Greg Monroe has transformed himself from a negative asset six months ago to one of the biggest reasons why the Bucks are performing so well in the playoffs, but what has he done to change?
The Bucks started this season with four centers on the roster that warranted playing time. Miles Plumlee was the starter at the beginning of the season. He's earning 12,400,000 per year until the end of the 2019/2020 season. John Henson is also on a similar deal that expires at the end of the 19/20 season. Thon Maker was going to take time to develop, but the number 10 pick needed some minutes.
Then, of course, there was Greg Monroe - the highest earner on the Bucks, but his game style was stuck in another era. Coach Jason Kidd built this team around a defensive identity. Monroe was too slow to close out on shooters and wasn't a terrific post defender - not due to lack of size - but more of a lack of constant effort. His game on offense was tough to accommodate with the starters. His range barely extended past the paint, and it's hard to accommodate a low post scorer who clogs the lane when you've also got Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker on the floor - two guys who need the ball around the paint.
Monroe even had a few DNP - Coach's decisions throughout the year. His minutes were inconsistent and things weren't looking great. Then, things started to look up for him. Miles Plumlee was traded away for Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert (the latter of whom was gone almost immediately). John Henson just fell out of the rotation totally as well. Thon Maker became the starter, but he averaged just under 10 minutes per game in the regular season.
Parker's injury was cruel, but Khris Middleton returned and the spacing became a bit better. Coach Kidd started running the second unit's offense through Monroe, and his terrific passing out of the post has now become a Marc Gasol level weapon in the playoffs.
Monroe and Middleton worked excellently together in game one against the Raptors. They were finding each other with sharp passes, and the desire to work hard off the ball became infectious as the ball handler's were rewarding the cutters.
That play is straight out of the peak Chicago Joakim Noah playbook. Only a handful of centers off the bench could do that in this league. Even fewer would have the audacity to attempt that against the Raptors, the team that allows the eighth fewest points per game this season.
Another example of a perfect give-and-go play that made the Middleton-Monroe lineups so dangerous, despite Middleton not being able to hit many jumpers.
Monroe has shown in this series that he's ready to be more mobile. Jonas Valanciunas comes up to help stop Jason Terry in this play, but he gets burned as Monroe makes a quick move towards the basket.
Valanciunas has been played off the floor in this series. We knew that Raptors coach Dwane Casey didn't trust the Lithuanian center in late game situations, but his minutes have been shortened every game. In game one, he had 24 minutes. That dropped to 22 minutes in game two, by game three he's down to 20 minutes.
On the other hand, Maker's minutes have gone from 15 to 20, to 21. Monroe's lowest total has been just under 22 minutes in game two - and to be fair to him, Maker was part of the reason why the Bucks were right in the game in the last quarter.
Maker's defense has been enjoyable, and he's making shots. The Raptors have had to show him more respect from three than they did Hawes or Mirza Teletovic. For that reason, it's understandable why the Raptors aren't playing Valanciunas against him, despite his clear ability to get an easy post-up against the thin Maker.
But against Monroe? We saw that he's exploiting Valanciunas off the ball. But he's also making plays on the defensive end. Take this play where Demarre Carroll gets called for the charge. The Bucks are flying around and closing the passing lanes. Monroe is no shot blocker, but he's doing what Marreese Speights was doing for the Warriors last year - just being as active as possible at all times and getting in position when his more talented defensive teammates funnel the offensive player towards the help.
Monroe has seriously adapted his game style without having to become a better shooter. In this series, he's 2-3 from 15-19 foot jumpers, which has certainly been a plus. It's obviously a tiny sample size, but the fact that he's even taking those shots shows his level of confidence at the moment.
NBA Twitter has done a 180 turn on their views on Monroe over the last couple of months.
He's even started becoming active in guarding the pick and roll. In the first two games, the Bucks bigs were coming up high and trapping the ball handler. Monroe managed to steal the ball and capture exactly what Milwaukee's defensive scheme is all about.
In game three, Kidd made the adjustment to let the bigs switch on the pick and roll instead of trapping. Clearly it worked when Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozen combined for 21 points. Monroe may have fouled out in game three, but he wasn't letting the Raptors get good looks at the rim - something that's always been an exploitable part of his game.
His footwork on defence has been a bit better and as a result, his teammates do not have to come too far across to help. It was clearly a huge plus for the Bucks in game three, as the Raptors went 6-22 from behind the arc. The Raptors looked to move the ball quickly on the perimeter out of the pick and roll, but every Bucks defender was able to recover in time on skip passes to cut off wide open corner threes.
Monroe looks to have found his niche under Jason Kidd, and he should take that player option for next year.