And no matter the constraints the lockout put upon the normal learning process of a young player, Pistons management didn’t lose a wink of sleep over how Monroe would attack that mission.
“I took a whole lot of shots,” Monroe said Wednesday after a workout at the Pistons’ practice facility, where the population swelled again with the arrival of Monroe and restricted free agent Jonas Jerebko in advance of Friday’s training camp opener. “Pick-and-roll shots, a lot of movement stuff, spot shots – any kind of mid-range jump shot you can take, I pretty much worked on it this summer.”
Monroe was about to have his first extended sit-down with new Pistons coach Lawrence Frank, where he was eager to hear Frank’s thoughts on the role devised for him this season. Frank has spoken about using Monroe as a “hub” – running plays through him from any one of five spots, which means Monroe is going to be a more integral part of the offense this season than last, when most of his scoring came off of offensive rebounds or improvisational cuts to the basket. Monroe, for his part, is ready for expanded responsibilities – on the court and in the locker room.
“I’ll definitely be more assertive,” he said. “I’ll be ready when coach calls my number. I’m very confident in my game, but right now I’m just focusing on finding out my role first. I’m going to try to be a lot more vocal in the locker room and definitely try to be a defensive anchor, talk a lot. That’s one thing I think, as a team, we have to get better at so that will be one thing I’ll be focused on a lot this week of training camp, just making sure everybody’s talking, I’m talking, everybody is on the same page as far as terminology. And then, in the locker room, (making sure) everybody is positive. It’s a new beginning. You can see the changes, so we just have to make sure we carry these changes onto the court.”
After moving into the starting lineup in early January, Monroe averaged 12.5 points and 9.3 rebounds in 33 minutes a game over the final 48 while shooting .587. After the All-Star break, those numbers ticked up even higher; Monroe averaged a double-double, 13.7 points and 10 rebounds, over the last 25 games.
The Pistons recognize the need to further fortify the frontcourt, but Monroe’s ascendancy and the return from injury of Jerebko, if the Pistons are able to retain him, would go a long way toward making the Pistons an improved product defensively and more formidable overall.
“I try to mind my own business,” Monroe said about persuading Jerebko to return. “I would love for Jonas to be here, but it’s a business part of this game. He’s going to go through the process. I hope he’s back with us, but you have to go through these things as a certain point. He’s going to take his time and make the right decision, but hopefully he’s back with us.”
One other return Monroe hopes becomes reality is Ben Wallace’s.
“Who wouldn’t want Ben Wallace on their team?” he asked. “I mean, the guy is a proven warrior. You know what you’re going to get out of him every night – somebody who’s playing hard, who’s going to rebound, who’s going to play defense. If he comes back, same situation as with Jonas. I would love to have him there, but it’s their lives. It’s his career you’re talking about, so whatever decision he makes I’ll back him 100 percent.”
Monroe said he is at or very near his playing weight, spending most of his summer in New Orleans working with a personal trainer. He squeezed in a summer session at Georgetown, as well, and said his aim was to stay close enough to playing condition throughout the lockout so as to be ready for the start of the season on short notice.
“You can’t prepare 100 percent until you’re right on the court because you don’t want to come to training camp dead,” he said. “So I just tried to make sure I was always, on a scale of one to 10, in the eight or nine range, making sure when I get on the court that I’m not just totally out of shape. I’m pretty sure guys are ready. Everybody has probably still been working out, being optimistic, so I don’t think that will be a big problem this season.”
For those who wonder if Monroe can pick up where he left off last season and continue climbing the ladder, he said this: “You just go back and remember the focus I had, the things I wanted to come in and accomplish in practice and on game days. You make sure you’re doing that and then you take it a step higher, being more reliable, working on things I had to work on. I will always have the same focus and my focus will always be to win. That’s what I try to come in and do every day and that’s what I will continue to do.”
And that’s why Greg Monroe was the least of Joe Dumars’ worries over the NBA’s most unusual off-season.