In literature and film, intentional anachronisms are typically reserved for comedic effect. Think Mel Brooks’ classic Blazing Saddles, for example, which contains a scene that sees a group of 19th century characters break down a wall and expose a present day Hollywood dance production. Or Airplane!, in which the protagonist meets his crush during the war while the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” blares in the background.
In the NBA, however, anachronisms are often met with insouciance rather than laughter. This is perhaps because players whose games seem lost in time are not being authored such that there is already a contrived payoff in place. There simply isn’t a punchline. Therefore these players rarely elicit much of a reaction at all, and if they do manage to draw out something more extreme than indifference, it’s often limited to either pity or a begrudging respect.
The Toronto Raptors aren’t strangers to this sort of situation, having housed for nine seasons DeMar DeRozan and his ever-increasingly archaic—albeit effective—midrange game. Jonas Valanciunas, too, has been—and sometimes still is—referred to as a dinosaur, though that talk lessened with his improvements in the team’s updated system last year.
New arrival Greg Monroe will be the latest to join this club of so-called relics, his game a timeworn concoction of plodding feet and swivelling hooks. He definitely isn’t the type of player that one might think of when considering Nick Nurse’s system, and as such his addition comes with just as many concerns—if not more—as it does benefits.
Generally speaking, Monroe’s value comes as an offensive threat, a big you can toss the ball to down low in order to get a much-needed bucket. But the Raptors’ bench unit doesn’t require that sort of play on a consistent basis, nor does it behoove them to slow their pace and watch Monroe go to work. Last season, the Bench Mob didn’t rely on much individual scoring from Jakob Poeltl or Pascal Siakam around the basket in the half-court, instead opting to move the ball around the floor until they found the best look available. That method worked wonders, and it would be strange to see Nurse adjust things in order for Monroe to get a myriad of post touches with the intent to score.
Outside of his proficiency in the post, Moose unfortunately doesn’t demand much attention from the defense. He doesn’t stretch the floor even to the midrange—Monroe took 90.4 per cent of his shot attempts from 0–10 feet last season, and only shot 34.5 per cent from 3–10 feet—and he’s not fleet-footed, making him a near non-factor in transition, something that the rest of the speedy bench unit will be looking to get into on a regular basis.
While admittedly not a great style fit, this doesn’t mean Monroe is completely useless. One of the more underrated aspects of his game is his passing ability, something that absolutely does fit smoothly into Nurse’s system. Feed Moose the ball in either the low or high post, and he has excellent vision as well as the ability to make difficult deliveries consistently. The rest of the Raps bench contains players that are used to and adept at playing off-ball, and Monroe could therefore be used as a potent conduit for a plethora of plays.
Of course, the most salient thing about Monroe’s game for Toronto is his ability to rebound the basketball. Last season, the Bench Mob’s Achilles’ heel was finishing defensive stands by securing the ball—out of lineups that played at least 300 minutes, they ranked third-last in total rebounds. Now they’ve added a guy who ranked 13th in the league in 2017–18 in rebounding percentage, just five spots back from elite glass-cleaner Valanciunas.
Not only will Monroe be able to help snag defensive boards, but he’s also great at hanging around the rim on offense, using his size and strength to ward off opponents in order to either grab misses or simply tip them back into the hoop.
When it comes to defensive play aside from rebounding, however, Monroe is less than puissant, and some have chided the Raptors for not attempting to sign a player who is more of a rim protector. Moose ranked 72nd out of 79 centers in defensive real plus-minus last season, and it would be foolish to imagine him changing his stripes in Toronto. But the Raptors are confident in their perimeter defense, and clearly believe they can, for the most part, keep the ball outside of the paint so that Monroe’s own abysmal defense doesn’t become much of a factor.
The actual impact of Monroe’s game, naturally, will depend on what his role with the team winds up being. As of yet, there has been no talk of a defined place for Monroe, and one has to think that Nurse is still in the process of figuring that out—a process that could extend into the season itself.
Monroe would seem best utilized as a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” option, what with the talk of Serge Ibaka being willing to shift his own role around in order to play more minutes as backup center, and the team’s abundance of wings allowing for more small-ball possibilities.
One wonders, however, if Monroe desires a larger role than essentially being injury insurance. If that is the case, Nurse could opt to go big and play Moose as part of the regular rotation—the option probably looked at as least favourable—or he could use him as a replacement for Ibaka on nights that the latter takes off to rest. That way, at least, Nurse could shoehorn in more semi-regular minutes for Monroe while simultaneously ensuring that he stays in shape, a problem he’s faced in the past.
Overall, though, it’s not terribly difficult to see why the Raptors chose Monroe to slot into their 14th rotation spot. For what they paid for him—the veteran’s minimum, which has no implications concerning the luxury tax—he provides more than any of the other options the team had. Monroe boasts veteran experience, his game is a known quantity, and, if there is an injury to the front court, he is a more reliable substitute than a younger, unproven player such as a Chris Boucher.
In the NBA, anachronisms aren’t looked upon as fondly as they are in literature or film. Yet in all cases, an anachronism’s effectiveness stems from how adroitly it is used. In the Raptors’ case, then, it is up to both Monroe and Nurse to wield the big man’s game in a manner that will demand respect and brush aside indifference, because one thing’s for certain: There is no contrived payoff here.
Monroe’s time with the Raptors will be what he makes of it.