Moose on the Loose: What Greg Monroe Must do to Succeed in Toronto

Moose is on the loose in Toronto, though he'll have to tighten up on defence if he wants to call Toronto home in the future.

After moving around the Eastern Conference, never really settling in any one city, Greg Monroe has found himself in Toronto, ready and willing to play for the Raptors. In order to make the most of his one-year, $2.2 million deal (and potentially snag himself an extension) Monroe will have to impress Toronto’s front office by showing there’s more to his game than just flashy post moves.

At just under seven feet tall and weighing in at 265 pounds, Monroe fits the image of the quintessential 90s center, with his back-to-the-basket game adding to the visage.

Of all centers currently in the league, Monroe has arguably the best collection of moves in the paint. He excels at establishing position in the post and working his way towards the basket with a variety of cunning spins and fakes. Combine this with an uncanny ability to react to changing defenses, plus a nice soft touch, and Monroe’s been good for easily 10 points per game.

To be precise, Monroe has averaged just under 14 points per game through his career with 86 percent of his offense coming from the paint, per Nicholas Gardner of RaptorsHQ.

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While the bulk of his game flows through the inside, Monroe will occasionally step out to the midrange area and launch from there. In fact, he knocked down 42% of his jumpers between 10 feet out and the three-point line last season.

Naturally, the next thing for Monroe, 28, to add to his game is a long-distance jumper. As chance would have it, Monroe revealed in August that he’s working on his shot so he blends seamlessly into Nick Nurse’s three-heavy offense and helps space the floor, Kurt Helin reports.

Assuming Monroe does start hitting the odd three-pointer, which is possible considering there isn’t anything blatantly wrong with his shot form, the Raptors could easily give him 15 to 20 minutes off the bench to help get the offense going when it stagnates. While Toronto’s bench was historically good last season, they didn’t have one specific player they could consistently turn to for instant offense inside the paint. Monroe should be able to help in that area, though it may be the extent of his role if he fails to improve on the other side of the court.

Monroe’s offensive contributions don’t outweigh his defensive blunders. Right now he’s just too much of a liability on defense to be left on the court for an extended period of time. 

He’s too slow to effectively guard the pick-and-roll, and he’s not athletic enough nor long enough to block shots at the rim. Monroe only averages about one block attempt per game and he has never averaged more than a block per game in his career. His block percentage of 32.4 is dismal relative to other centers; bottom-third for his position. Dirk Nowitzki was a better rim protector last year.

On top of his issues defending the cylinder, Monroe also tends to ball watch, lose his assignment, and get caught out of position.

Combine all this together and you get, statistically, one of the worst defensive centers in the NBA. In terms of defensive real plus-minus, Monroe ranked 71 out of 79 qualifying centers for the 2017-2018 season, per ESPN. He had a defensive efficiency rating of 110.9 last season, good for the 103rd spot out of 118 total centers.

Monroe, by only contesting roughly six field goal attempts per game, let his assignment score on over 52% of his looks. What’s worse, opponents hit approximately 64% of their shots at the rim against him. For reference, Jonas Valanciunas, Monroe’s new teammate and a notoriously poor inside presence, only allowed opponents to shoot about 57% at the rim.

The situation is made worse by the fact that the Raptors don’t currently have a single reliable interior defender. Monroe and Valanciunas share many of the same struggles defensively, while Serge Ibaka’s been in decline over the last few seasons.

If Monroe wants to see his role expand, he’ll have to step up defensively. This is clearly easier said than done, and in reality Monroe will never be a Mutombo-esque shot blocker, but he could definitely make himself serviceable on defense by simply bringing more attention to that end of the court.

By addressing his ball watching habits and making an effort to communicate more with his teammates, Monroe could reverse the narrative about him being a liability on defense. Simply bringing more effort and focus to that end of the court (upping his defensive awareness, in other words) should make Monroe more playable, in turn making him more of an asset for the only team North of the Border.

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