The Milwaukee Bucks made the most important free agent signing in franchise history last week in signing Greg Monroe. That is not hyperbolic. That is the truth.
For years, Milwaukee has been seen as a wasteland that free agents avoid at (nearly) all costs. The only free agents signing in Milwaukee were role playing veterans who were offered a whole pile of money. That was it. Gary Neal. Drew Gooden. Bobby Simmons. That was the caliber of player being overpaid to play in Milwaukee.
This Greg Monroe signing changes things for the Bucks in free agency going forward. The Bucks signed a young, supremely talented player with both the Knicks and Lakers competing for that same player's talents and offering extremely similar contracts. Now, it should be stated that the signing DID occur in an extremely strange offseason with an exploding cap on the horizon, so it may not be indicative of the free agency landscape going forward. But there is no overstating the signing's importance.
This past week during their free agency preview, Zach Lowe and Marc Stein had an interesting exchange about how free agency can truly affect the way teams are perceived around the league.
Lowe: "The meeting thing is very interesting. When you talk to the Clippers about getting a meeting with LeBron in 2010...they didn't get LeBron. They didn't have a chance in hell to get LeBron, but they thought that meeting changed their perception around the league. it changed the way teams thought about them."
Stein: "I think for a lot of teams that step does matter. The Lakers are always going to get a meeting. The Knicks will always get meetings...I think there is some value in that and it does enhance the reputation of your franchise. It does matter. It definitely matters."
Getting meetings with top free agents this offseason would have been a significant step forward for the Bucks this offseason, even without signing one of the summer's top free agents. But that wasn't enough for the Bucks. They went out and signed one of the best free agents on the market.
In signing Monroe, the Bucks added another immensely talented young player to a roster already full of players you could describe in the exact same way. But what exactly does Monroe bring to the table?
As Frank already detailed, Monroe did a lot of things well while part-time masquerading as power forward alongside Andre Drummond in Detroit, but let's make one thing clear: Monroe is a center. He scored 415 points in post up situations last season, while the Bucks scored just 426 as a team. Of Monroe's 853 shot attempts, 603 (~71%) came within five feet of the basket, which was third in the NBA. Another 185 shots came from between 5-10 feet from the basket, the league's tenth highest number. So, in total, Monroe took 92% of his shots within 10 feet of the basket. For anyone looking for a post presence, this might be your guy.
Despite doing nearly all of his scoring close to the basket, Monroe is extremely useful away from the basket as well. He is both capable and willing as a passer, averaging just over two assists per game. In fact, the Pistons regularly initiated their offense through Monroe at the elbows, which should come in handy as Jason Kidd's offense asks for much of the same. In fact, last season, Zaza Pachulia was second in elbow touches per 36 minutes in the entire league, trailing only Marc Gasol.
Defensively, Monroe isn't a game-changer but that doesn't mean he'll necessarily be a problem either. Again, as Frank already mentioned, Monroe is not the rim protector that would be the ideal fit for this Bucks squad, but he does seem to pair his intelligence with good agility to make himself a slightly above average defender at the center position. However, there will almost certainly be a learning curve, especially with Jabari Parker needing to be reintegrated alongside Monroe on Milwaukee's frontline. It will be interesting to see how Monroe (and a rehabilitated Parker) adjust to the Bucks' system, especially given the high level of trust, effort and quick decision-making it requires.
There seems to be little that would suggest that Monroe will be anything but an overwhelmingly positive addition for the Bucks this season, but, as is the case with the Bucks, looking towards the future is an absolute necessity. And that is where it is necessary to ask some larger philosophical questions.
The first has to do with the Bucks' offensive strategy. This summer, I have taken a look at whether or not the Bucks should be shooting more threes and the Bucks front office has seemed to put a premium on adding more shooters with the additions of Greivis Vasquez and Rashad Vaughn.
Still, the move to add Monroe while dumping veteran floor-stretchers Ersan Ilyasova and Jared Dudley would seem to be a move in the opposite direction. That might not be worrisome philosophically, if not for Kidd's vehement defense of the post up in Zach Lowe's piece regarding the possible death of that type of basketball. It seems fair to ask if the Bucks are actively striving to create a "modern" offense or if they will attempt to rely on a set of skills that many other teams view as less important in today's NBA.
More importantly, it seems logical to question whether or not Monroe's addition could stifle the growth of some of the other players on the Bucks roster. There is no doubt that he fills a number of the Bucks' needs and should help the team immensely in his time in Milwaukee, but it seems necessary to question how he fits with the Bucks' young players. Since Jabari Parker was drafted last summer, the major priority in Milwaukee has been to give Giannis Antetokounmpo and Parker the best environment to develop into the max-level players that they need to be for the Bucks to become title contenders. With Monroe in tow, will Antetokounmpo and Parker be able to get the opportunities they need to continue to grow as players? Will the Bucks get a better understanding of Michael Carter-Williams' abilities if Monroe is using a high number of possessions?
It may be difficult to actively encourage the development of these young players with a player around that may help hide their deficiencies and also limit their chances to improve. The hope would obviously be that these players grow together symbiotically and form the core of a long-armed, highly talented monster in the Eastern Conference, but it seems necessary to wonder if growing up together will allow them to develop to their maximum potential individually.
These questions will be answered in time, but for now, it seems pretty cool to relish in the talent the Bucks have accumulated that even make these questions relevant.