By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Dec 19 2011 11:06AM
Dwight Howard is on the verge of going Hollywood. Or Brooklyn, or some other big stage from which his off-court pursuits might soon rival his basketball feats. Andrew Bynum remains a big tease and Pau Gasol gets cast more often as a power forward.
The other Gasol, Marc, is best appreciate by those with Continental tastes, given his refined shooting touch and passing ability. Guys like Andrew Bogut and Joakim Noah seem a little exotic and Tyson Chandler sits apart from the rest by virtue of his championship ring and his own New York spotlight.
But Greg Monroe, grinding his way through everything the Detroit Pistons throw at him, might qualify as the NBA's real working-man's center.
Monroe, a 6-foot-11, 250-pounder from Georgetown, was one of the league's brightest rookies a year ago. He's a lefthander who can hit face-up jumpers in range and has developed a nasty hook shot. He rebounds well, can susprise onlookers and even cutters with his passes, and is a willing defender even if he's not currently the most effective.
Mostly what Monroe is, though, is a worker and a player driven to improve. There's no glitz to that, just perspiration. He was itching to get back to it long before the NBA lockout ended, lest he lose any of the marvelous progress he had as a newbie.
"I just go back and remember the focus I had and the things I wanted to accomplish on game days, and make sure you're doing that and take the step higher," Monroe told the Detroit Free Press a couple of days before Pistons camp opened. "It's just being more reliable. ... I will always have to stay focused and that's what I try to do every day and I will continue to do."
Monroe got snubbed from the NBA's All-rookie first team, landing on the second after averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds in 27.8 minutes. He ranked sixth in the NBA in field-goal percentage (.551) and seventh in offensive rebounds (248), and he had 21 double-double nights of at least 10 points and 10 rebounds.
He got a crash course in team dysfunction with Detroit last season, too, watching as big-name veterans bailed on coach John Kuester and embarrassed themselves with their actions (boycotted shootaround) and comments. None of which ever came from, stuck to or seemed to suit Monroe.
In fact, beyond his individual improvement, the big guy was looking forward to a wiser, more cohesive locker room in 2011-12. "Anybody on this team, on this roster, we have to have a sense of pride," Monroe said of leadership opportunities. "As long as it's positive, and it's beneficial to this organization and this team, they should speak up. There shouldn't be anything that's left unsaid if it's going to help us."
Monroe didn't get much help on the boards last season and it showed; Detroit ranked 30th in total rebounds, a stat in which it likely won't improve much with similar personnel this season.
Also, he accomplished what he did offensively without getting his number called much by Kuester or teammates. That simply meant Monroe had to go after the ball himself, claim it off the glass, and create his own chances.
Monroe's resourcefulness and fundamentally sound game makes him a constant in whatever lineup new coach Lawrence Frank puts around him now. That's a valuable trait on a team looking for improvement wherever it can be found after last season's dreary 30-52 finish. The 21 year old is going to play his game regardless of the company.
"No question ... with Greg's versatility, he can play with just about any kind of big that you would bring in," Detroit president Joe Dumars told the team's Web site. "He's shown that. He's played with Charlie [Villanueva]. He played with Ben Wallace. He played with [Chris Wilcox]. He played with [Jason Maxiell]. He played with all of them. There was never a situation where you looked out and said, 'Greg just doesn't play well with so-and-so.' "
Lately, the Pistons' renowned strength and conditioning coach Arnie Kander has worked with Monroe since his arrival. Initially it was basic stuff. More recently, they have focused on strengthening his lower body for the positioning advantge Monroe needs inside. "Nothing amazes me when a guy commits to what he has to do," Kander said. "He was committed to everything we did on the court."
The Pistons are committed and, in a lot of ways, dependent on what Monroe does on the court this season.
1. Trust Lawrence Frank. After turmoil during Michael Curry's and John Kuester's terms as head coach, Frank is a pro with a strong resume and a knack for handling skeptical players.
2. Manage the minutes and egos. Stuckey has been difficult for Detroit coaches since he arrived. Austin Daye might get antsy waiting behind newly re-upped Tayshaun Prince.
3. Work on Stuckey's shooting. Stuckey, initially miscast as a point guard, is a potent scorer but frightens no one when he puts up shots from 12 feet or more.
1. Brandon Knight might not be a pass-first point guard or even all that efficient, but he opened some eyes in the Pistons' preseason opener. And got Stuckey into the fold, pronto.
2. Now that Rip Hamilton has exited, it will be interesting to see how Tayshaun Prince handles his still-a-Piston mentor role.
3. Every young NBA player could learn from Pistons power forward Jonas Jerebko, whose motor and intensity revved so high as a rookie that he could miss his entire second season and still land a four-year, $18 million contract.
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LAST YEAR: 30-52, 4th in Central
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2010-11 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2010-11 Stats|
RODNEY STUCKEY, POINT GUARD
15.5 PPG | 5.2 APG | 3.1 RPG
Stuckey is a big combo guard at 6-foot-5 who can handle the ball and attack the basket. Will Frank use Stuckey primarily at point or will he man the shooting guard position?
BEN GORDON, SHOOTING GUARD
11.2 PPG | 2.1 APG | .402 3P%
Signed back in 2009, Gordon hasn't been as productive as his salary might suggest he should be. Departure of Richard Hamilton opens door for more playing time.
TAYSHAUN PRINCE, SMALL FORWARD
14.1 PPG | 4.2 RPG | 2.8 APG
The skinny forward rebounded from back problems during 2009-10 to have a solid 2010-11 season. Prince contributes, but his position is getting crowded in Detroit.
CHARLIE VILLANUEVA, POWER FORWARD
11.1 PPG | 3.9 RPG | 0.6 BPG
He, like Gordon, has underperformed since joining the Pistons. He will have to begin the season serving a four-game suspension for an on-court altercation.
GREG MONROE, CENTER
9.4 PPG | 7.5 RPG | 1.2 SPG
Monroe came along during his rookie season with a fine midrange jumper and good ballhandling skills for a big man. More of a power forward than center.
|Austin Daye||6-11||200||F||Plays smaller with good shooting range, weak defense.|
|Jonas Jerebko||6-10||230||F||Pistons missed his defense, activity due to Achilles injury.|
|Brandon Knight||6-3||188||G||Still not the pass-first point guard this team could use.|
ADDED: G Brandon Knight, F Vernon Macklin, G Terrico White, G-F Damien Wilkins
LOST: F-C Chris Wilcox, G-F Tracy McGrady, G Richard Hamilton
RODNEY STUCKEY, GUARD
Stuckey reportedly balked at a longer contract offer of $40 million or so, before finally agreeing to a three-year deal worth an estimated $25 million. Now he's back to proving himself all over again. Stuckey went from franchise-anchoring potential to nearly being out the Detroit door with little in between.
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