The Monroe Doctrine

Pistons center showing steady – and rapid - progress
When Golden State was tagged with a defensive three seconds call late in Sunday’s first half, Ben Gordon, who’d missed the technical foul free throw that results from such a call earlier, didn’t make an immediate move toward the free-throw line. Neither did anyone else.

So Greg Monroe, who as a rookie last season clanked almost four out of 10 foul shots, walked right up and knocked down another free throw.

“Nobody was looking like they wanted to take it,” he smiled later. “I’m not going to pass it up.”

When opportunity knocks, expect to see Monroe’s 6-foot-11 presence on the other side, eager to step through the doorway and continue an amazing career progress.

He got to the line a career-high 14 times and made 13 of them against Golden State, also a career best. It came two games after he scored a career-high 32 points against Milwaukee to go with 16 rebounds, one off his previous best.

Get used to it. The second-year Pistons big man, still only 21, might only be scratching the surface. He was a 62 percent foul shooter a year ago; after Sunday’s 13 of 14, he’s up to 83 percent this season. His mid-range jump shot has become a weapon, making defenders honor the threat, opening driving lanes to make Monroe an even bigger threat near the basket where his adroit footwork and ability to finish with either hand have his scoring and rebounding numbers up to 17.2 and 9.1 on .571 shooting.

The remarkable thing is that Monroe was able to take such a career leap between his first and second NBA seasons despite a lockout that prevented him from stepping foot inside the team’s practice facility or to work with coach Lawrence Frank and his staff for more than five months.

But he made great use of his time, spending a month on Georgetown’s campus where he worked with Hoyas big man coach Darrell Pruitt and most of the rest of his summer in his native New Orleans, where he followed the teachings of personal trainer Rico Rhodes.

“I spent hours in the gym with him and I was in Georgetown for a month and got to work with one of my old coaches,” he said. “That was very instrumental, just getting back to my footwork in the post and getting back to what I’ve been doing my whole life. Last year, I wasn’t asked to do that, so I focused on what I had to work on to help the team last year. This summer, I refocused and went back to stuff I’ve been doing, working on footwork in the post, being patient and reading the defense.

“At home, it was a little different. It was just real creative, a lot of ballhandling, a lot of movements. Rico covered a lot of core stuff, movement stuff. It was something different for me and it helped me out a lot, too, especially with my conditioning.”

As Lawrence Frank studied tape of Monroe during the lockout, he saw a player he eventually could use as a “hub” of his offense – stationing Monroe on either low block or elbow or at the top of the circle and running the offense through him. “Eventually” has come sooner than Frank dared to hope.

“We’re using him quicker than I thought we’d be able to as a hub,” Frank said before Sunday’s game. “His ability to deliver in the low post is essential. You see the confidence and the rhythm and the timing and he goes at a really good pace. How quickly he’s been able to advance is a pleasant surprise.”

That he did it without benefit of contact with the Pistons’ staff, getting familiar with their teaching and Frank’s offense, tells Frank volumes.

“It shows the diligence and the work he’s put into it,” he said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, but he works at it every single day. He came in this morning and got work in. He came in (Saturday) on an off day and got work in. There’s no substitute for the time you put into it. Usually what you put into it is what you get out of it and he’s doing a good job living by that adage.”

For the past five weeks, Monroe has worked daily with Roy Rogers, a former No. 1 pick of the Vancouver Grizzlies at center and a native of the Deep South, like Monroe. They’ve struck up a strong relationship already.

“That’s who I work with every day,” Monroe said. “He’s definitely been a big help since I came back. He’s made a big difference – just staying on me. We watch a lot of film together. That helps me out a lot. He watched a lot of film, spent a lot of time studying me and the little film he had of me in the post. He found what I was really good at and he wanted me to master it. That’s what I’ve been doing so far. He hasn’t thrown a bunch of stuff at me, but he’s tried to make me master the few things I’ve been doing on the court. Everything I do on the court, I’ve been working on in the gym.”

Among the new wrinkles Monroe has shown this season is a willingness and ability to use his right hand, making his left-hand stab hook shot more effective for the threat of pivoting back the other way and scoring with his right.

“That’s something I had to get better at,” he said. “You can’t be a one-handed player in this league and think you’re going to be successful. That’s something I’m very comfortable doing. And I’m going to continue to get better at it.”

And if there’s one thing the Pistons have come to believe about Greg Monroe, it’s that you take him at his word when he says improvement is coming – and fast.