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Zach Lowe analyzes Greg Monroe’s defense, Brandon Knight’s offense

You should read Zach Lowe’s article about the Pistons. More simply, you should read Zach Lowe. The Grantland writer, whom I consider the best NBA reporter around, is a must-read for any serious basketball fan, but it’s an extra treat when he discusses the Pistons.

You might realize Greg Monroe has issues on defense and Brandon Knight struggles as a playmaker, but the level of detail Lowe provides is incredible. I’ll give a couple excerpts, but read the whole article.

Greg Monroe’s defense

Lowe on Monroe:

Monroe is a very good offensive player, but he’s a glaring liability on defense in a league getting smaller and quicker. He’s a turnstile trying to contain the pick-and-roll out on the floor — a mess of bad footwork, poor timing, lazy reaches, and bad choices. When Detroit has him hang back at the foul line, ball handlers can zip around him with an easy crossover or launch wide-open jumpers as Monroe, petrified at giving up a rim run, retreats a step farther than most bigs would dare — often with his arms down. Pistons fans complained, with some justification, about Lawrence Frank’s reluctance to play Monroe and Drummond together for much of last season, but Monroe’s total inability to guard stretchier power forwards factored into that choice — just as it should factor into Detroit’s evaluation of things now.

When the Pistons asked Monroe to attack the ball higher on the floor, the mess was almost worse. Point guards can juke Monroe with laughable ease by faking toward a screener, watching Monroe lurch in that direction, and then crossing over the other way and into an unpatrolled lane. Monroe is often late in jumping out above a screen, meaning his momentum is going too hard the wrong way (toward half court) as the opposing point guard revs up to turn the corner. And when Detroit has asked him to hedge sideways, as in the still below, Monroe often arrives too late to cut off the ball handler

As someone who did more than his fair share of complaining about Lawrence Frank refusing to play Monroe and Andre Drummond together enough, I didn’t believe Monroe and Drummond would immediately thrive together. I wanted to see more of the pairing because those two might not perfectly complement each other immediately.

Drummond and Monroe are – by far – the Pistons’ two most valuable assets. In a lost season, there was no reason not to give them time to adapt to each other. That would have been valuable for the Pistons’ future in two respects. 1. Drummond and Monroe would have gotten better at playing together. 2. The team would have learned more about whether those two can coexist.

I suspect playing Monroe and Drummond, the team’s top two players, together more would have made the Pistons’ better despite the duo’s deficiencies. But my primary reason for wanting more of the pairing had to do with the future and ironing out those problems.

Brandon Knight’s offense

Lowe on Knight:

He also has a troubling habit of short-circuiting pick-and-rolls before they have a chance to develop, mostly by pursuing his own shot. One maddening tic: Knight loves to go around a pick in normal fashion, only to immediately cross back over toward the middle of the foul line and attack from there. Getting into the middle of the floor is generally a good thing. But doing so 18 feet from the hoop at the start of a pick-and-roll creates some problems. It puts Knight right in front of his rolling big man, mucking up the floor and taking away the most important passing lane in the pick-and-roll. And by getting middle so early, Knight allows opponents to defend the play without tilting all five guys too far toward one side — the dramatic kind of contortions that stretch a defense to its breaking point. The floor has appeared so tight in Detroit over the last two seasons in part because Knight hasn’t been able to exploit the cracks that do appear.

It will be imperative Knight improves those skills, especially if he starts next season. A Monroe-Drummond-Josh Smith frontline will cause matchup problems with its size, but it will also cause spacing issues in the halfcourt offense. The Pistons need guards who alleviate those concerns, not exasperate them.

Summer of 2009

Lowe also gave a theory why the Pistons signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, one I’d never heard before:

a sellout streak that gathered an outsize importance and helped drive the franchise, addicted to trumpeting the streak, into its 2009 free-agency freakout

The Pistons sold out 259 straight games between January 2004 and February 2009. The Pistons claimed to sell out 259 straight games between January 2004 and February 2009. By midway through the 2008-09 season – the year of Allen Iverson, Michael Curry and the Pistons’ first losing record in eight seasons – fans had noticeably stopped filling The Palace, especially for midweek games. The Pistons gave away tickets to prop up the streak, but eventually, it had to end.

This would explain why Karen Davidson, reported to be very tight with her checkbook, allowed Joe Dumars to spend $95 million on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. Those would have been worthwhile investments if she believed they would bring fans back.

