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Greg Monroe might be the second best player and prospect from his draft class

Last season when I was doing the Draft Dreams series for MLive, there were two players (not counting John Wall, who the Pistons weren’t going to get) I coveted more than any other: DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe.

Now Cousins, obviously, was the player I and many fans truly wanted to see end up on the Pistons. There were even rumors that he wanted to end up in Detroit. Cousins clearly had more potential than any big in the draft, even if he did have some maturing to do. But when it was clear the Pistons wouldn’t be able to pull off a trade to move up and get him, my hopes turned to Monroe. As it turns out, Monroe and Cousins are the two best big men to come out of last year’s draft, so as a result, their careers will always be compared.

Obviously, according to the ridiculous Rookie of the Year voting that had Monroe finish sixth, basketball watchers outside of Detroit have no idea how good Monroe actually is. He’s no worse than the third best player in this draft, and based on rookie seasons, he was much better than Cousins this year. But how about long-term potential? I assume most voters picked Cousins partially because he’s viewed as a player with unlimited potential whereas Monroe is viewed more as a complementary player who works hard but will never be a franchise cornerstone type player. Based on the expectations Monroe shattered for his rookie season, however, I’m not convinced that his potential isn’t as limitless as Cousins’.

Here’s what I wrote about Monroe before the draft:

Georgetown’s early exit from the tourney (and simultaneous destruction of my bracket) deprived casual college basketball fans of getting an extended look this March, unlike other bigs who had decent tourney runs like Ekpe Udoh and DeMarcus Cousins.

But Monroe can ball, and he might be the best offensive player of any big man this year.

That last statement is the greatest reason to have high hopes for Monroe heading into next season. He has an offensive skillset that, frankly, he didn’t unveil much of as a rookie. That’s not a knock on him, either. Despite seeing his role in the offense limited to basically being a guy who hit the offensive glass for put-backs or who hung around the basket for dump-offs from penetrating guards, Monroe averaged nearly 10 points per game for the season.

After the All-Star break, Monroe became the Pistons most (only?) reliable big man. He averaged 13.7 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. He shot 58 percent while attempting nine shots per game. His minutes increased, his role expanded and his production increased. That’s the most promising sign any young player can give a team that so desperately needs a face of the franchise type of player to develop from within.

Compare that to Cousins’ second half. He averaged 14.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, but his field goal percentage was a terrible 42 percent. His scoring and rebounding improved from his first half numbers, but his field goal percentage went down slightly.

Now, if his role in the offense expands, Monroe’s field goal percentage will go down some. Monroe shot so well because few of the shots he took were outside of the paint. A large number were tip-ins or point-blank shots that weren’t contested heavily. Cousins’ shooting percentage was poor because he was often put in a position where he had to try and create something out of nothing. Even though the Pistons struggled, they still featured more efficient offensive players than the Kings, so Monroe wasn’t put in unworkable positions and asked to force things the way Cousins was at times. I fully expect Cousins’ field goal percentage to rise and Monroe’s to fall off a bit next season.

But Monroe brings much more than shooting to the table. His passing at Georgetown was seen as his biggest attribute by scouts before the draft. As a freshman, his assist percentage was 18.7. As a sophomore, it was 22.3. As a rookie in Detroit, it was just 7.5 percent. Obviously that speaks to the fact that Monroe rarely touched the ball in a position where he was expected to create for himself or for teammates, but it also suggests that should the Pistons ask for more out of Monroe as a facilitator next season, he could show significant improvement in that area. Court vision relies so heavily on instincts, so it is typically a skill that transfers fairly well from college to the pros. If Monroe ever hits the 22 percent mark, he’ll be among the best big man passers in the league. In fact, 22 percent this season would’ve made him the top big man in the league in assist percentage.

