Beyond His Years

Monroe gets it, so reduced stats don’t ruffle feathers
CHICAGO – Among the many things the Pistons love about Greg Monroe is his keen sense of the individual’s place amid a team structure. In a larger sense, to characterize that quality of Monroe’s as “among the many things” sells it short, because it’s really the overarching quality that binds all of his many other attributes that have so endeared the Pistons to their second-year franchise cornerstone.

Quick example: Since his dominant 32-point performance against Sacramento on March 14, Monroe has averaged only 11.3 points, five under his season average. He’s attempted only 59 shots, just north of eight shots a game. That’s less than the 8.9 he averaged as a rookie, when the Pistons never ran plays for him, and almost six fewer attempts than the 13.8 he’s averaged this season.

And …

“A lot of these games, people have gotten some games going,” Monroe told me this week. “Obviously in Denver, (Ben Gordon, who scored 45 points that night) had a game going. (Rodney) Stuckey was playing well up until he had to sit out a couple of games. You have to go with the hot hand. I totally understand that. I just continue to play, do what I have to do. I’m not counting touches or anything like that.”

There’s probably no one defining reason that explains the temporary decline in Monroe’s involvement. Without Stuckey, who missed three games in that stretch and clearly was not himself in a fourth, it’s fair to guess the opposition focused more on taking Monroe’s scoring away. As Monroe pointed out, Gordon’s hot hand completely skewed the Denver game. Amid a seven-game sample size, those two factors alone undermine any conclusive analysis.

“I think his minutes are a little bit down, too,” Lawrence Frank said. “Sometimes it’s the way the ball bounces. Sometimes it’s different ways we can get him involved. Each game, I’d have to take it on a game-by-game basis to probably say why.”

The fact Frank could be so unconcerned about an individual’s decline in opportunity – and not just any individual, but arguably the one player most central to the franchise’s future – underscores Monroe’s even temperament. The 32-point explosion at Sacramento came at the expense of DeMarcus Cousins, whose dissatisfaction with his role in the Kings’ offense forced management into crisis mode in the season’s opening days and ultimately resulted in the firing of coach Paul Westphal.

Monroe and Cousins will be forever linked, of course, because of their inclusion in the same 2010 draft class and the heavy scrutiny both received in the weeks leading to draft night – Monroe for his perceived lack of athleticism, Cousins for his well-documented emotional-control issues. Cousins is supremely skilled – as anyone who saw his 26-point, 15-rebound game at The Palace in a Feb. 17 Pistons win would attest – and there is little consensus afoot to suggest he won’t ultimately justify his draft position.

Yet no one would claim surprise if Cousins doesn’t maximize his considerable gifts, either. Monroe, to the contrary, has left no one doubting that whatever he possibly can become, he will. His basketball IQ, cited by Joe Dumars and his staff in the aftermath of the 2010 draft, has been lauded by both of his NBA head coaches. But it goes beyond basketball smarts to common everyday smarts, a player who clearly sees his place in the larger picture.

“It’s just the flow of the game,” he said of the reduction in scoring chances over the last half of March. “Teams prepare for different people. Some teams might key in on me; they might key in on other people. You just have to make sure you’re ready to produce any way you can.”