Obviously, the exact opposite happened.


  • Jul 17, 20134:37 pm
    by Quick Darshan


    I see a lot of people remark on how tight spacing makes passing more difficult.  I wonder how much of that can be alleviated with lobs.  It might be tough to get a pocket pass to Drummond or Smith, but they’re both high-flyers…

  • Jul 17, 20134:47 pm
    by Josh


    Lowe is always excellent. His articles are always insightful, and I have become much more appreciative of basketball and the NBA through his stuff.

    • Jul 17, 20136:29 pm
      by labatts


      This is the first time I have read him.  You are right, he looks great.  Reading about the Suns of all things, but it is interesting.  Dan, thanks for pointing him out.

  • Jul 17, 20135:15 pm


    This article is very good….but its every arguement we’ve read here for the last year…

    It basically comes down to Greg Making that 17 footer basically 

    • Jul 17, 20136:12 pm
      by Otis


      I’ve been saying for a long time (as in, before Josh Smith) that it all comes down to that 17 footer.
      A little defense would be nice but is my secondary concern. His illustrations of how the floor was spaced (three opponents in the paint) was spot on. It doesn’t matter how many shooters you put around these guys. It’s up to the bigs to force teams to space differently.

  • Jul 17, 20135:42 pm
    by D_S_V


    Allow me to also proclaim my love for Zach Lowe NBA writing. Funny, I read DBB as well, and Mike Payne over there has argued exactly opposite as Zach did regarding Monroe’s affinity for defense in general, and particularly defending opposing power forwards. 


    • Jul 17, 20136:14 pm
      by Otis


      Mike Payne has a rock hard Mon-roner that won’t go away no matter what. For a fairly smart person (or so he seems) his fantasies about Drummond and Monroe being a match made in heaven are delusional. Don’t get me wrong, many share them. Just not many who are respected analysts and writers. Over on Detroit Bad Boys his signature for a while essentially declared Monroe untouchable. It’s absurd.

      • Jul 17, 20137:47 pm
        by D_S_V


        ‘Mon-roner’ … hahahahahhahahahahaha … That’s awesome.

  • Jul 17, 20135:53 pm
    by Stuckey and Whoever


    The spacing issue is over rated.  Monroe or Smith around the free throw line and two bigs at the baseline in between the box and three point line.  As long as Smith and Monroe keep working on their mid range shots its all good.  The game has become you have either dunk or have to shoot a 3 pointer.  A jump shot is still two points.
    Love how Billups endorsed Stuckey.  The fact that Billups gives Stuck that most praise says lot and not so much about the the blogging critics.
    1Billups 2Stuckey 3Smith 4Monroe 5Drummond
    Most talent on the floor will play this season.
    Its also Joe D dream to have Stuck and Billups play together.  Are you ready Michigan??

    • Jul 17, 20136:18 pm
      by Otis


      I don’t care how much Smith and Monroe “work” on their shots. If they don’t develop, we’re sunk. Also, I’m not as concerned about Smith’s jumper considering he can put the ball on the floor. Monroe’s awkward ballhandling is another story.
      PS: Put Chauncey, Stuckey, Smith, Monroe and Drummond on the floor together and you’ll see just how wrong you are about floor spacing. You’ll have a bare minimum of four defenders in the paint at all times.

      • Jul 17, 20136:27 pm
        by Stuckey and Whoever


        OK…, you will see how wrong you are when that is the starting line up.  Because that is the line that gives us the best chance to win.  
        Monroe just needs to put the ball on the floor once, give a head fake and or throw up a jump hook.  Which he has be stated that has been one of his main things he has been working on.  And Monroe is movable (tradable) please believe.

        • Jul 19, 20132:23 pm
          by Otis


          Ugh. Monroe has never scored a basket by putting the ball on the floor once, giving a head fake and or throwing up a jump hook. And your assertions about who or what gives us the best chance of winning are baseless and meaningless. They’ve never played a game together, and there are plenty of reasons to question their compatibility.
          Also, I’ve asked you nicely before not to ask me to believe. I’m very serious. This is the last time I’ll ask. Stop telling me to believe. I will not believe. I’ve seen too much these past five seasons to believe anything without seeing it.

