Some recent comments on this site have raised the possibility of Greg Monroe averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds next season. Since his rookie year averages were 9.4 points and 7.5 boards, and he averaged 15.4 and 9.7 last year, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for The Moose to join the "20 & 10 Club" in 2012-13. So what’s the likelihood of him taking that big step forward in his pro career?
First, let’s acknowledge that many great players have never posted a 20 & 10 season. For example, Bill Russell never did it (unless we count 20 rebound and 10 point seasons – he had 10 of those!). Dave DeBusschere averaged a double-double 10 years in a row, but never had a 20 & 10 season. Kevin McHale never did it (though he came close in 1986-7 with 26.1 & 9.9). Currently, Pau Gasol has averaged over 10 rebounds for the last three seasons, but hasn’t had a 20-point season since 2006-07 with Memphis, so he’s never done it. LaMarcus Aldridge is an up and coming star, but he’s yet to average even 9 boards for a year.
Before we examine Monroe’s prospects, let’s explore the significance of this statistical milestone. If we take 20 & 10 as the "gold standard" for measuring the NBA’s best big men, then a look at the all-time leaders is very revealing. At the head of the pack is Shaquille O’Neal, with 13 (consecutive) seasons of 20 & 10. Close behind with 12 each are Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon. (Chamberlain has the highest career averages – 30.1 points and 22.9 boards! For an interesting discussion of the relative worth of "The Stilt’s" stats, check out this link: Chamberlain stats debate).
Next in line with 11 seasons each are Charles Barkley, Elgin Baylor, Moses Malone, Bob Petit and Dolph Schayes. Tied with 10 apiece are Elvin Hayes and Karl Malone. In a 3-way tie at 9 we find Patrick Ewing and two active players – Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. Lastly, with 8 each, are Bob Lanier and David Robinson. Of these superb sixteen, thirteen averaged 20 & 10 for their entire careers! And though they "only" had six 20 & 10 seasons, Walt Bellamy and Larry Bird also averaged those totals for their careers.
The 20 & 10 seasons are probably all behind Garnett and Duncan. As yet, no other current star has a shot at matching their 9 season streaks any time soon. Zach Randolph has done it 5 times, but it seems unlikely he’ll do it 4 more times at age 31. Dwight Howard has done if 4 times, but it’s questionable if he’ll be able to put up many 20-point seasons in L.A. Other current players who have reached this mark, but probably won’t hit it again, are Elton Brand (4), Chris Bosh (3), Carlos Boozer (2), Jermaine O’Neal (2), Antawn Jamison (1) and Shawn Marion (1). Al Jefferson and David Lee have done it, and both came close once more in 2011-12. Two newer stars that have already done it twice and could go on a long run of 20 & 10 years are Blake Griffin and Kevin Love. With his shooting range and rebounding ability, Love is the best bet to be a 20 & 10 guy for years to come. Waiting in the wings are Andrew Bynum (18.7 & 11.8 last year) and DeMarcus Cousins (18.1 & 11).
But what about Greg Monroe? I think it was his hot streak earlier this year that first led some to think that greatness is in his grasp. After posting respectable averages of 15.8 and 9.9 in January, Monroe scored 18.7 points and grabbed 10.7 boards per game in February. While his averages tailed off the last two months, his initial productivity excited every Pistons’ fan, and made us hopeful that the best is yet to come.
As I’ve perused the stats for the 20 &10 "studs" – both past and present – four features of their work stand out. Let’s look closely at each of these in order to gauge Monroe’s prospects:
Rebounding: Anyone who can average over 10 rebounds per game for a whole season in today’s NBA has done well. Last year only 8 players (30 + games) did so. Big men who don’t rebound well are often labeled as "soft," with the assumption being they’re unwilling to do this "dirty work." While rebounding isn’t a "sexy" stat, any student of the game realizes its value. Perhaps the greatest rebounder of all time was Dennis Rodman. No one has matched his record of leading the league in rebounding 7 seasons in a row. His ability to limit the opposing team to one shot, and give his own team second and third possessions, is almost legendary.
Many of the 20 & 10 stars have been consistently good rebounders – and some exceptionally so. One of the more impressive rebounding achievements was the combined effort of Tim Duncan and David Robinson in 1997-98 and 1998-99, when they both hauled in over 10 rebounds per game. While today’s best "board men" don’t match the averages of the stars of the 1950s and 60s, the typical game back then was played at a faster pace that created more shots, more misses, and more rebounds.
While many observers didn’t expect him to be very effective on the glass, Greg Monroe has exceeded their expectations. He was 11th in the league last season with 9.7 rebounds per game. Of those ahead of him, only Cousins and Joachim Noah played fewer minutes than Monroe’s 31.5. So more playing time could further elevate his rebounding totals. The Moose played less than 30 minutes in 21 games last year, averaging 8.0 boards in those contests. In the 45 games in which he played over 30 minutes, he hauled in 10.4 rebounds per outing. He was 9th in the NBA with 30 double-doubles (Love led with 48), and 7th with 3.7 offensive rebounds per game. Big men who are good offensive rebounders, and are adept at tip-ins and put-backs (thus combining a board with a bucket), also contribute to their scoring totals.
