Lost in the shuffle of the hype surrounding the Detroit Pistons’ high-profile additions of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings last summer is the changing role that fourth-year pro Greg Monroe is being asked to take on.
Monroe spent the last three seasons manning the center spot for the Pistons. He had a breakout year during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, averaging 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds a game on 52.1 percent shooting.
But with a breakout comes added attention from opposing defenses and that showed last season as Monroe upped his scoring slightly to 16 points a game, but did it less efficiently, shooting just 48.6 percent from the floor as he dealt with defenses that were geared to stop him, rather than just being another guy on the court.
But Smith’s addition and the emergence of second-year big man Andre Drummond have combined to move Monroe from the pivot out to the power forward spot for the first time in his career. Monroe has benefitted from all of that size out there.
He’s the Pistons’ second-leading scorer in the early going at 17.8 points per game and he’s their top rebounder, grabbing 11.8 boards a night—including an impressive and league-leading 5.4 rebounds on the offensive glass. Monroe and Utah Jazz center Enes Kanter are the only players in the NBA averaging more than five offensive rebounds per game.
And Monroe is shooting fairly efficiently at 51.6 percent. His player efficiency rating is a solid 22.3.
But Monroe hasn’t been particularly adept from mid-range and, with Drummond patrolling the post, it’s an area where Monroe has to improve.
A look at Monroe’s shot chart in the early going finds that Monroe is just 3-of-14 outside of 10 feet.
Last year, wasn’t particularly stellar for Monroe from outside the paint, either. He was only 10-for-33 from 10 to 14 feet, 42-for-143 from 15-to-19 feet and 8-for-16 from outside 20 feet.
The Pistons don’t need Monroe to evolve into one of the much-ballyhooed stretch 4s. But they do need him to become more efficient in the mid-range, because increased proficiency from outside will open up more opportunities for him where he does his best work—near or at the rim.
Coach Maurice Cheeks recognizes the need for Monroe to get better and has asked him to concentrate on his elbows—not the ones thrown while rebounding, but rather the areas at the left and right side of the free throw line.
“I just told him [Friday] that if I was him, I’d practice that jump shot right at that left and right elbow,” Cheeks told the Detroit Free Press. “I’d practice it 200, 300 times a day at that elbow spot. … Now he has to expand his game a little bit in making that jump shot at the left or right elbow. It opens up his game so much more. It makes it a bit tougher.”
Monroe has shown signs of improvement in other areas this season, particularly at the defensive end. But he’s still much more comfortable with the ball in the post or driving to the rack than he is doing anything else. But he also understands the need to broaden his game.
“I’m comfortable with [the elbow jumper],” Monroe said. “I don’t have a problem with it. I’ve been working on it.”
While the Pistons’ size with Smith, Drummond and Monroe on the floor together is imposing, the trio is a work in progress. Through five games and 22.2 minutes a night together, the Pistons are minus-14.4 per 100 possessions, with an offensive rating of just 99.8 and a defensive rating of a shockingly bad 114.1.
Still, the combination has shown promise. The trio flummoxed the Washington Wizards on opening night and even in their three losses, it was evident that opponents were struggling with how best to counter a front line that goes 6’10”, 6’11” and 6’9”.
If Monroe can increase his proficiency in the mid-range, it stands to reason that will make the Pistons a much more dangerous offensive team because of how having to respect Monroe from further away from the basket will open up the paint for Drummond and for Smith to do what he can do off the dribble.