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Ben Wallace should start over Greg Monroe at center for Detroit Pistons

Before the Pistons’ win over the Suns on Saturday, Ben Wallace hadn’t come off the bench since March of last year. Before that, he hadn’t come off the bench since April of 2009. In fact, Wallace never came off the bench with the Magic, in his first stint with the Pistons or with the Bulls – a 10-year stretch.

But for the first time since he was a Wizard in the 1990s, Wallace faces the prospect of becoming a regular bench player.

Wallace missed seven games with an ankle injury before playing against Phoenix, but Detroit’s game against the Magic tonight will be the true test of his role.

A Piston entrenched in the starting lineup has been injured twice this season. Both times, after missing games, he came off the bench until demonstrating he was completely healthy.*

*When Richard Hamilton missed two games with a sore foot, he came off the bench against the Bobcats before returning to the starting lineup. When Rodney Stuckey  missed two games with a sore foot, he came off the bench against the Jazz and Lakers before returning to the starting lineup.

With seven rebounds and strong defense down the stretch against the Suns, Wallace proved he’s healthy.

So will Wallace take his starting position back from Greg Monroe, who has played very well lately? Let’s look at the key considerations and decide who deserves to start.

Defense

Ben Wallace, one of the NBA’s all-time best defenders, has slipped to only above average at 36. In his rookie season, Greg Monroe has climbed to above average. At this crossroads in their careers, the difference between them defensively is minimal.

After reviewing their defense on Synergy, two areas stand out – isolation and pick-and-roll.

Wallace allows .52 points per possession on isolation plays (10th in the NBA), and Monroe allows .95 points per possession (196th in the NBA) on such plays. The difference comes largely because Wallace better understands how to position himself and uses his quick hands to generate stops.

Monroe could be bridging that gap, though. He’s averaging two steals in his last 10 games, and many of them have come on-the-ball.

As far as guarding the screener on pick-and-rolls, Monroe allows .96 points per possession when (29th in the NBA), and Wallace allows 1.12 points per possession (40th in the NBA). Monroe is a bit more agile and capable of hedging then falling back.

The information Synergy makes available to me tracks only on-ball defense. I think Wallace gets an edge with help defense, but his defense has probably fallen off more in that regard than any other. As Monroe learns to read plays, he’ll catch up.

Wallace’s defense has slipped considerably, even from last season. But that change is more pronounced late in games. So, when it comes to defense, Wallace would benefit from starting – and by extension, so would the Pistons.

Edge: Ben Wallace

Rebounding

Ben Wallace leads the Pistons with a 16.8 rebounding percentage, and Greg Monroe ranks third at 15.9 – a negligible difference. Neither is a tremendous leaper at this point, and both use great positioning to grab boards. For the most part, each will grab the same rebounds the other would, but Wallace holds the edge this season.

Edge: Ben Wallace

Offense

Ben Wallace and Greg Monroe are both limited offensive players. Both take about two-thirds their shots at the rim and 90 percent inside 10 feet, according to HoopData.

Wallace sets better screens, but Monroe has closed the gap since struggling to set picks during the summer league.

Monroe entered the league with the reputation as a good passer for a big man, but he’s rightly focused on defense and rebounding and hasn’t displayed that renowned passing ability. Wallace passes well right now. As the Pistons move from their isolation-heavy offense, this skill is becoming more relevant.

What separates the two is their ability to make shots, an area where Monroe has improved by leaps and bounds. Monroe, whose season field-goal percentage is marked in blue, has passed Wallace’s field-goal percentage, marked in red.


Edge: Greg Monroe

Fit with other starters

Ben Wallace and Greg Monroe, for the most part, are similar players. Their primary roles are to defend and rebound. The Pistons could stick either next to Chris Wilcox and Tayshaun Prince and expect similar results.

The difference comes when it relates to the guards.

