The Greg Monroe experience has been a pleasant one so far. He's scoring with career-high levels of efficiency (60.1 TS%), he's facilitating the offense (assisting on almost a fifth of the team's field goals while he's on the floor), and his turnover rate is the lowest since his rookie season. Taking him off the court has been, simply put, devastating in the early season: in his 298 minutes of court time, the Bucks have plus-2.4 net efficiency rating. When Monroe hits the bench? The Bucks have been outscored by nearly 18 points per 100 possessions.
How can Monroe be making such an immense difference? His 20.3 net efficiency is almost exactly the same as LeBron James's (20.4)! Monroe has been leaving his mark in many ways. A Four Factors analysis courtesy of NBA.com points out a couple spots where the difference is stark. The Bucks' free-throw rate is nearly 50 percent higher with Monroe on the floor, while their turnover rate is roughly 25% lower (the turnover rate for Milwaukee's opponents jumps over 20% when Monroe plays). A lot of those numbers are early-season mirages, at least in magnitude, but the trends are illustrative and encouraging.
But what about those areas we expected Monroe to make a definitive impact? Examining one in particular, interior scoring, reveals a strange truth from these first few weeks. Namely, Monroe hasn't been the purely-interior beast Milwaukee was (presumably) looking for when they signed him. In fact, he's been a shockingly effective mid-range shooter.
Let's lay out the most striking discrepancy right away. For his career, Monroe is a 32% shooter on two-pointers outside of 16 feet. This season, he's hit 64% of shots from that range (granted, on only 14 small-sample-size-screaming attempts). In terms of sustainability, that's about on the same level as an above-ground pool in Antarctica heated by a generator powered by a treadmill spun by a Hummer driven by a guy drinking water drawn from the Hollywood reservoir and eating panda steaks. Just in the here-and-now though, what kind of floor-spacing benefits has Monroe's hot streak afforded the team?
When Monroe is out, the Bucks hit 54.2% of their shots in the restricted area. When Monroe is in, his teammates make 57.5% of such shots. Now this certainly has a lot to do with the personnel Monroe typically plays with--guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo are already excellent finishers at the rim (Giannis is actually marginally better at point-blank range when Monroe sits down). But the effect has been noticeable in a few instances. Jerryd Bayless takes and makes more shots at the rim when he plays with Monroe. The same goes for Khris Middleton, who hasn't taken a single shot within the restricted arc when playing without Monroe on the court with him.
Monroe's always been known as a solid passer from the interior and high post, and that's borne out in the numbers as well. Milwaukee gets 66.8% of its field goals off assists when Monroe is on the court versus 61.2% without him. It's certainly plausible that Monroe's early-season luck has contributed in that regard, forcing defenders to play up a little closer and leave passing lanes unprotected. Cutters have more space, and Monroe can better utilize his on-ball offense to get by individual defenders and create good shots. Still, teams probably haven't changed their scouting reports on him simply because of some early midrange success; because of his passing and ability to put it on the floor, most teams don't just want to sag off him.
Now the important question: what happens when that shooting percentage drops? And yes, it's gonna drop. The good news is that Monroe looks to have a little upward regression coming his way as well. Not only is Monroe's offense likely to shift inside as the year progresses, but he'll likely get those interior shots to fall more often as well. Shooting at the rim is one place Monroe has been exceedingly consistent: he's made between 61 and 63 percent of such shots each of the last four years. His current 55% mark is very likely to rise. That move inside will hopefully lead to increased three-point efficiency for the Bucks as Monroe's scoring draws defenders in rather than out. That's what they got him for, and that's what they need right now. Regression may be inevitable, but it doesn't have to be a bummer.