100 possessions) with Monroe on the floor — compared to +4.1 last year.

On the defensive end, Monroe is making great strides. And while he isn’t the rim-protector or defensive juggernaut you hope for in an $18 million center, his improvement this year takes him out of the “liability” category.

Active hands and increased off-season conditioning have allowed Monroe to lead all back-up centers (and most starting centers) in steals. With 1.2 steals per game, the Moose complements Jason Kidd’s constant-switch defense impressively. He is active and doesn’t seem to get lost on switches nearly as often as the previous year.

Not to be forgotten, Greg Monroe alsocontinues to excel at something I’ve yet to see quantified: yelling “AND ONE” literally every time he is around action in the post. With Carlos Boozer — the reigning savant of the shout — playing in China, the Moose has stepped up in a big way to carry the volume torch.

Sixth man of the year candidate?

The former Georgetown Hoya’s impact this year has been huge, and shouldn’t go unnoticed. And while I don’t necessarily argue for Monroe as the Sixth Man of the Year, it’s certainly not as outlandish as it seems.

Though his raw numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page (12.0 points/6.7 rebounds/2.3 assists per game), he is playing only 22.7 minutes per game (compared to his career average of 29.8).

Let’s compare his per 36 statistics to this year’s presumptive Sixth Man of the Year favorites:

Greg Monroe: 19.0 points /10.6 rebounds /3.7 assists /1.8 steals / 0.8 blocks

Eric Gordon: 19.2 points /3.0 rebounds / 3.1 assists / 0.8 blocks / 0.6 blocks 

Lou Williams: 26.5 points / 3.4 rebounds / 4.5 assists / 1.5 blocks / 0.4 blocks

Once again, I’m not campaigning for a Greg Monroe Sixth Man of the Year award — the award seems to be reserved for the highest-scoring bench player on a top-tier team. But with these numbers — as well as the Bucks currently holding onto the sixth spot in the East — there is little doubt he should at least be in the conversation.

Next: Milwaukee Bucks: Player Power Rankings (March 23-March 29)

While the recognition would be great, Greg Monroe keeping up his fantastic play in the playoffs will make Bucks fans infinitely happier, and make the team a dangerous out.