Why Phoenix Suns Should Stay Far Away from Greg Monroe in Free Agency

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 23, 2014

Feb 12, 2014; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons power forward Greg Monroe (10) during the first quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The run-and-gun Phoenix Suns need to upgrade their interior. Blossoming big man Greg Monroe must find the type of floor spacing the Detroit Pistons cannot give him.

The Suns have money to spend, and Monroe is looking to collect in the restricted free-agent market. Put both sides in a vacuum, and it looks like a perfect fit.

Only, it isn't. Not even close. Once those pesky things like play style and contract demands get entered into the equation, the potential partnership looks as stable as a made-for-reality TV marriage.

Yet, this one could still be coming to a screen near you. According to NBC Sports Radio's Jordan Schultz, the Suns have mulled extending an offer sheet to Monroe:

Why the Suns would be willing to sacrifice precious cap space to turn the U.S. Airways Center into an oversized Moose Lodge is beyond me.

NBC Sports' Dan Feldman tried to explain the Suns' rationale.

"The Suns want value where they can find it," Feldman wrote. "If they can get Monroe at a price they believe falls short of his production, they probably would – and definitely should – sign him and sort out the rest later."

Whatever bargain price that would be, it's certainly not the one Monroe and his agent David Falk are after. NBA.com's David Aldridge reported in February that Falk "says the price for Monroe will be a max contract."

Despite the sluggish pace of Monroe's venture into free-agent waters, that stance hasn't changed.

"The long-held idea that Monroe is seeking a maximum contract is true," David Mayo of MLive.com wrote earlier this month.

Feb 5, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Detroit Pistons power forward Greg Monroe (10) looks up against the Orlando Magic during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Even for the mini-max deal that Monroe is eligible for (more than $15 million annually), that's a high price to pay—for the Suns or anyone else. "In numerous conversations with league executives, scouts and agents over the past two years, not one considered Monroe a max player," wrote Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press.

That's not to suggest that Monroe is hurting for talent.

He's a 6'11", 250-pound brute, relentless on the glass and active in the post.

The Pistons dealt him an awful hand last summer by slotting him alongside the floor-shrinking Josh Smith, but Monroe still battled his way to his third straight season of at least 15 points and nine rebounds per game. DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, David Lee and Kevin Love are the only other players riding the same three-year wave.

Monroe is also a gifted passer, capable of picking apart a defense from the high post or the low block. He didn't get as many chances to showcase that skill last season, but in 2012-13 he had an 18.6 assist percentage, via Basketball-Reference.com, a number that only four players 6'11" or taller have surpassed in either of the last two seasons.

There is a give-and-take with Monroe, though, and the Suns cannot afford his weaknesses.

Almost all of his scoring comes from point-blank range. Of his 1,015 field-goal attempts last season, 532 of them came within three feet of the basket. Only 157 of his shots (less than 16 percent) were taken 10 feet or more away from the cup.

There is a reason he spends so much time in the restricted area. The further he strays away from it, the faster he loses effectiveness. He shot 30.6 percent outside of 10 feet last season, via Basketball-Reference.com.

Monroe's 2013-14 short chart courtesy of NBA.com.

The driving lanes that Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe attacked at will in 2013-14—they ranked eighth (9.4) and 13th (7.8), respectively, in drives per game, via NBA.com's SportVU player tracking data—would shrink upon Monroe's arrival. The big man couldn't open them back up with ball screens, either. He scored 0.91 points per possession (107th overall) and shot 44 percent as a pick-and-roll screener, via Synergy Sports (subscription required).

Nearly 20 percent of the Suns' offensive plays last season were pick-and-rolls, per Synergy. Phoenix operated at its best with shooters (Channing Frye), athletes (Miles Plumlee) or both (Markieff Morris) filling the frontcourt.

Monroe fits none of those descriptions.

He plays at a controlled tempo, slow enough for him to establish position on the low post. Under head coach Jeff Hornacek, the Suns played at the NBA's eighth-fastest pace (98.16 possessions per 48 minutes, via NBA.com) and won 48 games with that style.

DENVER, CO - December 20:  Eric Bledsoe #2 and Goran Dragic #1 of the Phoenix Suns smile and walk off the court against the Denver Nuggets on December 20, 2013 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees t
Bart Young/Getty Images

With Monroe on board, the Suns would either have to dial back their own strength or play outside of his. Neither seems like a good option for a max-contract player.

Caution flags are already flying, and we have yet to discuss the biggest wart on Monroe's resume: defense.

"Monroe is slow-footed and low to the ground," Grantland's Zach Lowe wrote. "...He has trouble containing pick-and-rolls and challenging shots at the rim — a killer combination of liabilities."

That sounds harsh, but the stat sheet says the assessment is accurate.

Monroe allowed opposing pick-and-roll screeners to shoot 56.6 percent from the field, per Synergy. While he's more of a center than a power forward in today's NBA, he had trouble defending either spot. Opposing 4s compiled an unsightly 21.2 player efficiency rating against him, via 82games.com, while centers racked up a 17.2 PER.

Both marks are well above the league average of 15.0, and both are worse than what Plumlee allowed: 15.6 and 16.7, respectively.

Plumlee, by the way, is set to make $1.1 million next season and has a $2.1 million team option for the following year, via ShamSports.com. He does not have Monroe's talent, but he seems like a better fit at a far better price.

The Suns need more puzzle pieces in order to contend with the Western Conference elites, but their impressive collection of assets suggests they'll be able to make the necessary splash at some point. Their cap situation is strong going forward, and they're slated to receive first-round picks from both the Los Angeles Lakes (top-five protected) and Minnesota Timberwolves (top-12 protected) next summer.

Some could spin Monroe as another asset, but the lackluster attention he's received on the open market makes it hard to determine his true value. Restricted free agency can be a tough process to read, but the Pistons haven't exactly tied their future to him.

As president-coach Stan Van Gundy told reporters, the Pistons "either want him (Monroe) back or we want good value for him."

Detroit could still match any offer he receives, but those words don't sound like enough to scare off a potential bidder.

The Suns need a big man, but they should be after a gazelle, not a moose. Monroe needs to find a club hunting for a back-to-the-basket scorer, and that demand is declining in today's NBA.

Some team out there could use his skills, but the Suns are not that squad.


Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. Salary information obtained via ShamSports.com.


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