Monroe and Tracy McGrady have developed a nice chemistry, and Monroe helps McGrady run the pick-and-roll, using his good hands to catch passes on rolls to the basket.

If Wallace, not exactly an offensive threat, tried to fill that role, defenses would trap McGrady. As we’ve seen, he’s susceptible to turnovers when defenses aggressively trap him.

Plus, Monroe benefits from Rodney Stuckey, who passes well for a shooting guard. Wallace can’t take as much advantage of Stuckey’s dumpoffs as Monroe could.

In addition, Wallace, the better screener, would help free lanes for backup point guard Will Bynum to drive to the basket.

Edge: Greg Monroe

Minute distribution

Greg Monroe has worked his butt off since entering the rotation. The Pistons can plug him in at anytime and expect maximum effort and performance. The same probably can’t be said of Ben Wallace.

That’s not because Wallace isn’t committed to giving his all. It’s because, at 36, he likely can’t – and John Kuester knows it.

Ben Wallace has started all 37 of his games this season, and he’s started the second half in 36 of them. He’s re-entered the game in the first half in only 43 percent of them and re-entered in the second half in only 27 percent of games.

I’d say there’s a good chance Wallace gets tight while sitting on the bench. If that’s not case, the Pistons are playing him at awfully strange times.

So, it makes sense to play Wallace immediately after pregame and halftimes warmups.

Edge: Ben Wallace

Stature

Ben Wallace hasn’t actively led the Pistons this year. I think his message to the Pistons’ younger players – which, relative to Wallace, is everyone – has basically been, “I’ve been around the block. I’ve seen this already. It’s your turn to figure it out for yourselves. If you actively seek my advice, I’ll help you. If not, you’re on your own. I’m not leading this team. It’s your turn.”

It’s in the Pistons best interest for as many young players as possible to seek Wallace’s advice. If he becomes a bench player, his wisdom won’t shrink. But his respect in the locker room might.

I doubt anyone is running to Richard Hamilton right now for lessons. By starting Greg Monroe, the Pistons risk marginalizing Wallace’s impact on young players.

Edge: Ben Wallace

Development

The Pistons aren’t playing just for this year, even if that’s the primary consideration. The previous sections have analyzed only the present. But what about the future?

Ben Wallace likely will play only one more season, if there is a season. Greg Monroe, if all goes to plan, will be a Piston for many years to come.

So which starter would provide greater benefit to Monroe’s development?

On an obvious level, giving Monroe more experience would benefit him. But there’s no reason Monroe can’t play a lot while coming off the bench. And I think the benefits of playing him provide instant gratification more than long-term positives.

When John Kuester sat Monroe for the Pistons first two games, the rookie got hungry. The lack of hustle, defense and rebounding Monroe showed in the preseason disappeared. All of a sudden, he chased after every loose ball. He learned how to handle adversity and how to compete.

If the Pistons force-feed Monroe a starting job, he might become a better player next season than he would otherwise. But if they make him earn a starting job beyond any doubt, he might become better equipped to help the Pistons during the adversity of a championship run in five years.

Edge: Ben Wallace

Verdict

The difference between each player’s case is razor thin, and in all honesty, it doesn’t make a great deal of difference. Excluding the game against the Bulls, when Wallace injured himself during the tipoff, the two have split minutes fairly equally in game where both played.

Ben Wallace’s minutes are blue, and Greg Monroe’s are red.


I won’t criticize John Kuester for starting either player.But I began this post trying to determine the Pistons’ best course of action, so I’ll give my recommendation.

Ben Wallace should start.

His apparent need to play shortly after warming up, and to a lesser degree, retaining his respect on the team, outweigh the other considerations.

Monroe would likely still play in crunch time, putting the player who best fits with the other starters on the floor when it counts. Plus, he’ll still have a goal to work toward.

We should know tonight whether John Kuester agrees.

