It’s not by mistake that restricted free agent Greg Monroe is still on the market. Despite being a 15-and-9 guy last season, Monroe’s an awkward fit in today’s NBA. His inability to shoot makes him difficult to play at power forward. Monroe is best served offensively at center, but he’s bad defensively in the pick-and-roll and doesn’t provide much rim protection. He and his representation believed he’d get close to max money this offseason, but teams have, correctly, shied away from Monroe and his market is limited.
The Phoenix Suns are one of the teams that may still be in the running for his services. On paper, it makes sense why they’d be interested. Phoenix just lost Channing Frye to Orlando. Monroe runs the floor well and, at age 24, still has room to improve. However, he’s not a good fit for a Suns team that needs help defensively and runs a wide-open offense.
Monroe is best suited for a team that wants to play slower and play inside out through the post. He’s a capable low-post scorer, has a decent face up game, and is a good passer. The Grizzlies or Knicks, now running the triangle, are the types of teams that would go after Monroe. Phoenix is a different animal completely. The Suns played the 8th fastest pace in the league last season and ran a progressive offense predicated around floor spacing, three point shooting, and the pick-and-roll.
Even without Frye, they have fours on the roster better suited to operate in their offense. Markieff Morris can shoot threes, though he was inconsistent last year, and played 62% of his minutes last year at power-forward. The Suns also signed Anthony Tolliver, a career 35.2% three-point shooter, and 6’8″ rookie TJ Warren is a wing that might be able to log some minutes at the four in smaller lineups.
Having fours who can space the floor is important because the Suns don’t have a center who can shoot threes. Much of their offense was predicated on the screen-and-roll/pop, which resulted in great floor spacing like shown here on this Goran Dragic drive that ends up in a layup:
Monroe can’t provide that kind of spacing because he’s an abysmal shooter with no range. Here is his shot chart from last season:
He’s got average at best touch around the rim and very little accuracy firing from the mid-range. More problematic is his complete inability to shoot threes. Phoenix’s offense relies on dribble-drive penetration from it’s dynamic guards. That’s difficult to accomplish if Monroe is standing twelve feet from the rim instead of spacing his man out to the three point line.
Monroe’s lack of shooting could be compensated for by playing him at center. But to play him heavy minutes there and get away with it, a team would have to pair him with another big who can compensate defensively. The Suns don’t have that guy. They drafted Alex Len 5th overall and actually showed flashes of competence defensively when he played last year. They’d be better off developing him, along with Miles Plumlee who proved to be useful when used in the right lineups, than throwing a bunch of money at Monroe to play center.
The Suns defense finished 13th in points allowed per possession last season, which isn’t bad for a young team in the Western Conference. They certainly have room to improve, but coming off a 48 win season they’re not that far away from being contenders. Bringing in Monroe would make a lot more sense if they were a 20 win team in the middle of a rebuild. He’s young and talented and they’d have time to develop him and hope he improves his jump shot. If it didn’t work out, they could try and package him in a trade. But that’s not where the Suns are in the team building process.
They were great last season playing a certain style – one that is popular among many other teams in the league including the Spurs. The goal for Phoenix shouldn’t be to add a talented player in Monroe who alters that successful DNA. The Suns should be looking to develop the young players they already have, while looking for players who fit the system. They unsuccessfully pursued Carmelo Anthony, a proven dominant small-ball four, earlier this offseason. Though the Suns would’ve had to slightly alter their offense around Anthony, a higher usage player than Frye, he was a player who fit what they wanted to do. He’s proven to be a lethal three point shooter and has played in a spread offense in New York the past few seasons. Anthony would’ve fit in Phoenix, Monroe won’t.
It’d also be different if the Suns could get Monroe on the cheap, but that isn’t the case. It’d have to be a significant deal to pry him away from Detroit – probably upwards of $12 million – and wouldn’t be worth it. Even if they re-sign Eric Bledsoe – and I believe they will – the Suns will still have considerable cap space both this offseason and in the future. Of course, as we’ve seen proven time and time again, just because a team has space doesn’t mean they should spend it.
In retrospect, I’m sure the Knicks would love to have not thrown that five-year max deal at Amar’e Stoudemire in 2010 after striking out on the LeBron sweepstakes. The Suns don’t need Monroe and there is no reason for them to be eager to spend heavily this late in the off-season. They already added the very talented Isaiah Thomas on a good contract and had a strong draft. Channing Frye was a big part of what they did and they’ll miss him, but, assuming they re-sign Bledsoe, they should be in the thick of the playoff hunt again in the West. They can roll over that cap space into next season and be just fine.