Greg Monroe: Not How, But Why?

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

After numerous articles explaining how the Pelicans might acquire Greg Monroe, let's shift into discussing why they would.

If you have been following along this season, I like writing about the Pelicans acquiring Greg Monroe. It began with an article at the beginning of February, spelling out a trade for Monroe before the full extent of Ryan Anderson's injury was known. In May after looking at Dell's history of big acquisitions I again focused on Monroe coming to New Orleans. Just a week later Stan Van Gundy was hired in Detroit and I discussed another trade package for Monroe. You get it, I have a lot of different options on getting Greg Monroe.

Detroit Bad Boys, disagrees that the Pelicans are a good trade fit for the Pistons. Their scenario involves the Pistons getting Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday for Greg Monroe and Brandon Jennings. I do not believe that is a deal the Pelicans would pursue, considering the assets they sent out for Holiday and the value the franchise places on defense at the point of attack. Among the more hilarious things in the comments, you will find a DBB fan equate Ryan Anderson with Josh Harrellson. Harrellson has 265 CAREER points in the NBA. Ryan Anderson scored 436 while playing in just 22 games last season.

The purpose of today's article is not to convince Detroit of a trade. It is to convince you, our readers at The Bird Writes, why the Pelicans should acquire Greg Monroe. Not how, but why. So let's get started.

Physical Tools, Age, and Durability

Anthony Davis is the cornerstone on which this franchise is to be built. Next summer he will be offered a maximum five-year extension on July 1st. After coming in the league at 222 pounds, Davis is up to 237 according to Nakia Hogan at NOLA.com. Despite all this, we know from everything we have heard out of the Pelican Front Office that Davis is considered a power forward by the franchise. Is Ryan Anderson a center? No. So the team needs one. Enter Greg Monroe.

At the 2010 NBA Combine Monroe measured in a 6'11" in shoes, weighed 247 pounds, had a wingspan of 7'2.25", and a standing reach of 9'0.5". According to DraftExpress that gives Greg Monroe average NBA center size. On a Pelican team that lacks an answer (although the combination of Alexis Ajinca, Jeff Withey, and some Davis at center is a possible answer) at center, settling on a long term solution at center is a direction I, along with many other Pelican fans, would prefer.

If you are not aware, Greg Monroe is also quite young. He just turned 24 at the beginning of the month. Considering the age of the core of this team (Anthony Davis is 21, Jrue Holiday is 24, Tyreke Evans turns 25 before the season begins) Monroe makes a lot of sense. Holiday and Evans are both under contract for the next three seasons, Davis will be here much longer. The moves up to this point have shown the franchise would like to build a young core and allow those players to grow together. Bringing in Monroe would give the Pelicans the option of keeping that core together for at least three years before decisions on who stays and who goes would be made.

Greg Monroe is a big man who the Pistons have been able to depend on each game.  Monroe has played in 309 of 312 possible games so far in his NBA career. Despite missing so few games (he missed one game in 2013 with a sore ankle, he did not play the first two games of his rookie season due to coach's decision) Monroe has a relatively low mileage. To date Monroe has logged 9,681 minutes in the NBA. Some thanks to the low number should be given to the inability of Detroit to make the post season.

Monroe at Center

82Games.com has some really interesting statistics to peruse. In his first two seasons Monroe played center exclusively. As a rookie he allowed opponents a PER of 20.5, and improved that mark in his second season, lowering it to 19.3. In his third year Andre Drummond arrived but did not start, allowing Monroe to continue to log the vast majority of his minutes at center. His defense slipped slightly, allowing opponents a PER of 19.6.

This past season Drummond moved into the starting lineup, sliding Monroe up to PF for the majority of his minutes. However, when playing center Monroe got back on track, allowing opponent's a PER of 17.2. It should also be noted that the Pistons outscored opponents when Monroe played center. For comparison sake, defensive player of the year Joakim Noah allowed opposing centers a PER of 16.7 this past year.

Rebounding and Defense

The case for Monroe begins where the Pelicans need improvement. As I have outlined recently, the Pelicans are weak in the areas of defense, rebounding, and shot selection. Greg Stiemsma rebounded just 49.7% of his rebound opportunities last year. Greg Monroe, while playing with noted rebound vacuum Andre Drummond, collected 57.1%. Going back to 82 Games, Monroe's production at center this year was 16.1 rebounds per 48 minutes.

