Big vs. Small

Monroe’s transition to power forward will be put to test late in games

Greg Monroe
Greg Monroe will likely play power forward at the end of games.
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
Upon further review, maybe all the hand-wringing over Greg Monroe’s transition to power forward was for naught.

Most of the analysis of Monroe’s move focused on how he’d adapt defensively, specifically how he’d cope guarding “stretch fours” – the burgeoning crop of power forwards comfortable shooting 3-pointers.

Monroe got a major dose of it in the Pistons’ second preseason game when Miami started Shane Battier at the position, but the Heat are more the exception than the rule.

In fact, there are only two other teams in the conference likely to start an unconventional power forward, Milwaukee (Ersan Ilyasova ahead of John Henson) and New York (if Andrea Bargnani is the starter).

In the Central Division, Monroe is unlikely to spend any meaningful minutes guarding anything other than true power forwards against anyone other than Milwaukee, as evidenced by what Monroe experienced in the team’s two most recent preseason games at Chicago (Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson) and Cleveland (Tristan Thompson). Cavs rookie Anthony Bennett, should he earn a role, eventually projects as a perimeter threat though not a true stretch four.

“They’re traditional fours in the division and, honestly, if you go around the league, there’s not that many teams that do it,” Monroe said. “People talk about it a lot because a lot of the elite teams play small. I’ll continue to work. We’re all still learning the defense, how we want to handle things. But I think we’re moving along just fine.”

Monroe had some early offensive adjustments to make against Battier, long regarded as one of the league’s most clever defenders. He made only 2 of 11 shots in that game, but got to the foul line 12 times.

“That’s always a hard one,” Maurice Cheeks said. “You want to impose your will on a smaller four and they want to impose their will, which is stepping out on the floor. I thought he did OK, not great. You’ve got to find him on the perimeter. Big guys are used to being in the paint and not chasing guys on the perimeter, so he’s got to get used to doing that. But I thought, for the most part, chasing Battier out on the perimeter, he was OK – and he got to the foul line for us.”

“With a guy like Battier, you have to be a little bit more aware,” Monroe said. “He’s a spot-up guy. Most fours will probably migrate to the rim a little more than he did, but there’s still a lot of players at the four who stay out like he does so it’s about making sure you know where he’s located, making sure you’re still in the right position to help but also making sure you know where he is.”

Monroe is projected to start the first and third quarters at power forward while Andre Drummond holds down the center spot. Cheeks’ preseason rotation pattern calls for Drummond to exit the game after about seven or eight minutes, at which time Monroe finishes the first quarter at center.

So he’ll be a power forward for maybe 14 to 16 minutes per game and then, perhaps, an additional stretch of minutes late in halves. The real test for Monroe, for Cheeks and for the big frontcourt the Pistons must field in order to have their five best players on the floor will come at the end of games, when teams are more apt to go small and get their best athletes playing together.

“It’s more at the end of games than anything else,” Monroe said. “That will be the adjustment.”

“Depends on how we’re playing and depends on time and score,” Cheeks said, “but a lot of teams go small toward the end of games. Us being a big lineup, we have to see what works best for us. The Miami game was a good test for us, but end of games is the biggest test when it comes down to big vs. small lineups.”