Pistons by Position: Center

Pistons bulk up in a big way behind blossoming star Monroe

(Editor’s note: True Blue Pistons today continues a five-part series examining the 15-man Pistons roster by position with a look centers Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Slava Kravtsov. Coming Monday: power forwards.)

If Greg Monroe, the guy who couldn’t get off of John Kuester’s bench in his first two games and now sits on the cusp of All-Star status, can make the same strides in the next two years as he did in his first two NBA seasons … well, at some point soon we’ll be talking about his place in Pistons lore.

And here’s the thing: As far as he’s come already, nobody thinks his career progress is slowing down anytime soon.

“The best is yet to come,” Lawrence Frank said. “He’s 22. We want to see improvement each and every day, each and every month, each and every year. That’s the track. We think he has an extremely high upside. He was very impressive with the way he attacked his work this summer.”

It was a summer that took Monroe across the country, working on various aspects of his game and his body. He started in his native Louisiana, throwing tires around and running the track as part of a cross-training regimen. It was on to Los Angeles from there, where he spent two weeks working out with Kevin Love with an emphasis on high-tempo drills, including shooting on the move to approximate game conditions.

He came to Pistons Summer League in Orlando to take part in six practices before games began, as much to bond with No. 1 draft pick Andre Drummond and set a tone for the teen’s work ethic as anything. From there, it was on to Georgetown, working on his degree but also on post moves with ex-Hoyas legend and NBA big man Othella Harrington.

Monroe accompanied Drummond and Brandon Knight to Las Vegas in August to attend the acclaimed weeklong camp held by longtime NBA assistant Tim Grgurich. Sprinkled throughout the summer in heavy doses were sessions in Auburn Hills with Arnie Kander and Pistons assistant Roy Rogers, where the focus was on conditioning drills, post moves and perimeter shooting.

The results were clear. Monroe will come to camp in terrific shape, a more confident player who appears far more comfortable shooting from the perimeter and operating in space.

“Greg has had a very good summer,” Dumars said in August. “The amount of work he’s put in is exactly what you have to do if you are serous about continuing to become a better player. The list of stops he’s made this year to work on his game – different places, different people, different players, coaches … it’s an impressive list. I think he could check off every box of what he should have done this summer.”

Frank observed Monroe in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Orlando and Auburn Hills, an investment of time that underscores Monroe’s place in the franchise’s pantheon.

“Greg has had an unbelievable summer,” Frank said. “The intensity he’s worked at has increased. His thirst has been unbelievable. He’s lived in this facility. It’s Greg being here, first one in the gym every morning, going out to LA working out with Kevin Love and going to do the strength stuff, going to Vegas, coming to Summer League. His work ethic, his willingness to do what needs to be done in order to take the next step as a player, I think he’s definitely made strides.”

Behind Monroe, the Pistons have added two athletic 7-footers: Drummond, who only turned 19 in August, and Ukrainian Slava Kravtsov, the oldest of the three at 25. Should both demand rotation spots, it’s conceivable Monroe will eventually spend most of his time at power forward, a scenario for which he’s prepared. That was part of the motivation for extending his game to the perimeter over the summer.

“They basically said I need to be prepared to play power forward,” he said. “They’re looking for at least one of those guys to be ready, so I’ve started to prepare myself to be ready to play the four. We’ve been working on stuff to have me in those positions.”

“The thing I’ve seen with Greg this summer is he’s hesitating less and less to step up and make shots,” assistant general manager George David said. “Greg had an incredibly hard-working summer. He did a lot of things this summer we feel are really going to pay off for him. You can come in the gym every day and not work hard in the summer. What has us excited about Greg is not the amount of hours or days he put in the gym but what he did in those hours.”

While Monroe’s added versatility should pay off no matter where he lines up, smart money says he remains at center at least initially this season. The Pistons have more sure things at power forward – Jason Maxiell, Jonas Jerebko, Charlie Villaneuva and Austin Daye – than at center until Drummond or Kravtsov prove their readiness.

But the Pistons are clearly excited at the transformation they promise. Instead of being consistently outsized and occasionally overwhelmed up front, the Pistons can match up with virtually any frontcourt configuration that now confronts them.

“That’s one of the beauties of the season,” Monroe said. “We’ve changed a little bit. We’re a little more diverse. We have different matchups now. It’s just about us gelling and continuing to get better.”

The Pistons are prepared to be patient with Drummond – at least in some respects.

“I don’t think it’s fair to put an expectation on him in terms of his contribution,” David said. “What is fair to put on Andre is what we expect of him from an effort standpoint, what we expect of him from a competing standpoint. When you look at somebody who is Andre’s size, who has Andre’s athleticism and his agility, if they simply play hard every day out here, give a great effort, good things are going to happen.”

“We’ll be patient with the skills,” Frank said, “but on the glass, running the floor, screening, willingness to be coached, there’s no patience with that. From a skills standpoint and learning the league, there’s got to be patience with that. This is a huge learning curve. This is an unforgiving and tough league. Andre is young. He’s still learning a great deal. This really is a long-term proposition.”

Kravtsov has several seasons of pro experience under his belt, but his transition to the NBA will be complicated by the cultural changes he’ll experience, as well. The Pistons believe they have a good feel for Kravtsov, though. Assistant coach Brian Hill assisted longtime NBA coach Mike Fratello as coach of Kravtsov’s Ukrainian national team in the summer of 2011. David scouted him in April and became convinced he was NBA ready. Frank had frequent communication with Fratello this summer as Kravtsov led his team in qualifying for Eurobasket 2013 competition.

“Slava’s gift is he can run the floor, block shots,” Frank said. “He’s going to have to continue to work on rebounding, but great kid, good length. On the offensive end, he has a good left hand and we’ll have to continue to work. He’s going to be dealing with a cultural adjustment, let alone a basketball adjustment, but we think he can be very good for us.”

David returned to Europe to watch two of Ukraine’s games in August and had dinner with Kravtsov.

“He is really excited about the opportunity to show that he’s going to be able to provide that for us, defense and rim protection and athleticism. He’s very eager to show that he can make an impact. We were sitting here before the draft talking about the need to add more depth and youth to that center position, needing to add rim protection, needing to add athleticism, and I don’t know if we could have added a better combination of youth, athleticism and rim protection that these two guys.”