With the Pistons mired in a 8-17 funk since they last reached .500 back in early December, a loss to the league’s worst team (Milwaukee) making this season look like a colossal disaster, and the NBA trade deadline approaching next month, can dealing Greg Monroe fix Detroit's problems?
That’s the short answer. But for those who would like a longer, more reasoned reply, let’s look one by one at the major reasons that have been suggested for trading Monroe:
1. Trading Monroe is the best way to improve the Pistons
It does not take a genius to see that Detroit’s current roster is not well-constructed for success in the NBA. Of the 16 teams who would be in the playoffs if the season ended today, 11 are in the top 15 in three-point shooting percentage. The Pistons are last at .307 percent. Among the players who are a part of our regular rotation, our best three-point shooter is Brandon Jennings at .333 percent – 115th in the league this year. Clearly this is a weakness that needs to be addressed, and the only way to do so right now is by a trade.
Monroe is certainly one of the most attractive assets on our roster. Even with the reduced usage he has seen this season, he still is averaging 14.2 points and 8.8 rebounds. Among other NBA power forwards, he ranks 11th in scoring, ninth in field goal percentage, and ninth in rebounding. So he would probably be a talent upgrade for at least 20 other teams. Any franchise trading for him now would also get the right to match any offers Monroe will get in free agency this summer, so they would be assured of keeping him for at least four more years.
Other than Andre Drummond, Monroe is probably the most tradable Piston. That fact should give every Detroit fan wanting to trade him pause. If he is such a marketable player, sure to interest many teams, then why would we want to trade him? Obviously it would make no sense to swap him for a less valuable young player, a late first round draft pick, or a veteran with only a couple of years left on his deal. A key aspect of his value to us is that we can retain his rights for the next four seasons, when he will probably reach his prime years as an NBA player.
We also must consider that Monroe’s ability to play both power forward and center means that trading him for a wing scorer would seriously weaken our frontline depth. Assuming that our starters upfront would be Drummond and Josh Smith, their backups would become Josh Harrellson, Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva. So the wing scorer we get back would have to be very productive to replace what Monroe gives us in points and rebounds. If we get stronger at small forward, but weaker upfront, what have we really gained?
Are there any conceivable trade offers for Monroe that Joe Dumars should consider? Certainly. He is not untouchable. If Oklahoma City offers Kevin Durant, or Indiana offers Paul George, we should listen! Realistically, there could be other trade proposals that would represent a fair exchange. But it is highly unlikely that any trade made now will rescue this season. Given that it would probably take a player of superstar worth to elevate the Pistons to a contending position this year, it would be very shortsighted to trade Monroe for a modest improvement in our current prospects.
2. We don’t need Monroe because Drummond is a better center
Since his rookie year (2010-11), Monroe has primarily played center for Detroit. Drummond is clearly a center, however, and his upside at this position is almost universally seen as being greater. Since Monroe’s offensive strengths in the post most easily lend themselves to the center spot, some have argued that it’s redundant to keep both players on our roster.
Once the Pistons picked Drummond in the 2012 draft, the stated plan was to gradually transition Monroe to power forward. Drummond’s ability to make an immediate impact as a 19-year-old rookie was a surprise to most observers, and this sped up the time table. The back injury Drummond suffered last February interrupted the process, and we did not see Monroe and Drummond starting together until late March of 2013.
When the Monroe-Drummond pairing was envisioned last season, it was clear to many observers that it would take time to see how well it would work. Yet as anyone can tell from watching them play, Monroe and Drummond are very different players. Monroe is a very versatile scorer from the elbow area to anywhere in the paint, and is skilled at passing to open teammates. Drummond scores most effectively off the pick and roll and offensive rebounds. These are complementary capabilities, irrespective of position titles like center or power forward. What both players need when they are on the floor together is space to operate in the paint. The best way to ensure that space is to surround them with capable shooters.
Monroe recently told Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News , "With the new personnel and size that we have, teams are packing it in more. So it’s a little more difficult to get spacing."
The new shooters we signed last summer (Chauncey Billups, Brandon Jennings, Luigi Datome and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) have not given us consistent three-point production. The player we signed to start at small forward (Josh Smith) is an exceedingly poor three-point shooter. So the organization has basically punted on determining whether Drummond and Monroe can function effectively together on the floor. As long as we maintain the current "Big 3" starting lineup, we are postponing that process and any valid assessment of its effectiveness.
