Work in Progress

Monroe, Knight put off-season to full use in quest to propel Pistons forward

Brandon Knight and his teammates are already putting in work at the Pistons practice facility.
Pistons photo
It would be an exaggeration to suggest the Pistons will go as far as Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight can carry them in 2012-13, but not entirely inaccurate to say the difference between the floor and the ceiling on their expectations will be determined by the amount of progress their two young franchise cornerstones can make over the summer.

The group of veterans headed by Tayshaun Prince, Rodney Stuckey and Jason Maxiell are more or less known quantities, though the Pistons are optimistic that a full season under Lawrence Frank and good health will propel Stuckey to his biggest season yet in his sixth NBA year. Then there’s a wave of rookies – five of them – for whom the Pistons have high hopes but aren’t necessarily writing in ink the name of anyone in the rotation.

But Monroe and Knight, 22 and 20, are pivotal figures, good bets to lead the team in minutes played along with Stuckey and perhaps Prince, though depth unlike the Pistons have enjoyed at small forward should lessen the burden on the 10-year veteran, now 32.

And the quality of the minutes Monroe and Knight log is going to be critical to turning single-digit losses into wins. The Pistons played .500 basketball over the final 42 games last season and hope to pick up from that point and carry forward this season.

Joe Dumars, who along with assistant general manager George David is in Europe watching Jonas Jerebko and Slava Kravtsov play for their national teams this week, is encouraged that the fruits of his 2010 and ’11 lottery picks are doing their utmost over the off-season to keep their career progress on track.

“Greg has had a very good summer,” he told me last week after watching Monroe put in an impressive workout with assistant coach Roy Rogers. “The amount of work he’s put in is exactly what you have to do if you are serious about continuing to become a better player. The list of stops he’s made this year to work on his game – different places, different people, different players, coaches … it’s an impressive list. I think he could check off every box of what he should have done this summer.”

Monroe’s summer stops have taken him to virtually every corner of the country, working on something a little different in each stop. He’s worked on cross-training with a personal trainer in his native Louisiana, with Kevin Love in Los Angeles, with the Pistons Summer League team in Orlando, at Georgetown with ex-Hoya star and NBA player Othella Harrington and in Las Vegas at longtime NBA assistant Tim Grgurich’s acclaimed summer camp.

He’s worked on conditioning and Dumars was struck by the way Monroe moved during his recent workouts.

“I like the way he’s running,” he said. “He’s really moving well.”

Monroe could wind up playing at least some of the time at power forward next season as rookies Andre Drummond and Kravtsov, 7-footers who both offer athleticism and shot-blocking that make them logical candidates to play near the rim, push for playing time. To that end, Monroe is working to take his game farther from the basket, working with Rogers on elbow and wing jump shots in addition to continuing to hone his back-to-the-basket repertoire.

Knight has spent a good chunk of his summer at the team’s practice facility, where he has focused on ballhandling, passing out of pick-and-roll situations and building strength. He ran the offense for the Summer League team and joined Monroe, as well as Drummond, at the Grgurich camp.

Dumars’ overriding goal for Knight in his second NBA season is to mature as a point guard.

“The area I think is most important for him is to master the position,” he said. “I’m not concerned about his free-throw percentage or his shooting percentage or anything like that. Master the position. What I mean by that is to have a feel for when he needs to get 25, have a feel for when it’s best for him to get 15 assists, have a feel for when and who to get the ball to that particular night. Night for night, having a feel for the game. That’s the biggest thing for a second-year point guard.”

Dumars believes the Summer League experience will go a long way toward speeding Knight’s advancement.

“For Brandon, one of the best things that happened for him this summer was Summer League, because he’s never had one. The second thing that was important was Lawrence (Frank) basically made him the captain of that team. So now he’s got a year of experience under his belt, he has a Summer League. The next thing he’s going to have is a real training camp. That’s going to help him as much as anything. Those are critical moments for a young player.”

For young players so central to the franchise’s future, they might prove to be the moments that will mark the 2012-13 season as one that launches them into the next great era of Pistons basketball.