Inside-Out Dilemma

As guards misfire, Monroe struggles for scoring space inside

The backcourt's recent shooting woes have affected Greg Monroe's ability to score in the paint.
Andrew D. Bernstein (NBAE/Getty)
DENVER – The Pistons have something of a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum going with their offense as they sit at 0-3 heading into tonight’s game at Denver: Is Greg Monroe struggling to score inside because guards Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight are shooting a combined 20.7 percent? Or are Stuckey and Knight misfiring so frequently because Monroe, a .530 career shooter, is making only 40 percent of his shots?

Lawrence Frank’s answer: You’re looking at the wrong end of the floor. The results of Sunday’s loss to the Lakers still had him grimacing as he ticked off some of the critical statistics, including the most galling: 28 of the 42 baskets the Pistons surrendered came within 3 feet of the rim.

“If a team is scoring 3 feet and in consistently, you’re taking the ball out of the net every time,” he said after Tuesday’s shootaround at the Pepsi Center for tonight’s game with 0-3 Denver, playing its home opener. “When they’re not scoring 3 feet and in, if you’re fouling them, you’re going against a set defense with length in (Pau) Gasol and (Dwight) Howard. We have to rely on great spacing, ball movement, player movement, extra pass, best shot mentality, agenda-free basketball. That’s what it comes down to.”

Denver’s most impressive outing is its most recent, a 3-point loss to Miami in which the Nuggets scored 116 points after uncharacteristically averaging 82 in their first two games. The Pistons know they’ll have to score more than the 88 they’re averaging through three games – that’s 28th in the league – and shoot better than .403, which is 25th.

If there’s going to be a crack in the firewall standing between the Pistons and their basket, chances are it will be exploited first by Monroe. In Denver’s first three games – all road losses – the Nuggets have been hurt by opposing big men.

Philadelphia’s Spencer Hawes came off the bench to score 16 points, grab 12 rebounds and block five shots. Orlando’s Glen Davis had 29 points and 10 boards. And Miami’s Chris Bosh scored 40 points, making 15 of 22 shots.

Monroe admits the lane has been noticeably more congested in the early going as teams gang up on him, but says it’s on him to start knocking down the mid-range jump shots he worked so tirelessly on over the summer and adjust to whatever confronts him.

“The teams we’ve played have made a concerted effort to keep everything tight defensively,” he said. “There’s a lot more people in the lane. I have to adjust. I’m not worried about (his teammates’ shooting). Those guys have never taken bad shots. The shots they’re taking, I know they can make. That’s something that’ll come along. I have to make that adjustment. The more you work the offense and possessions, defenses break down. Just work the game, let the shots come to me.”

That’s Frank’s message, as well – don’t focus on scoring, focus on everything that must lead to scoring.

“Greg and Rodney, they get a lot of plays called for them, but it may not always be their shot. There may be help, so you get a teammate a better shot. Our highest percentage shooter is Kyle Singer; we don’t run plays for him. (Jason Maxiell) and Jonas (Jerebko), we don’t run plays for them; they’re our second and third leading scorers.

“When your emphasis is, ‘I’ve got to score,’ you’re not going to score. It’s got to be a free-flowing, stress-free game where the open man gets the shot.”

Nuggets coach George Karl told Denver reporters on Monday that he was leery of Monroe.

“He’s slippery,” Karl told them. “Good shot. He’s been able to make the 15-footer more consistently. He’s very powerful around the basket. He’s very clever. He’s not speedy, but he’s quick. I think he’s going to be interesting to see how our guys adapt to him. He’s a little bit unorthodox.”

If the Nuggets are still muttering about Monroe’s unique scoring ability after the game, the Pistons will have taken a step toward solving their early-season offensive lethargy. Maybe they’ll find their solution at the defensive end.