Monroe’s willingness to work on his game is also an indicator he could improve significantly. Heading into last year’s draft, he was considered a solid but not great rebounder. He had a good season on the defensive boards for the Pistons, but his real impact came on the offensive glass. His offensive rebounding percentages in two years at Georgetown were 8.7 and 8.5 percent respectively. As a NBA rookie, it was 13.0 percent. That put him third in the league behind only Kevin Love and Zach Randolph.

Offensive rebounding is also an undervalued skill. Over the course of the season, Monroe’s presence on the offensive glass got the Pistons several extra possessions on offense. Next season, hopefully paired with a healthy Jonas Jerebko, another good offensive rebounder, the Pistons could be among the best in the league in that category.

The obvious difference between Monroe and Cousins is low-post ability. Cousins shot the ball poorly this season, but his skillset is extremely rare. At his best, he’s a taller, more athletic Zach Randolph. Cousins is a load to try and keep out of the paint, he’s nimble and he gets his shot off from a variety of angles. His footwork often gets sloppybecause he doesn’t always catch the ball with a wide base or seal off his man well on drop-step or spin moves, but that’s a characteristic of many young post players.

Even if Monroe improves at creating his shot, he’s never going to be the type of player you can dump the ball into, get out of his way and let him bully his way to the basket. He also doesn’t have Cousins’ ability to explode up over top of somebody and finish strong. Monroe relies much more on craftiness around the basket. Cousins’ ability to do those things are extremely valuable, as evidenced by the Memphis Grizzlies’ playoff run on the strength of Randolph’s post-up ability this season.

But do those things necessarily mean Cousins will be better? Monroe’s offensive rating of 120 was eighth in the league this season. I’m not making the case that he was the eighth best offensive player in the league by any stretch. But what if Monroe never adds to his repertoire much on offense? What if Rodney Stuckey becomes the Stuckey who played like an All-Star the final two weeks of the season or the Pistons add a playmaker who consistently attacks the basket and finds cutters? Is it inconceivable that Monroe could get 10-15 great looks at close-range shots every game and average 14-20 points per game solely on those easy looks? If Monroe continues to shoot a high percentage and he continues to rebound, his developing a post game doesn’t matter all that much if the Pistons put the right players around him. His current skillset alone suggests he could average double figures in points and rebounds while shooting a high percentage for his entire career. Even if he doesn’t add a single thing to his game, that would still put him in pretty rare company among NBA bigs.

This season, he was the only rookie in the top 20 in offensive rating and effective field goal percentage. He ranked sixth among rookies in rebounding percentage. He was the top rookie in offensive rebounding percentage among players who started more than a game. Monroe wasn’t the top rookie in the NBA this season, but he was closer than anyone reasonably expected heading into the season. I remember a debate in the comments section before the season started as to whether or not Monroe would even make the All-Rookie team, and it seemed unrealistic to expect that he would based on his preseason performance. Most fans recognize Monroe as the season’s biggest bright spot and yet his performance is still underrated.

If his passing becomes a bigger part of the Pistons offense or his one-on-one post defense improves, Monroe is a potential All-Star. Most of the early season discussions about Monroe were centered on hoping that he eventually became a rotation caliber big man. The fact that he might be the best big man to come out of a draft deep in big men is a testament to how remarkable his rookie season was.

6 Comments

  • May 4, 20114:27 pm
    by RandomGuy313

    Reply

    I think that Greg’s assist totals will increase when he has people that can finish at the rim. Monroe is an excellent piece for this team, paired with Wilcox this year they had countless putbacks as you highlighted in a previous piece. I did not envision his rebounding prowess prior to his selection and it is a welcome revelation.

  • May 4, 20115:06 pm
    by gordbrown

    Reply

    A couple of things to note. First, Monroe started slow in the Summer League and improved in every game there. That might say something. Also he had a poor camp based on the fact that he had off season surgery and had to earn his minutes, especially early in the season. To his credit he did that and I think that says something as well. Finally, there were a few times when he showed the ability to put the ball on the floor and beat his man one-on-one. But he stayed within himself and didn’t abuse this. But this proved he was much more mobile than anyone thought. I look for continued improvement and believe he will continue to keep pace with Cousins (and be better than others drafted over him) for the longer term.

