So while Monroe’s improvement from the early days of the season to his ascension to the starting lineup two months later to the string of double-doubles he posted in a closing rush was startling to many, it was just part of the process Hetzel knew would happen on its own terms.
Take the first and most obvious example of Monroe’s ability to adapt and grow: His growth from a player who would get a high percentage of shots near the basket blocked to someone who finished with great proficiency just weeks later.
“We always talked, from Summer League on last year, how intelligent he is,” Hetzel told me this week. “So a lot of it, for him, was trial and error. If he kept getting his shot blocked, then it would be his fault for not learning a way to adapt. We recognized it immediately. He and I talked about it and we started working on ways to get the ball up quicker and using his body.”
Hetzel referred back to his Michigan State roots to cite a prime example of a post player without great lift who scores as efficiently near the rim as anyone in the league.
“If you watch the playoffs now, Zach Randolph is a great example. He’s a guy who can’t jump but still gets his shot off every time. By using his body, he creates contact to get separation. That’s what Greg has learned. He learned to use the rim as protection from shot-blockers. Nobody likes to get their shot blocked. So he was very willing and accepting. For a guy his size to work on layups every day is not a very appealing thing to do, but he knew he had to do it.”
In the early days of their relationship, Hetzel wondered how his messages were being received.
“He was a very quiet kid at first,” said Hetzel, who has spent the past two seasons with the Pistons in his role working mostly with the team’s younger players after having been Cleveland’s video coordinator before that. “Speak to him the first couple of times, you don’t know if he’s looking at you like maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about or maybe he doesn’t understand. He just kind of nods his head and does it.
“But the more we worked together, the more he opened up, the more you could tell that he was just processing what you were telling him. We keep hitting on how intelligent he is, but he thinks about everything you’re saying. When I first started working with him on his layups, I got the feeling he’s thinking, ‘Man, I’m working on layups?’ But the day I didn’t do it, he was like, ‘All right, let’s do that.’ Even though he’s not rah-rah, he knew it was helping him. He could see the things that were helping him get better.”
There were a number of areas where Monroe improved in less noticeable or dramatic ways. By season’s end, he was their best pick-and-roll defender. He displayed a keen sense for spotting openings and making himself available to receive passes in areas where he could convert. He became a stout post defender.
“The ability to get deflections stood out to me,” Hetzel said. “On pick and roll, when he would show out and deflect the ball out of a guard’s hands, or to have quick enough hands when his man faced up on him, to deflect the ball out of his hands, those are huge. We talk about deflections all the time and how they alter the game.”
Another area that doesn’t show up in box scores where Hetzel sees great things for Monroe is also at the defensive end, the end where not much was known or expected of Monroe, perhaps, coming into his rookie season.
“Greg’s ability in pick-and-roll defense to help and be in the right spot at the same time, a lot of that comes from being a good teammate,” Hetzel said. “Ben Wallace is the greatest example – one of the best help defenders in league history. He is always going to be there to help his teammates. Greg’s got that. You can see it with his willingness to pass and the same thing on defense. Your willingness to help – when you have to sacrifice giving your man up and trust that somebody is going to take your man to help.”
What’s next for Monroe? Check back next week for more from Steve Hetzel on Greg Monroe’s future.