So Far, So Good

In 9-game glimpse, Pistons see possibilities of Monroe-Drummond tandem

Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond will have the entire summer to work on a pairing that has already shown potential.
The cap space Joe Dumars carved out for the looming off-season creates a gaping opportunity to upgrade the Pistons’ talent base. Given the success rate the Pistons have had in the previous three lotteries, adding another top-10 pick likely means a fourth building block will be secured in June.

But the greatest source of optimism for a great leap forward in 2013-14 lies in the potency, individually but particularly in the collective, of the Greg Monroe-Andre Drummond tandem.

The Pistons have now had roughly 10 percent of an NBA season – nine games with only Wednesday’s season finale at Brooklyn remaining – to gauge the effectiveness of Monroe and Drummond together.

Ten percent is an amply sufficient sample size to paint an accurate portrayal of the situation as it exists – precise polling can be done with far less of a slice – but it’s still not a lot to go on when projecting the future.

Still, there are “a lot of encouraging signs,” Lawrence Frank said as he scanned the results of the last few weeks, ever since Drummond returned from a 22-game absence caused by the stress fracture in his lower back. “They can definitely play off of each other. They bring different skill sets. They can definitely fit.”

The Pistons now believe that much. As certain as they were of its likelihood before Drummond returned and moved immediately into the starting lineup, these last nine games have shoved aside whatever remote doubts might have existed. As surely as the central figures have oodles to learn about each other’s preferences and tendencies, they also already are showing signs that their individual strengths can be enhanced by the other’s presence, and whatever weaknesses exist masked to the same degree.

Monroe’s numbers have trended up since Drummond’s return. He’s averaging 18.3 points and 9.8 rebounds, above his season averages of 16.1 and 9.6. His shooting percentage is up, as well, from .486 to .523. Even if Drummond doesn’t present a low-post scoring threat just yet, the damage he inflicts as an offensive rebounder or on the finishing end of lob dunks means whoever guards him can’t stray and offer help on Monroe.

Against Philadelphia on Monday, Monroe scored 26 points on just 14 field-goal attempts, making 10 of them. He was matched against Thaddeus Young, the most athletic of the individual matchups he’s faced since shifting to power forward. In an NBA increasingly featuring Young types, it surely didn’t dampen the organization’s enthusiasm for the viability of Monroe at power forward to see him win his matchup.

“Any advantage we have, no matter what player it is, I expect us to take advantage of it,” Monroe said after the game. “Tonight, you could say it was me. Going forward, if that’s the plan, I’m fine with it. If not, however we prepare, whatever the game plan the coaches come up with, we’ll go with and that will put us in the best situation to win the game.”

The Pistons significantly expanded Monroe’s role this season, funneling the offense more and more through him, as the spike in his assists, from 2.3 to 3.5 a game, reflects. Some of those dimes are going to be dropped in Drummond’s pocket as Monroe sets up shop at the elbows while Drummond roams the baseline.

Frank has hinted that Drummond shows things in practice not yet revealed in games, but it’s fair to guess that the bulk of Drummond’s scoring in the near term will be generated off of put-backs and impromptu lobs, not off of plays designed specifically to create scoring opportunities for him.

Perhaps the single most significant development over the past nine games, though, has been Monroe’s productivity, dissipating whatever fear might have existed that his scoring chances would lessen in quality and frequency with Drummond drawing a crowd near the basket. The need to keep a body glued to Drummond, in fact, might have opened things up for Monroe.

“At times, yes,” Frank said. “But I think Greg’s played at a very high level on both ends. Since the (March 31) Chicago game, he’s played very, very well. Some of it is that teams are afraid to leave Andre’s body, but other times it’s just Greg. He’s playing at a very high level.”

He’s taking his team, winners of four straight, with him. Free agency and the draft give them an opening to move a few more steps up the mountain over the next few months. But for the dizzying heights they believe are ultimately within reach, the Monroe-Drummond union must prove a fruitful one. So far, so good.