When it comes to scoring, there are three major statistical contributors – attempting shots, making shots, and making free throws. Let’s take a look now at how these each factor in to Monroe’s 20 & 10 prospects:
Attempting Shots: Obviously no one can score 20 points per game if they seldom shoot! Looking at the NBA bigs who have topped 20, almost all have taken over 14 shots per game for their career. Those who haven’t were either exceptionally accurate, or haven’t yet played long enough for their career attempts to approach the number of shots they took in a 20 & 10 season. For example, Kevin Love has averaged fewer than 13 shots per game for his career. He took just 14.1 shots in his first 20-point season (2010-11), but he made 1.2 three-pointers and also 5.8 free throws each game. In his five 20-point seasons, Chris Bosh has never taken less than 15 shots per game. In his two 20-point seasons, David Lee has taken 15-16 shots per game, as has Blake Griffin.
Not surprisingly, Monroe averaged 14.4 shot attempts per game last February when his scoring average neared 19 points. But for the season, his average was 11.8 attempts (and just 9.9 in April). So in order for Monroe to average 20 points this season, he’ll probably need to average at least 14 shots a game. Since he took almost five shots more per game in 2011-12 than he did in his rookie year, I’d think averaging 3 to 4 more attempts next season is possible. This would also please most Pistons fans, because Monroe is by far our most efficient scorer.
Making Shots: Accuracy is even more important than attempts. Historically, most 20 & 10 bigs have connected on half or more of their shots. Those who do most of their scoring close to the hoop have the highest shooting percentage (Shaquille O’Neal is Exhibit A – almost all of his shots were in the paint, and he shot 58.2% for his career). Clearly a more efficient scorer gets their points on fewer shot attempts. Greg Monroe shot at a 52.1% clip last season. Of the 20 centers and power forwards who scored more than him, only four (Howard, Griffin, Bynum and Marcin Gortat) shot a higher percentage.
Looking at Monroe’s shot selection, according to 82games.com he attempted 72% of his shots "inside" (either close, dunks or tips), and converted on 59.2%. They report that jump shots made up just 28% of his shot selection, and he connected on 33.6%. (His rookie year, jumpers made up 20% of his repertoire, with a 24.8% scoring rate). Comparing him again to those 20 other big men, Howard was the only one who took a higher portion of his shots on the inside (79%). Second place isn’t even close – next in line behind Monroe is Bynum with 53%. However, when it comes to inside shot accuracy, Monroe is only ahead of Ryan Anderson and Cousins (Love is on par with him at 59.4% efficiency). And while Monroe averaged fewer jump shots than any of the others except Howard, he was also the least accurate of the group at 33.6%. Not much better were Cousins (34.6%) and Amare Stoudemire (35.2%).
So while Monroe’s 52.1% shooting looks good, it needs to be better when we consider how many of his shots are close to the hoop. Improving his accuracy on all of his shots would make a significant difference in Monroe’s scoring potential. If the Pistons expect him to play more at power forward next season, they’ll especially need him to improve his jump shooting.
Making Free Throws: Trips to the foul line are a key component of scoring for most top NBA players. When we look at the "20 & 10 Club," most of them have averaged over four free throws made per game. While some of them have needed more shots to convert that many (e.g. Howard, Shaq, Chamberlain), they’ve all used the charity stripe to score extra points. Among the other 20 top scoring current NBA bigs of last season, Monroe was tied with Duncan for 14th with 3.0 free throws made per game. Love was the leader, making 6.9 an outing. Monroe only made 1.8 free throws a game his rookie year, so last season represented an increase in both attempts and accuracy. He had 3 games last year when he made over 10 freebies, plus an 8-8 and a 9-9 game. More efforts like that will be a good step forward.
According to a recent blog by Keith Langlois at Pistons.com, this summer Monroe "spent two weeks in Los Angeles working out with Kevin Love. There the focus was different types of shots, including shooting on the move and shots from the elbows and mid-post area that will surely be a part of his repertoire at power forward." His second year in the league, Love averaged 14 points and 11 rebounds in 28.6 minutes. The following year he scored 20.2 points and grabbed 15.2 caroms in 35.8 minutes per game. While we’d all "Love" to see that repeated with The Moose, it’s probably not reasonable to expect that big a jump in production for next year.
Can Greg Monroe reach 20 & 10 next season? I think it’s possible, but likelier that his productivity gains will be more incremental - say 18 points and 10 boards. While many of the all-time greats have been instant scoring and rebounding machines, others have taken a few years to grow into that role. Of the 14 current NBA players who have reached 20 & 10, only 3 (Duncan, Griffin, and Elton Brand) did so in their rookie year. Love and Randolph did it their 3rd year; Bosh, Garnett, Howard and Jefferson didn’t until their 4th. Carlos Boozer and Lee finally broke through in their 5th seasons.
In researching this post, I revisited a piece Mike Payne wrote over two years ago, shortly after the Pistons selected Monroe with the 7th pick of the 2010 NBA Draft. Entitled "The Hope for Greg Monroe," it detailed the negatives and positives of his college career, and projected his most likely performance as a pro. Mike noted close parallels between Monroe’s production at Georgetown and Lee’s at Florida. "From my perspective," he concluded, "the most recent example of Monroe’s absolute best case scenario is a less-reboundy version of David Lee 2010."
Lee’s fifth year in the NBA was 2009-10, when he averaged 20.2 points and 11.7 rebounds per game – his first (and so far, only) 20 & 10 season. While Monroe has become productive more quickly than Lee, is a better offensive rebounder, and is not yet as efficient a scorer, the comparison still looks solid. But I’ll bet Mike Payne would be willing to say now that while "a less-reboundy version of David Lee 2010" is a very reasonable expectation, the "absolute best case scenario" is even better.
So I think I echo the feelings of every Pistons fans when I say, "Moose, we can’t wait to see you play this Fall!" And, to again quote Mike Payne’s 2010 post, "For some reason, I have real, tangible faith that you’re going to give it your all."