Ideal Fit?

Moultrie sees himself as the right partner for Monroe in Pistons frontcourt

(Editor’s note: True Blue Pistons continues a 14-part series leading to the June 28 draft with a look at Arnett Moultrie, one of seven big men who could be on the board when the Pistons pick at No. 9. Coming Thursday: Meyers Leonard.)

If Joe Dumars wrote a formal job description for the ideal power forward to pair next to Greg Monroe, Arnett Moultrie would check off nearly every item on his list.

At one-quarter inch shy of 6-foot-11 and one of only three players at the Chicago draft combine to record a maximum vertical reach of 12 feet or better, the Mississippi State junior has the length and willowy athleticism that would seem the textbook complement to Monroe, who for all of his strengths is not yet a menacing rim protector.

Who thinks Moultrie meshes ideally with Monroe? Well, Moultrie, for one.

“Me and him are a perfect fit,” Moultrie said last Friday at the combine, a few hours before he was scheduled to meet with Joe Dumars, Lawrence Frank and other Pistons executives and four days before what he said was his scheduled Tuesday workout for the Pistons in Auburn Hills. “He’s more of a skilled scorer. I bring my energy, run the floor, blocking shots, rebounding the basketball.”

Yet Moultrie isn’t projected as a sure-fire lottery pick, never mind going in the top 10. He’ll have plenty of chances to change perceptions in the two weeks remaining before the June 28 draft, though, with workouts scheduled for at least three teams – Sacramento, Golden State and Toronto – picking ahead of the Pistons, who hold the ninth pick.

Moultrie represented a recruiting coup for UTEP coach Tony Barbee when he came out of high school in Memphis four years ago and he played significant minutes for two seasons in El Paso. But when Barbee left to take over at Auburn after Moultrie’s sophomore season, he transferred closer to home.

In one season at Mississippi State, Moultrie averaged 16.4 points and 10.5 rebounds and shot 55 percent – very good numbers in the SEC, where it was Moultrie, not presumptive No. 1 pick and unanimous national Player of the Year Anthony Davis, who led the conference in rebounding.

The one thing he didn’t do? Block shots. Moultrie averaged less than a blocked shot per game. That’s usually not the type of skill a player suddenly develops, so any team that takes Moultrie and expects him to grow into a Ben Wallace-like swatter is likely to be disappointed.

That doesn’t mean Moultrie couldn’t become an excellent defender, of course, using his length and quickness to smother lane penetration. As Frank is fond of saying, there are many other ways to play great defense besides blocking shots.

Moultrie is likely to win points during the interview process, where he will come across as prepared and intelligent. He answered questions about the Pistons promptly and directly and gave the impression he could do similarly for all other teams.

Asked to describe his playing style by drawing parallels to current NBA players, Moultrie said, “I honestly don’t like comparing myself to other players, but I’m a student of the game. I watch a lot of LaMarcus Aldridge; he’s a good stretch four. And I like the aggression that (Kevin Garnett) plays with. I like the energy that Kenneth Faried brings to the Denver Nuggets.”

NBA scouts see some similarities to longtime NBA power forward Antonio Davis, who also played college basketball at UTEP, while some see in Moultrie traits akin to Jermaine O’Neal.

By no means does Moultrie have a polished offensive game – “I think I need to smooth out my low-post game,” he admits – but he showed solid form on the rare occasions he got to step outside and shoot face-up jump shots at Mississippi State, something he got to do more at UTEP.

He has the makings of a decent hook shoot with his strong hand, the right, but nothing yet approaching a go-to move with his back to the basket. Much like Monroe as a rookie, Moultrie is likely to get the bulk of his points early in his career on put-backs, where he was very good in college, while also presenting an inviting lob target. Moultrie’s ability to run the floor as a power forward figures to be attractive to the Pistons, who at Frank’s urging and with guards Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey began to become an effective running team as last season unfolded.

A question Moultrie will undoubtedly field repeatedly as he makes the rounds of NBA teams is what role he played in Mississippi State’s late-season collapse that saw the talented Bulldogs first fail to make the NCAA tournament and then lose at home to UMass in the first round of the NIT – a game in which Moultrie scored 34 points.

When Mississippi State played Kentucky tough at home in a late-February loss, Moultrie held his own head to head against Davis, both posting identical lines of 13 points, 11 boards and two blocks.

Moultrie decided not to go through drills at the Chicago combine, a move that didn’t curry favor with NBA executives. He said he pulled out because he was grouped with the centers, a move the NBA likely made merely to better balance the position groups. If he can repair whatever damage that decision caused, Moultrie has a solid chance to move into the lottery. He’s reportedly impressed in early workouts, catching eyes for his athletic gait and explosive leaping ability – especially on second jumps that often win loose balls.

Of the seven big men we’re profiling on in the coming days who are likely front-runners to be their pick at No. 9, Moultrie might seem the biggest reach. He also could be the one who most closely matches the job description the Pistons might have composed.