3. We don’t need Monroe because Smith is a better power forward
One of the most common critiques of Detroit’s play this season has been that Smith is being played out of position at small forward. For most who think this way, the answer is to play Smith at power forward, where he has played for most of his career. Some also think he should start, moving Monroe to the bench. They argue that he is simply better at that spot.
While Smith has apparently played better as a power forward for the Pistons than he has as a small forward, it is difficult to make a case that his play there has been superior to Monroe’s. A recent fanpost by canadiangirlfriend noted that Smith has connected on 43 percent of his shots as a power forward, versus 39 percent as a small forward. Monroe has made over 50 percent of his shots.
They appear to be roughly equal at rebounding as power forwards this year, though historically Monroe has been better. Smith is ahead on blocks, steals and assists, but the latter edge is due to the far greater usage he is getting in our offense this year. Monroe averaged 3.5 assists per game in 2012-13, but his usage this season has dropped from 24.8 to 20.8 percent.
According to the NBA’s Player Tracking Data, Smith allows opponents to make .489 percent of their shots at the rim; Monroe allows .511 percent. While Smith is probably the more capable defender in the post, does this strength make up for his severe offensive inefficiency? There is not another starting power forward in the league shooting as poorly as Smith. Those whose overall field goal efficiency approaches his are also capable three-point shooters. For example, Ryan Anderson of New Orleans has made .438 percent of his shots. But nearly half of his shots have been threes, and he’s made .409 percent of them.
Even if we were to say that Smith is equally as effective as Monroe at power forward, does it make sense to grant a 28-year-old player higher priority than a 23-year-old? As a player who relies more than most on his athleticism, it’s not difficult to foresee that Smith’s efficiency will decline even more as Drummond and Monroe approach their peak years. What value do we gain now or in the future by hindering Monroe’s development?
4. We cannot afford to keep Monroe
Even a cursory glance at Detroit’s salary cap situation next summer reveals that we can well afford to sign Monroe to even a max salary of approximately 4 years/$60 million. Both Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva will come off the books, freeing up $17.1 million. What we will end up paying him will probably depend on what other offers Monroe receives, but we will have the right to match any offer and keep him on our roster.
Assuming that we pay Monroe the max, our top four contracts next season will not exceed $40 million. Indiana, by comparison, will be paying more than that for their top three players. So even if we give Monroe the largest contract in Pistons’ history, we will still have money available to spend on a further upgrade to our roster.
We also should not ignore the full ramifications of the enviable situation this puts the Detroit organization in. DBB writer Mike Payne has expressed it better than I can:
Unlike the signings of Smith, Gordon and Villanueva, when you match an offer sheet, you’re paying EXACTLY the market price for that player. You’re paying him not a dollar more than what another team would have offered. I think Pistons fans are so used to having overpriced contracts to think about that they aren’t used to this type of situation, and thereby, are not understanding the virtue of paying a player his market value and how that plays into future trade value.
Therefore, if we were to decide to part ways with Monroe in the future, his contract would be very tradable to those teams looking to upgrade with a productive young player who can bolster their frontline at both the power forward and center positions. Any team that would be interested in him now would probably be equally interested in him in the future, since no one would trade for him now if they did not intend to extend his contract next summer. The Pistons hold all the cards, and they can afford to be patient.
Detroit’s 8-17 slide over the last seven weeks has shown that our offseason "playoffs or bust" plan was a mistake. But in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond we have a duo with the potential to become the NBA’s top frontline for many years to come. The key to their optimum success will be to surround them with quality shooters. While Dumars missed a golden opportunity to do that last summer, there will be other chances to rectify this situation if he is patient. The key is to wait for the right moment before acting.
Even franchises that are a lock for the playoffs know how to bide their time. Everyone knows that Houston wants to trade Omer Asik. But they are willing to wait for the right offer. Everyone knows Oklahoma City is shorthanded in their backcourt with Russell Westbrook out. But they are willing to rely on Reggie Jackson to fill in rather than trade youthful assets for temporary help.
The best counsel at this point is patience. And, according to ESPN's Mark Stein, this is the approach the Pistons plan to take:
Sources say teams calling to inquire about Monroe's availability are being advised that he's not on the market ...
They clearly don't like the sound of parting with a 23-year-old big man blessed with offensive skills and upside without giving Monroe every chance to carve out a new niche alongside Drummond and now Smith on the same roster.
Now here is a poll for you to vote your opinion. Feel free to express your thoughts in the comments.