    • Jul 18, 201312:41 am
      by tarsier


      A midrange shot is still important because a decent shooter can hit it a very good clip if left wide open. Assuming the defense respects this and doesn’t leave the guy wide open, yeah, you don’t want to take that shot. But you have to be able to make it or else your defender can ignore you.

      • Jul 18, 20134:34 am
        by CityofKlompton


        A midrange is definitely still important. Especially from your bigs. However, if you look at shot charts from the teams that went deep in the postseason last year, it seems they’re making a wide majority of their shots at the rim, in the corners and beyond the arc (with exception of the Spurs… who continue to defy all the rules of logic and reason with a unique combo of Parker, Duncan and random castoffs and forgotten souls.)

        • Jul 18, 20135:13 pm
          by tarsier


          Of course that’s not the best play to employ it. The point is you need to have it so you don’t end up using it.

  • Jul 17, 20136:20 pm
    by Otis


    I read this yesterday, and it’s terrific. I would have cut and pasted a few different excerpts, but he very nicely summed up why people like myself are so skeptical about Monroe at PF. It’s going to be ugly if he can’t routinely nail elbow jumpers.

  • Jul 17, 20139:31 pm
    by Rodman4Life


    I don’t get it. People say the Monroe-Drummond-Smith line won’t work/is doomed. If we try it, we will have something no other team does: a powerful front 3 that can dominate (and I mean dominate) the offensive glass.  Spacing is important, but we should get more putbacks and 2nd chance shots around the rim.  We can fast break with our speed, and we will give many teams foul-trouble nightmares.  We should at least give it a go.

    • Jul 17, 201310:00 pm
      by oats


      Josh Smith is not a good offensive rebounder. On a per minutes basis he pulled in offensive boards at the same rate as Kyle Singler. Monroe and Drummond are both really good on the offensive boards, so the team should do well on that front. Smith just isn’t likely to be a significant part of that though.

  • Jul 17, 201311:34 pm
    by Sergio Fried Chicken


    Yawn Yawn Yawn Blah Blah Blah. Nobody Knows How This is Going To Work

    • Jul 18, 20132:03 pm
      by Russ


      Got to agree Sergio, like the input but the even so called experts have no way of knowing to much until we put the ball into play just opinions man we sure do cut into Monroe with Drummond and Smith, Monroe may not have to be such a defensive prowess on the court and bigs are not suppose to guard guards he did led the team in scoring but to throw him to the dogs as trade material is a bit premature if you ask me. Win a tam is rebuilding and that can take years there I a lot of negative opinions. I see something special here lets see if it gels.    

  • Jul 18, 201312:26 am
    by Jam LT


    Mike Miller Amnestied… this could be a potentially GREAT pickup. Although only played sparingly in Miami, Miller is an ELITE 3-pt threat with good rebounding instincts and not a horrible A/T ratio. Big at 6’8″, he could play spot roles, depending on matchups at either the SG or SF spot. Considering the anticipated spacing issues on offense, this guy could be the best available option left on the market. Plus, I think under the amnesty rules, we would only have to pay a portion of his salary.

    • Jul 18, 201312:47 am
      by tarsier


      Except that Dumars missed his chance to amnesty CV. So who gets cut to make room for Miller? Middleton? Singler? Mitchell? There’s already no space for Siva.

      • Jul 18, 20132:23 am
        by Jam LT


        Yeah, those would be plausible…but I would really like to see a trade to open up room. As I see it, we really need to cut our losses with Stuck or possibly Charlie V. They just do not fit this team (Stuck redundant as a combo guard on a team that needs distributors) and Charlie V as too little value for what he is paid. 

        • Jul 18, 20135:19 pm
          by tarsier


          If Detroit were trying to cut their losses with those two, they would have done so already. Stuckey was only guaranteed half of his money and CV could have been let go for nothing (cap-wise).

          Since Detroit passed on both options, I’m assuming they will be Pistons for another year. A trade could come along, but it’s not especially likely.

    • Jul 18, 20134:38 am
      by CityofKlompton


      He would also be an excellent pickup for the role of “guy on the bench in street clothes” (since it seems he is almost never healthy these days.)

  • Jul 18, 20132:26 am
    by Jay


    It’s obvious we’re going to have issues on spacing this year if Monroe, Smith, and Drummond are playing together. That’s why I don’t see how trading for Rondo will do us many favors in terms of play making. Rondo isn’t a threat from outside at all…meaning he’s just going to clog up the paint even more. 

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