Upward Bound

Greg Monroe is quickly becoming one of the league's premier rookies
It’s probably silly to think Greg Monroe’s progress in a rookie season that’s seen him take great leaps forward has hit a plateau, but let’s assume his production over the season’s final 19 games stays where it has in the two months since he’s moved into the starting lineup.

If that’s the case, then his current averages of 8.3 points and 6.9 rebounds a game will improve to 9.2 and 7.5 for the full season. That’s a long, long way from where he stood after the first two games of his NBA career, when he didn’t get off the bench and some of the more hysterical among media and fans were ready to proclaim him a bust.

And it’s significantly removed from where he was as 2010 came to a close, by which time he’d moved solidly into the rotation but had only twice in 32 games broken double digits in scoring and twice in rebounding.

In the 29 games since, Monroe is averaging 12.2 points and 9.1 rebounds a game and making 60 percent of his shots. Twelve times he’s posted double-doubles. He’s also displayed quick hands – he had four steals in Wednesday’s loss to Minnesota – and feet defensively, and strong hands that make him an inviting target while cutting to the basket.

At some point, Pistons coaches are going to make Monroe a bigger part of the offense, but that might not come this season.

“He makes great decisions, but I love the way he is roaming and getting into the dunk area and ducking in very hard,” John Kuester said. “He has got such good savvy that he’s creating a lot of offense by himself. We will go to him on occasion. We will give him more touches as times goes on.”

“Everybody gets a certain amount of play calls,” Monroe said. “This whole season, I haven’t gotten that many plays called. I’m not expecting that to change. I’m just going to continue to go out and play my part.”

Yet even without plays being run for Monroe, he’s found ways over the past month to ratchet up his shot attempts. In 15 January games, only twice did Monroe reach double figures in field-goal attempts – 12 both times. But in 13 February games, Monroe six times shot 10 or more times with a high of 17 when he scored a career-best 27 at Indiana last week.

Monroe seemed to hit the rookie wall in the days leading to the All-Star break, averaging 8.6 points and less than five rebounds a game over a five-game span. But in the six games since the break ended, Monroe is averaging numbers that would make him a candidate for the All-Star game: 16.3 points and 11.8 rebounds.

“When you come back from these All-Star events, you just feel good about yourself,” Kuester said. “That confidence level. You make the All-Star team and it’s like, you know what? I’m supposed to be pretty good. It energizes your game.”

“I’ve regained my legs, regained my body,” Monroe said. “Right now, I’m not focusing on the rookie wall. I’m just trying to help my team win.”

If All-Star appearances seem within Monroe’s reach at some point in the future, a berth on this year’s All-Rookie team should be all but wrapped up. Blake Griffin and John Wall are virtual locks and Knicks second-rounder Landry Fields, a starter all season, is a solid bet to join them. Nobody else has a better case than Monroe, currently sixth in rookie scoring and fourth in rebounding but likely to move up as his averages continue their upward arc.

The next step in his evolution, Kuester says, will be to consistently knock down mid-range jump shots.

“He’s got an upside to him,” Kuester said. “When he starts doing other things, he’s going to be a great player. He’s going to be a double-double guy. … The biggest thing for him is being able to hit the 15- to 17-foot jump shot on a consistent basis. That opens up his game more, because he can put the ball on the floor. He’s got some quick moves to the basket.”

He’s made quick moves all season, from not playing in October to becoming as critical to the bottom line as anybody on the roster in March. The Pistons will take his current production and be happy with it, but at the rate he’s going it’s not very likely Monroe won’t take another big step forward over his rookie season’s final 19 games.