Taking Charge

No shot-blocker no excuse for lax defense, Frank insists

Lawrence Frank expects Greg Monroe to become a defensive anchor for the Pistons.
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A great shot-blocker can be a critical component of a great defense. But the absence of a great shot-blocker shouldn’t prevent a team from playing great defense. That’s Lawrence Frank’s message. And Pistons history backs him up.

The greatest single Pistons season almost certainly was 1988-89, when the Pistons won the NBA title and went 45-6 through the playoffs after acquiring Mark Aguirre. Guess who led that team in blocked shots? Bill Laimbeer with 100 for the season, barely more than one per game.

“All I know is you don’t have to jump very high to take a charge,” Frank shrugged when asked how you go about building a formidable defensive team without a 7-foot swatter protecting the rim. “Our roster is what it is. I never complain about a roster. I love the guys we have. But you have to make the most of what you have.”

The 2004 champion Pistons had two accomplished shot-blockers, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace, anchoring the greatest defensive team of their generation. Ben Wallace is still around, of course, but at 37 he isn’t capable of dominating as he once did or logging the minutes required to pile up huge shot-block numbers. Jason Maxiell has demonstrated shot-blocking ability, but it remains to be seen how much of a niche he can carve out under Frank. The surest thing the Pistons have in their frontcourt is Greg Monroe, who blocked 45 shots a year ago.

But Frank, based off his study of last season’s video, believes Monroe has everything he needs to become a very good defensive player.

“I think he can be a high-level defensive player,” Frank said. “He has very, very good feet. He has the unique and uncanny ability as a big player to get his hands on a lot of balls. He’s very good with his pick and roll defense. He got better as the year went on at understanding the rule of verticality, which is always a big adjustment. And he understands – usually it takes guys a good year to figure it out.

“As a big player, you have to become a defensive anchor, which relies on a great deal of awareness, anticipation, communication, bringing a physical brand of basketball. When you look at our group, where we were deficient was on the defensive end. If we’re committed to win, it has to start there.”

Frank talks about “paint consequences” of which a blocked shot is only one. Taking a charge, causing a deflection, getting a steal or committing an NBA foul are others – some better than others, but all preferable to what he calls “that sixth consequence,” giving up two points.

“I’ve been around teams where we had three different guys in the top 10 in taking charges,” Frank said. “You do what you can. It’s like your skill set on offense. Stay within your strength zone. Same thing defensively. Having a shot-blocker doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’re going to be a good defensive team.”

The 1989 Bad Boys have shiny rings to prove him right.