Moose on the Loose
Throw out the first three games, in fact, and Monroe’s averages for the season would be 19.1 points. 10. 9 rebounds and 4.0 assists. He shot 40 percent in the first three games, 52.2 percent since and 61.5 percent over the last three.
“Just got into a better rhythm,” he said after Tuesday’s practice before the Pistons departed for Orlando and their Thanksgiving eve game with the Magic. “The game becomes a little bit easier. I feel like I’m in a good place right now, but it’s more importantly about the whole team and not about me individually. I’m trying to do whatever I can to help my team win.”
Steady, incremental gains are all in keeping with the pattern of Monroe’s development. Remember when he didn’t get off the bench for his first two games, then had difficulty getting his shot off inside for the first few weeks? Monroe broke into the starting lineup before the midway point of his rookie season under John Kuester and by season’s end was the team’s rock.
His improvement continued a season ago, when his averages went from 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds as a rookie to 15.4 and 9.7 as a sophomore. In his third season, his averages currently sit at 16.8 and 9.8.
Everything seemed out of sync those first few games, when Rodney Stuckey shot 1 of 23 and he and Brandon Knight were a combined 20 percent.
“I think the teams we’ve played have made a concerted effort to kind of keep everything tight defensively,” Monroe said as the Pistons prepared to play Denver on Nov. 6. “There’s a lot more people in the lane. I have to adjust personally.”
Lawrence Frank thinks the adjustment was really more about Monroe committing to play defense with greater focus and let the offense find him.
“Your best players have to embrace a defense-first mentality if you’re going to be any good,” he said. “He’s going to get so many touches within the flow of the game and he’s such a skilled guy. When you put him in the high post off the dribble, he’s very, very effective. He’s able to find his spots. He’s letting the game come to him better than he did the first couple games. It’s a result of that.”
The Pistons were genuinely enthused by the work Monroe logged over the summer, focusing on a variety of things but all of it overlaid by a dedication to play with more force and passion. A stronger, better conditioned Monroe is simply a more confident player.
“Definitely my conditioning,” he said of the area where he sees the greatest effect. “Later in games, I’m able to make more plays. Just physically, I feel stronger, I feel better.”
Frank sees that, as well, but also sees the subtle improvements in his skill level.
“You see what the guy can do, even some of the plays he had last time we played Orlando,” Frank said. “Not only be able to put the ball on the floor and finish with a dunk like he did early. Drive, spin, finish with the other hand. It’s bit by bit. You’re not going to see it all in one game or all in one week, but it takes hold over the course of time.”
Is it mere coincidence that Monroe’s three-game spike coincides with Kyle Singler’s ascension to the starting lineup? While it would be irrational to attribute the bulk of it to Singler’s influence, it’s fair to guess that Singler’s knack for making hard cuts at the right time is a great fit next to Monroe’s keen passing skills. Less than a minute into Sunday’s 20-point win over Boston, Singler opened Pistons scoring by taking a pretty feed from Monroe for a back-door layup.
“Anybody that can cut, it’s easy for me to find him and get him easy layups,” Monroe said. “I don’t even know if he does it purposely, but he does it really well. He’s just playing. He runs offense. He doesn’t force anything; he just lets everything come to him.”
“We have a couple of good cutters,” Frank said. “With Greg as a hub, if you can move and cut hard, with force and speed, off the ball, he’s going to reward you. He’s a very unselfish player. He’s a guy who’s a multiple-tool player and the more guys we can get who play off of him, the more effective he’ll be, because all of a sudden the focus will be on the cutters and he’s playing one-on-one basketball.”
And the way Greg Monroe is playing now, the Pistons like their chances with him one-on-one.