 

20 Comments

  • Jan 24, 201111:02 am
    by detroitpcb

    Reply

    This post makes no real sense since Ben Wallace & Greg Monroe ought to be starting and Chris Wilcox returned to the bench – unless you think that a bench of Wilcox and CV (assuming he is healthy) will get zero rebounds.

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Trevor Zickgraf and LoveThoseKnicks, TrueHoop Network. TrueHoop Network said: New @PistonPowered: Ben Wallace should start over Greg Monroe at center for Detroit Pistons http://bit.ly/gKik94 #pistons #nba [...]

  • Jan 24, 201111:47 am
    by nuetes

    Reply

    yup agree with pcb. let wilcox come off the bench. i want monroe playing.

  • Jan 24, 201111:53 am
    by Laser

    Reply

    two things: 1) it makes almost no sense for wilcox to start over monroe, so if wallace is starting it should be alongside monroe. 2) i heard some coach talking about ben’s role with the team, and he mentioned 15-20, sometimes 25 minutes of PT. i wouldn’t assume if he’s playing those kinds of minutes that he’s necessarily going to start. my guess is ben does exactly what he wants to as far as starting and PT.

  • Jan 24, 201112:20 pm
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @nuetes:
    I guess I don’t understand why not starting means he’s going to play fewer minutes?
    If anything, not starting him makes both units stronger. Wilcox has played great as a starter. You can always bench him if he starts to suck again. But why mess with him?
    Monroe, on the other hand, has flourished as a starter and off the bench. He’s played 30+ minutes starting and off the bench.
    I mean, I don’t care that much who starts to be honest, but it does make some sense to balance out both units, with Wallace anchoring one, Monroe anchoring the other and Monroe taking the fourth quarter “starter’s” minutes.

  • Jan 24, 201112:22 pm
    by Patrick Hayes

    Reply

    @Laser:
    It makes sense if you believe in riding the hot hand with a player like Wilcox. He’s shown throughout his career that he’s wildly inconsistent. Since he’s been starting, this has been as consistent as he’s played in about four years. Why not wait until he starts to suck again to send him back tot he bench?

  • Jan 24, 201112:22 pm
    by jgk281

    Reply

    Cant agree at all with this article. It shouldnt even be a comparison of Monroe vs Wallace, it should be Wilcox vs Wallace. Monroe is the starting Center, for now, and hopefully the next decade. Could Wallace be more productive than Wilcox? Maybe, but based on what I’ve seen this year, Wilcox has had more impact on the games than Ben, imo. One good game by Wallace, who’s been pretty invisible for most of the season at Center, isn’t a very big sample size. 

    Like you said, at their best, both Monroe and Ben are above average defenders right now. So if they are both about the same defensively and one is clearly supieror offensively, than its a no-brainer. Monroe is a more complete basketball player who is only getting better. Wallace is an above average one-way player who’s skills are on the decline.

    I wouldn’t mind Ben at PF starting over Wilcox for a few games to see what happens, but Monroe is the starting Center.

    IMO, Ben would be better at guarding 4′s anyways because there’s less 7 footers at PF than there are at Center, so his lack of height wouldn’t be such a factor.

  • Jan 24, 20111:01 pm
    by Laser

    Reply

    monroe is the closest thing this team has to a future right now, so i’d bench wilcox in a heartbeat if it was just a choice between the two.
     
    furthermore, i really like monroe as a starter and not nearly as much off the bench. he just makes sense as a starter, and he’s ready for the workload. wilcox may stick around, may not; monroe’s here to stay. that’s where my priorities are.

  • Jan 24, 20111:29 pm
    by nuetes

    Reply

    patrick,
     
    wasn’t the argument made in the article that mcgrady can function better with monroe? if mcgrady starts shouldn’t monroe as well? shouldn’t they be on the court together so mcgrady can get out of traps or run the pick and roll?
     
    i agree though the minutes aren’t really my concern, because monroe will get his minutes. wilcox has been playing well too. i really don’t have a problem with wallace coming off the bench to be honest. wilcox and monroe have played well together.

