Perfect Partner

Monroe’s versatility gives Pistons latitude with 8th pick

Greg Monroe's versatility has proven a huge asset for the Pistons.
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
In a complicated draft, Greg Monroe is a non-complicating factor.

The uncertainty of the 2011 NBA draft means Joe Dumars and his staff must analyze a wider pool of players in play with the No. 8 pick than would normally be the case. The depth of the draft in their range is in big men. It’s no stretch to say if that’s the direction the Pistons take – as Dumars indicated was the likelihood last week – there are at least a half-dozen power forwards or centers to study and prioritize over the next four weeks.

That’s a daunting enough process. At least Monroe allows the Pistons to analyze the players purely on their own merits. His versatility – the ability he showed as a rookie to play either position, offensively or defensively – gives the Pistons the latitude to consider players who fall into any category up front: pure centers, pure power forwards, or, like Monroe, players who could man either spot.

“No question,” Dumars said. “If you are in position to draft another young big, you know with Greg’s versatility, he can play with just about any kind of big that you would bring in. He’s shown that. He’s played with Charlie (Villanueva). He played with Ben Wallace. He played with (Chris Wilcox). He played with (Jason Maxiell). He played with all of them. There was never a situation where you looked out and said, ‘Greg just doesn’t play well with so-and-so.’ ”

Among the many reasons the Pistons glow when considering Monroe’s future is the way he rapidly evolved as a rookie, adding new elements to his repertoire seemingly every week.

That didn’t surprise Arnie Kander, who began working with Monroe late in the 2010 off-season as the Pistons’ 2010 No. 1 pick recovered from foot surgery.

“Nothing amazes me when a guy commits to what he has to do,” Kander said. “He was committed to everything we did on the court.”

Kander molds his students from the floor up. A big part of his conditioning work is ankle flexibility. Some players look at him a little curiously when he instructs them on drills that seem so perfunctory. Not Monroe.

“When I said, ‘Bend your ankles and let’s do our movements’ – some guys are really into and some kind of go through the motions,” Kander said. “They’re all respectful. There’s an honoring of it. But some really get into it. When I say, ‘Bend your ankles and get low,’ he really does it. He honors every opportunity to get better. Then you’re going to get better.”

That’s where Kander will start with Monroe this summer, too: his lower body.

“He’s got a great frame,” Kander said. “He’s got the wide shoulders, narrow waist, good-sized legs. If you see small legs, it’s hard to work on. It takes a long time to build up leg volume.

“The last thing you want to do with a big guy is overload the upper body. We really didn’t work a lot on that (last season). That will happen over time. Then you deal with every injury. We really try to get their base stronger. Ankle flexibility – to sit in the legs and use what they do have. Then get the hips, the lower back, stronger. Then you work on the icing on the cake.

“Ben Wallace has been working at this for years. This is not overnight. It’s a step-by-step process. Develop the ability to drop, develop the ability to get stronger in the hips, the ability to get lateral strength, move sideways. He got a lot better at that as the season progressed. His running looked a lot better; he moved a lot better.”

That lateral movement and ability to get low became apparent over the course of his rookie season most obviously on the defensive end, where Monroe became not only a solid defender in the post but an active help defender who proved effective in pick-and-roll situations. We detailed that in an earlier True Blue Pistons post, as well as the work player development coach Steve Hetzel plans to do with him this summer to hone his shot.

Back in Kander’s work lab, they’ll focus on lower-body strength. Out on the court, the concentration will be on skills development.

“We’ll continue to work on a lot of things,” Kander said. “Steve was great, before every practice, getting out there and working on ballhandling, working on left-right at the rim, on getting up quicker at the rim, options at the rim. A lot of guys work on one or two moves. You want eight or nine moves at the rim so it’s always available. That big shot-blocker comes, you can switch it back left or go under to use the rim for protection. It’s knowing your footwork, knowing all of the opportunities with your hands, with your feet. It’s a lot of work. It takes a lot of time.”

But the Pistons go into this draft confident that Monroe will invest whatever time is necessary to become the best player he can be – and one that gives them the latitude to grab the best big man they can get and be certain Monroe will be a good fit next to him.