Monroe has hardly become a worse rebounder in the past season (his DRB% dipped from 23.6% to 21.6%), he just plays too many minutes beside one of the best rebounders in the league now that Drummond starts. Monroe is a better rebounder than any option the Pelicans currently have at center. Ending opponent possessions by collecting defensive rebounds effectively is incredibly important, as I demonstrated in this piece about defense and shot selection.

Greg Monroe is not much of a shot blocker, posting under a block per game. However, he did find a way this season to contend shots at the rim frequently, contesting 7.1 shots per game and allowing opponents to convert 51.2% of the time. Considering his minute allocation, that breaks out to be about 7.7 shots defended per 36 minutes. Importantly for the Pelicans, Monroe committed just 2.7 fouls per 36 minutes according to Basketball Reference. So, 2.7 fouls to 7.7 shots defended. Yes, I realize fouls occur outside the immediate basket area; fouls do occur more frequently on defended shots at the rim though.

[Edit: Check out this quote]

While Monroe’s career 1.6 block percentage is quite anemic, Monroe rates low in this particular metric because he seeks to challenge shots by maintaining stout verticality, instead of gambling for the swat (and putting himself at risk of fouling). In this way, Monroe is quite similar to valued defenders Anderson Varejao (career 2.1 BLK%) or Zaza Pachulia (1.3 BLK%).

Alexis Ajinca, on the other hand, held opponents to a lower percentage, 50.4%, and challenged more shots per 36 minutes, 9.5. However, that increased volume of challenged shots came with a heavy price. Ajinca committed 7.1 fouls per 36 minutes. 7.1 fouls to 9.5 shots defended is a much different looking ratio than what Monroe provided. Also it is important to point out that Monroe played nearly 1700 of his 2690 minutes at power forward, not center. I wrote this when analyzing the defensive problems of the Pelicans last month.

New Orleans struggles in nearly every facet. Opponents shoot too efficiently, get to the foul line too often, and collect too many offensive rebounds. The foul problem has been rehashed repeatedly. Preferred center Jason Smith (4.3 Fouls per 36 minutes) fouls a lot. Back up options Greg Stiemsma (6.0) and Alexis Ajinca (7.1) foul as if their lives depend on it. In addition, all three of these centers rebound defensively at average (Ajinca - 22.7%) to well below average (Smith - 18.5%, Stiemsma - 18.0%) rates as centers.

Monroe logging 30+ minutes at center (he has averaged 31+ in each of the last three seasons) fixes the fouling problem. Per 36 minutes he has never committed more than 3.2 fouls, that is over a sample size nearing 10,000 NBA minutes. In addition, Monroe is a better rebounder than any of Smith, Ajinca, or Stiemsma. Do not be fooled by the slight drop off in rebounding numbers since he was paired with Andre Drummond, Monroe can rebound the basketball. Greg Monroe has posted a defensive rebound rate above 20% every season, collecting 10.3 or more rebounds per 36 minutes over his career.

Then there is the issue of defending the post. Synergy Sports tells a couple very different stories about Monroe. He struggled defending the pick and roll (allowing 1.19 PPP on 94 possessions) and spot-up shooters (allowing 1.01 PPP on 193 possessions). If you read Monty Williams's comments after the season you noticed a focus on the ability of the Pelicans to defend big men on the block. He specifically cited big games by Al Jefferson and Nene as a problem he wants corrected. Monroe can do that.

P&R # Spot-Up # Post-Up #
Monroe 1.19 94 1.01 193 0.68 206
Jefferson 0.72 100 0.93 147 0.73 244
Noah 0.78 133 0.97 264 0.78 254
Duncan 0.79 112 0.83 121 0.79 218
Gasol 0.90 68 1.03 114 0.79 112
Howard 0.84 100 1.01 114 0.74 143
Hibbert 0.86 156 0.97 155 0.67 210

All statistics pulled from Synergy Sports

There is no getting around the Pick and Roll number being horrendous. I would ask that you focus on his ability to defend post ups primarily, but also to take a hard look at what Al Jefferson did this year. If I told any person that understands basketball that Al Jefferson would be a better pick and roll defender than all those other names up there before the season I would have been laughed out of the room. Here we are, Jefferson anchors at top 10 defense and got the Bobcats back into the playoffs. Jefferson also defended the rim more poorly than Greg Monroe did this past season, allowing a 52.7% conversion rate to opponents.