  • Jan 24, 20112:04 pm
    by Fennis

    Reply

    I disagree as well.
     
    First, the problem with statistics is that they can be misleading if not contextualized. I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to compare Wallace to Monroe using season statistics given Monroe’s rapid development over the past month or so. If we’re trying to project who will be better for the remainder of the season, it might even be more helpful to compare Monroe’s last two weeks to Wallace’s last two years. I say that only half-jokingly. What we’ve seen from Monroe in the last two weeks is better than anything we’ve seen from Wallace all year, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that Monroe will continue to improve and Wallace will continue to deteriorate.
    @PH
    Why would we ride Wilcox as a starter until he sucks (which we all seem to agree is inevitable) when the major problem with this team is consistency? We need to set a foundation in place that we can build on. Kuester has a habit of jumping at whatever works for the moment, which shows a lack of vision and almost guarantees inconsistency.

  • Jan 24, 20112:34 pm
    by Alan

    Reply

    I’d prefer the Wallace & Monroe starting duo to anything paired with Wilcox.  That said, the trading deadline is a month away and Wilcox is on display (and looking good).  The Pistons have 4 more years with Monroe, they can wait one more month.

  • Jan 24, 20112:35 pm
    by Alan

    Reply

    Sorry, so I’m comfortable with a Wilcox & Wallace frontcourt for the next month.

  • Jan 24, 20113:27 pm
    by bg8

    Reply

    if we’re talking about who should start, gordon should be starting. and im not saying he should be starting for stuckey or tmac, but he should be starting instead of prince. this will hopefully allow the starting unit to have a more free flowing, ball movement offense.

    then, if you put prince on the bench, they could do prince isolation play every single possession. and when opponent decide to double prince, he could pass it out to daye or cv for a three. and this will also hopefully keep the ball out of bynum’s hand too

    it’s clear prince is leaving, he ain’t coming back after seeing how vets get treated on the pistons, and they should see if gordon can be a part of the pistons future or not, and if not trade him.

  • Jan 24, 20113:44 pm
    by Laser

    Reply

    yeah, bg8. best to keep the ball out of bynum’s hands. god only knows what he was doing in there against the suns down the stretch. and, like, three games ago where he was also a hero of the game.

  • Jan 24, 20115:18 pm
    by bg8

    Reply

    yeah laser, and look at what bynum did all of the other games he played. bynum is nothing but a 10-12 min a game guy, with a few spurts of good game if everything is going his way

  • Jan 24, 20117:32 pm
    by Dan Feldman

    Reply

    To everyone who said the argument should include Chris Wilcox,

    For one, Monroe and Wallace are similar rebounders. Both use positioning, not elite athleticism, to grab boards. When you consider that and the diminishing returns for adding good rebounders to the lineup, it’s not that helpful to play them together. Playing one with an above-the-rim player like Wilcox would help more on the glass.

    Secondly, do you really want Wilcox and Villanueva playing together off the bench? When they’re playing power forward and center, the Pistons’ offensive rating is 90 and their defensive rating is 106 — and those numbers would be worse if Kuester paired them regularly. Neither can protect the rim, and opponents would have a field day inside.

  • Jan 24, 20117:40 pm
    by Dan Feldman

    Reply

    Nuetes, yes, I said McGrady would benefit from playing with Monroe rather than Wallace. But is that the only concern?

  • Jan 24, 20117:46 pm
    by Dan Feldman

    Reply

    Fennis, I showed Monroe’s improvement where applicable. I could argue either way about which of the two is better right now, but I’d lean toward Monroe. But wouldn’t it help Monroe’s long-term development if he doesn’t get the starting spot until it was crystal clear he deserved the starting spot?

  • [...] Feldman makes some great points regarding why Wallace should potentially start (honestly, check it out), I think this is one issue that benefits from anecdotal philosophizing more so than than cold, [...]

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    by color hair chalk

    Reply

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