The Toronto Raptors are addressing their lack of frontcourt depth in a very Canadian way, adding a Moose to the mix for 2018-19.
The Raptors have agreed to a deal with Greg Monroe, according to a report from free-agent-himself Shams Charania.
Monroe’s deal is for one year at the $2.2-million minimum salary for a player with his service time, and as with all minimum deals, he’ll count for only the $1.5-million two-year veteran minimum for the purposes of luxury tax calculations. That’s a significant note, as the Raptors are currently well into the tax and utilizing the taxpayer mid-level exception rather than a minimum deal to fill the roster could have cost them roughly $18 million in real dollars, where as the “cost” of Monroe in this case is strictly the opportunity cost of the roster spot, since teams are required to have 14 players, anyway.
This is a move clearly designed to help fill in a frontcourt depth chart that was pretty thinned out by including Jakob Poeltl in the blockbuster trade last month and presumably seeing Lucas Nogueira walk in free agency. While Serge Ibaka can play minutes at center – and may in fact be best off there at this point – and Jonas Valanciunas is a more than capable starter, an injury to either would have left the Raptors perilously thin at the center position. Pascal Siakam was the only other true big on the roster before this move, and there’s now clear center depth if someone were to get hurt or the team opts to continue playing Ibaka primarily at power forward.
Monroe is a luxury as a third center or fourth rotation big, depending on how you chose to stack the depth chart. The 28-year-old is coming off of an up-and-down season where he split time between three teams, averaging 10.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in 20.4 minutes while shooting 56.5 percent from the floor, and the fact that those numbers seem modest by his standards says a lot. The year prior, they were almost identical with the Bucks, and Monroe is only two years removed from posting a 15.3-8.8-2.3 line with nearly a block and steal per-game. He’s always been a fairly efficient scorer for someone without an outside shot – he’s never hit an NBA three and took just 36 shots outside of 10 feet last year – with a 55.4-percent career true-shooting mark. All told, he’s a nice fit at the minimum, with Jacob Goldstein’s Player Impact Plus-Minus prediction pegging him to be worth about $5 million for the coming season.
The fit is not seamless, however. Monroe is slow and ground-bound, and while he’s a strong rebounder and capable post defender – he was probably slightly underrated at that end of the floor, given how poor his reputation seems to be now, and PIPM and Real Plus-Minus both see him as roughly equal on both ends, although his defense slid dramatically last year – he doesn’t really fit the style the Raptors have hinted they may play. That’s workable, still, and adding another defensive rebounder to the mix is important given that Valanciunas was previously the only really strong option in that regard. Over the last three seasons, Monroe ranks 43rd among all players with at least 1,000 minutes played with a 23.7-percent defensive rebounding rate, well behind Valanciunas and far ahead of Ibaka and Siakam. He doesn’t offer the rim protection that the Raptors’ roster is currently a little light on, either, but they have clearly have faith in how strong their perimeter defense will be, and they were a strong rim-contesting team last year without an elite non-Nogueira rim protector, too.
Offensively, he doesn’t offer the spacing this team’s roster construction has commanded, but he does add an extra element of playmaking. Monroe is among the best passers in the league from the elbows, and the Milwaukee Bucks had great success running their corner offense through him and utilizing the combo-threat of him scoring in the post or picking out cutters and shooters. His assist rate reached a career-high 18.7 percent last year, even as his personal usage rate hit a four-year low, and the Raptors don’t have a non-point guard on the roster who had an assist rate that high last season. Even with potential fit issues on defense or with spacing, Monroe’s passing projects as a wonderful wrinkle for Nurse’s offense to be able to lean on, as he’s hinted that he’ll expect even more playmaking from his bigs this coming season. That Monroe’s offensive rebounding rate has consistently hovered around 11 percent is a bonus, too, as the Raptors lose that skill with Poeltl’s departure, and like at the defensive end, Monroe immediately becomes the team’s second-best offensive rebounder by percentage.
At the back of the roster, it’s hard to argue with Monroe at the minimum. The question now becomes what his role will be, exactly. At this moment, Monroe looks like he could be on the outside of the rotation looking in, which would be an issue if he’s being leaned on to step back into a bigger role in the event of injury. It’s possible he could be unhappy like that, and he’s a player that’s needed consistent minutes to produce at his best in the past. The Raptors could continue to start Ibaka and Valanciunas together and make Monroe the de facto backup center instead of Ibaka – Nick Nurse has suggested he’ll try a few different starting lineup iterations, though the team still looks best balanced with Ibaka off the bench eventually – and in that case, Monroe could be a helpful fulcrum for a Bench Mob that occasionally struggled to score in the halfcourt. At the minimum and on a one-year deal, there’s not necessarily a need to shoehorn a role for Monroe, either, though he’ll probably be better if he’s playing more consistently. The only real implication here is probably that Nogueira’s time as a Raptor is done (sigh); there’s a lot to figure out in terms of the rotation and where Monroe might fit around Valanciunas or Ibaka.
The move brings the Raptors roster to 16, although only 13 of those players have fully guaranteed contracts. The roster is still a little guard-heavy, but if they entered the season like this, you could probably be confident with the depth chart and the flexibility of an open roster spot if additional center depth was deemed necessary later. Chris Boucher is also set to attend camp on an Exhibit 10 deal and could conceivably play his way to a roster spot or to a 2-way deal that would provide additional upside at the position, and the team recently worked out Christian Wood, among some others, to see what else was out there for their frontcourt. The Bebe or Quincy Acy dreams seem to be dead at this point.
For now, Monroe is a solid, if unsexy, addition at this price and this late in free agency. He’s a useful piece despite a somewhat awkward fit, and he can bring some always valuable experience and leadership to the mix, as well. It’s fine work for the back end of the roster.
Guaranteed NBA contracts: 13 (Lowry, VanVleet, Wright, Green, Powell, Richardson, Leonard, Miles, Anunoby, Siakam, Valanciunas, Ibaka, Monroe)
Partially guaranteed NBA contracts: 1 (Brown)
Exhibit 10 contracts: 1 (Boucher; can have up to 6)
Two-way contracts: 1 (Loyd; can have up to 2)
Total roster spots: 16 (can have up to 20)