In a conversation with Vincent Goodwill, Greg Monroe commented on the transition he's undergoing to spend more time at power forward next to Andre Drummond. The new role will require new habits-- instead of shifting to the basket on defensive rotations, Monroe will often need to slide toward the perimeter against forwards with range. Is this a role Monroe is suited to handle, and how is he handling this transition to date?
Since entering the league, Greg Monroe has presented a defensive liability against stronger players who can muscle around him in the post. He's never been much of a shot blocker, and his post defense has left plenty to be desired. He appears to take a heady approach to his defensive responsibilities, relying on a keen awareness of opponent play-making to be one of the league's premier pick-and-roll defenders. However, in the post, he struggles to be the last option against isolation plays and post-ups from opposing centers.
At power forward, Monroe will no longer be that last option. He'll be paired with a large-bodied shot-blocking force who can compliment him should a cutting guard find an open lane to the basket. At 6'11", 250 pounds himself, he'll have a size advantage against nearly every power forward he's matched up against. When it comes to handling the biggest guy on the court, that role will fall to Detroit's biggest guy on the court-- Monroe will instead bring an advantage into nearly every match-up he faces.
The question Monroe answered when commenting on his role defending power forwards isn't about size, however:
"It's definitely a difference on defense, especially for teams who might play small with a stretch-four," Monroe said."
How will Greg Monroe handle the shift to defending power forwards with extended range? If the numbers are any indication, he'll not only handle it well, he'll excel. According to Synergy Sports, Monroe is ranked 17th in the league (regardless of position) in defending spot-up perimeter shots including long twos and three-point attempts. Synergy has tracked 87 spot-up attempts against Monroe this season, and he's allowed 31.1% inside the three point line and 26.9% beyond. These marks are better than a "who's who" of defensively-acclaimed big men, making him a virtual stopper when the opposing team employs a stretch shooting big man.
Greg's perimeter defense and his career-long knack for pick-and-roll defense make him well-suited to defending power forwards. Given that he'll no longer be guarding the biggest opposing player, many of the defensive liabilities he faced at center will be neutralized at power forward. Add to this that a player that makes it past Monroe on a drive to the basket will often find one more defender waiting in the paint-- and things bode even better for Detroit's frontcourt defense.
The question that remains will be how Greg Monroe handles offensively-gifted forwards who use speed to break down their competition. If a player isn't shooting from the perimeter and he's not using size to muscle into the paint, there's not much data to show how Monroe will handle this responsibility. It's not going to be an infrequent adjustment-- as Monroe will be faced with defending Lebron James in a small-ball Heat match-up, for example. There's also a question of energetic forwards like Kenneth Faried and Blake Griffin. These will be tough match-ups for any player, but Greg has shown enough improvement and promise that he shouldn't be much of a liability in those tough match-ups.
- - - - -
The Pistons are taking their time with Monroe's transition to power forward, and they are wise to do so. However, Monroe has already put together an excellent defensive performance against perimeter offenses, one that is very promising for his future role at the position. It needs to be said that Monroe has one of the best sparring partners in the league to defend in practice-- if Charlie Villanueva can do anything, he can certainly challenge opposing big men with lights out perimeter shooting.
Personally, I'm very confident that Monroe will transition smoothly to defending power forwards, and my confidence is born in the evidence he's established. In fact, the evidence is so encouraging that Monroe and Drummond could collectively build one of the premier frontcourt defenses in the league. It's strange to suggest this given Greg's struggles throughout his career-- but these struggles may be neutralized by a simple change of position, one that is already long underway.