There was a lot of speculation that the Celtics would make a deal for Tyreke Evans or Lou Williams but they ended up standing pat at the trade deadline. This wasn’t a surprise to Brad Stevens. “I didn’t think we were going to do much. It was probably the least amount of time that I was paying attention to it or on the phone in my 5 years.”
While they didn’t make a trade, they did sign the most sought after buyout candidate in Greg Monroe. As Stevens described him before his debut against the Wizards, “A guy that can put the ball in the basket, that you can post, play at the elbows, pass…all of those things and I think he compliments who we have well.” With only 24 games left in the regular season can Greg Monroe carve out a role and help propel this Celtics team to even greater heights?
The argument in favor of making a move for Evans or Sweet Lou was that, aside from Kyrie Irving, the Celtics were lacking in shot creators. The numbers seem to bear this out. The Celtics are 10.1 points per 100 possessions better on offense with Kyrie on the court, roughly the difference between the Raptors’ 4th ranked offense and the Kings’ 30th ranked offense.
Strictly looking at on-off numbers without lineup context can be misleading but it’s hardly a hot take to say that the offense has crumbled when Irving hits the bench. The Celtics are averaging just under 24 points in 2nd quarters which is the 4th lowest scoring average any team has for a single quarter in the NBA. Can Monroe help fill the void when Kyrie sits?
Monroe is no Kyrie but he is a reasonable facsimile of Al Horford on offense and that may be just as important. The Celtics have actually been 3.3 points per 100 possessions better with Horford and no Kyrie than with Kyrie and no Horford. Horford is tasked with a lot of playmaking duties and leads the team in assists per game, something Monroe thinks he should be able to emulate. “It’s all about ball movement and movement without the ball… lot of cutting, making plays from the elbow… stuff that I’ve been comfortable with basically all my life.” He certainly seems comfortable moving the ball as his career AST% of 13.3% ranks 24th all-time for players 6’11” or taller.
In addition to his passing, he is an outstanding rebounder. His combination of passing and rebounding is nearly unprecedented. He is one of only four players in NBA history to have an AST% of 13%, DRB% of 23% and ORB% of 11% for their career, alongside Charles Barkley, Joakim Noah and Shaquille O’Neal. He has a unique skillset that aligns with the Celtics’ needs.
Monroe said, “[Brad’s] not going to ask me to be nothing else but myself. So just bring all the skillsets I’ve been playing with over the years and add it to this team.” Monroe is only three games into his Celtics’ career but have we seen some of these skills on display yet?
His debut did not start exactly as planned. His first shot was forced and barely hit the rim. He followed that up with a technical foul in his 4th minute which has to be close to a record. After that, Greg settled in quite nicely. He displayed a soft touch with his right hand for his first bucket and showcased his passing ability throughout the game with a couple nifty backdoor passes. He had two offensive rebounds and was in position for a couple more but the shot either went in or he was fouled. He was playing so well that Stevens started him in OT despite saying before the game that he wasn’t sure if he would play at all. He finished with 5 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in 19 minutes.
The following night he played 11 minutes against the Pacers finishing with 2 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist. The Pacers presented a tough matchup for Monroe as Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis are both capable of spreading the floor and forcing the opposing big to defend out to the three-point line which is not his strong suit. Two days later against Cleveland, he had similar struggles defending the pick and roll highlighted by this weak foul on LeBron James.
This will be the main question Monroe has to answer as a Celtic – can he defend at a high enough level to have a positive impact on the game? He struggled to defend the PnR in his first few games but that’s not necessarily a reason to worry. He’s new to the team, hadn’t played in over a week, and played three games in four days. Under the circumstances, some rust, fatigue, and communication lapses were understandable.
He has always had a reputation as a poor defender but his defensive metrics suggest otherwise. He’s had a positive DBPM every year he’s been in the league and a positive DRPM as far back as the stat is available (2013-14). He’s struggled some this season but who wouldn’t if they had to play for Jason Kidd to start the season only to be traded to the cellar dwelling Suns. He’s not a prototypical rim protector but he’s a great rebounder and has active hands, averaging over 1 steal per game for his career in under 30 mpg.
How much Monroe plays moving forward will most likely depend on matchups. On why he played him in his first game, only hours after officially signing, Stevens said, “I just looked at some sub patterns from them and some sub patterns from us.” He is not a seamless fit into any lineup like Horford or even Theis. He will mostly be used when the opposing team is playing a big that does not stretch the floor. If he’s able to hold his own on the defensive end then the Celtics can take advantage of his skills on the other end.
Monroe getting minutes means someone else has to lose time. The three likely candidates are Aron Baynes, Daniel Theis and Semi Ojeleye. Until Ojeleye can prove he can shoot in the NBA I’d like to see most of his minutes go to Monroe. Take a couple minutes away from Baynes and Theis and you’re already looking at roughly 20 mpg for Monroe.
Even after you’ve allotted him a certain number of minutes you still need to find which lineups to insert him in. Stevens said, “One of the things that you think about in adding Greg is that’s time you don’t have to necessarily stagger Kyrie and Al.” While I’ll leave the lineup management to Brad I hope he at least experiments with playing Monroe alongside Kyrie and Al. Kyrie and Horford already play over 70% of their minutes together. I’d like to see their minutes staggered even more as I don’t think this team will be able to survive stretches in the playoffs with neither of them on the court.
The Celtics still have the #1 defense in the league but if they are going to reach their full potential they will need to improve upon their #20 offense. Continued development from players like Tatum, Brown and Rozier would help but the best bet for improvement is utilizing the NBA-proven offensive skills of their new addition, Greg Monroe. If he is able to hold his own defensively, his ability to score, rebound and facilitate for others can provide a much needed spark for a Celtics team starved for offensive production.
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