Monty Williams has already begun to pull the hard trapping pick and roll defense back throughout the season to play to the strengths (or at least mask the weaknesses) of the centers who were available. Continuing that trend with a center who he can depend on to defend the post well and do so without fouling could do wonders for this team on defense, even if Monroe is not considered a good individual defender. Don't believe it is possible? Ask Charlotte.

On The Block

This is where things get really fun. Since becoming a writer here at The Bird Writes I have contended with people demanding a back-to-the-basket center who the team can dump the ball into. Monroe ended 442 post up possessions last year, posting 0.80 points per possession. That is a pretty average number, and also one better than Dwight Howard (0.77). How Monroe posted such a relatively efficient number while playing on a crowded court often with Josh Smith and Andre Drummond is beyond me. Monroe is not the second coming of Duncan on the block, but he's big and competent. With Anthony Davis lined up at the PF spot the court will be more spaced.

The shot chart is not the most beautiful thing in the world, but it is beautiful to me.

Shotchart_1403236738500_medium

825 of Monroe's shots came within 8 feet of the basket. That is over 80%. And Monroe is not just getting these baskets in the post. Monroe scored 1.28 points per possession on cuts, and that comprised over 10% of his offensive contribution. Watching the videos on Synergy, many of the shots they deem to be "cuts" are actually Piston players driving the ball and dumping it off to Monroe. A player near the basket who is capable of consistently catching and finishing (71.2% FG% on cuts) is valuable when Tyreke Evans is playing shooting guard. How many times would a Tyreke and Davis pick and roll end up with a pass to Stiemsma or Ajinca and a bobbled catch or turnover? Too often if you would ask Tyreke.

Furthermore, Monroe was capable in transition, scoring 1.32 PPP on 105 possessions and contributing on the offensive glass, scoring 1.06 PPP and collecting over 3 offensive rebounds per game. While his overall field goal percentage is lower than many would like it is again important to note that Monroe's FG% and TS% dropped once Drummond arrived. The court is smaller when Drummond is also on it, something that will not be nearly the hindrance when paired with Anthony Davis.

Ball Movement

Greg Monroe can pass the ball, and he can operate from the high post doing so. This is important when Monty Williams is a Popovich disciple if you paid attention during the NBA Finals. A lot of Spurs sets (and an even greater portion of Pelican sets) begin out of a Horns set with both big men at the elbows. In 2012-2013 Monroe posted a 18.6% assist rate. Marc Gasol posted a 19.1% rate for comparison. Watch this.

Greg Monroe to Andre Drummond assist highlights (via GrantHill)

Now imagine those passes are to Anthony Davis instead. Much has been made about a desire to increase the basketball IQ of this team, and the typical method for demonstrating basketball acumen is quick decision making and passing to better shot opportunities. These are things Monroe can do from the center position that no one I have heard discussed can also do. While terminology and specific sets will be different from team to team, bringing in a player who is already comfortable operating and moving the basketball from the elbow area is important for New Orleans to consider.

Closing Argument

Throughout the off-season we at The Bird Writes have discussed where the Pelicans need to improve. First and foremost, the team needs better health. Greg Monroe has an absolutely sterling record in that regard. In addition, the team needs to improve on the defensive glass and to defend the basket without fouling. Again, Greg Monroe clearly checks both of those boxes. Finally, we have discussed the lack of ball movement and general low IQ of the team on offense. The highlight video above demonstrates that Monroe can move the ball and do so decisively.

Greg Monroe might want to sign with the Pelicans because it is his hometown. How much that plays a factor is known only to Monroe. New Orleans should want to sign him not because he is a local boy, but because he provides the skill set this team should be seeking. A young, healthy big man who can rebound, defend without fouling, and has a high basketball IQ. It is not about his birthplace, it is about his skill set.

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