  • May 4, 20116:23 pm
    by detroitpcb

    Reply

    Nice article Patrick. Lots of excellent points.

    i would add that if Monroe improves his strength, he should become a better defensive rebounder as well as improve his scoring around the basket.

    If he develops a consistent 15 foot shot, he may well reach the upper possibilities of your projections for scoring average.

    And finally, i believe Monroe can play in the open court. I know he moves funny, but he has good ball handling skills for a big man, naturally spaces the court well and fills lanes, has good hands to catch the ball, and once or twice this season showed an ability to avoid defenders trying to take charges while he went to the basket.

    I don’t think anybody can complain about the year Monroe had and given the improvement we saw this year, coupled with his intelligence and work ethic, i think we can see a cooresponding improvement next year.

  • May 4, 20116:54 pm
    by davemc

    Reply

    great article.  couldnt agree more.  i am somewhat of a kings fan (thanks in large part to c webb and vlade divac) so i watched cousins this year a wee bit.  the kid has gobs and gobs of talent but he could just as easily piss it all away.  he is so immature that i just dont know if he is ever going to have the ‘click’ moment when he gets it (point in case: has ron artest had that moment yet?).  c money, on the other hand, seems to have his head on his shoulders.  if anything, i think the pistons will look to him more in the future for leadership and inspiration.  what a pick.  i think you could easily put monroe as the 2nd best rookie behind john wall (lets be honest, blake griffin isnt a rookie) and to that point you could argue that wall (and cousins for that matter) had more opportunities (which i believe you alluded to PH).  landry fell off as the season went on and gary neal (great story, great shooter) was made a lot better by being on the best team in his conference.  monroe did more with less help and fewer opportunities that any other rookie. period. JJ, AD, and C Money are what the pistons need to build around.  get rid of everyone else save bynum and only because he is fun to watch (i know this isnt possible but i can wish on a shooting start cant i?).

    • May 6, 201111:11 am
      by Tim

      Reply

      Why the heck do people say that? How is Griffin not a rookie. Sure he spent a year hanging out with an NBA team and watching games up close and personal. But that year was also spent unable to play. Not just unable to play in the NBA or on the NBA level, but play basketball at all. He wasn’t getting a chance to play college ball or international ball or even just pickup games. I recognize that he had some advantages from being around the team for a year, but disadvantages from not playing at all are probably higher.
      And if Griffin wasn’t a rookie, was Jennings last year? Sure he hadn’t been in the NBA  before but he was still playing pro ball. And it’s not like sitting on the sidelines for a year has a documented history of helping prospects. Oden, who had comparable hype to Griffin, didn’t come crashing out the gates and blowing all other rookies out of the water in 2nd year/1st year of really playing. Taking credit away from Griffin for not being a rookie is total bullshit.
      If you want to say he should be more polished than some because he stayed in college two years instead of the one that most top young players do, that’s fair. But heck, you can do four years of college ball and still be a NBA rookie. So don’t bash on Griffin for overcoming averse circumstances and outpacing his already huge expectations as effectively as anyone has since Lebron was a rookie.

  • May 6, 20115:29 am
    by mrfoof4

    Reply

    How was Monroe much better than Cousins this season? All you are saying is, is Monroe was better because he shot a better FG%. Monroe turning out better than you thought doesn’t equal to him having a much better season. I can see making a case that he should’ve placed 4th, but second or third? No way. Cousins was options 1, 2, or, 3 on offense on a real bad team with it’s best player missing 25 games, and had much more pressure on him than Monroe. Cousins got double teamed all the time. I don’t think Monroe did.  Cousins turned out to be an excellent passer. He averaged one assist a game at Kentucky, but almost averaged 3 on the Kings. Monroe averaged 2 AST/game post all star to Cousins 4 AST/game post all star. IMO Monroe should have placed 4th.

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