Outside of Detroit, few would consider Greg Monroe to be a franchise-caliber talent. If you haven't followed his game or mined his stats, you might not see a lot to get excited about. To most, he's a dull player on a dull team in a dull part of the country. This might explain the string of snubs that have followed him through his two year NBA career. Despite having established a greater skill level than some of his highly-praised colleagues, he has been snubbed in All Star reserve voting, snubbed in All Rookie voting and cut from Team USA consideration. More fuel for the fire, Greg Monroe. More fuel for the fire...
Here in Detroit, Pistons fans have gotten to know Greg Monroe the player on a pretty intimate level. We have watched a fast-learning, fast-improving big man who is a beast on the glass and skilled on offense. His progress has been clearly recorded in the stats, and these numbers point in a very promising direction. In fact, the only thing holding Monroe back from a significant career leap is the environment around him. Playing time and possessions, as dictated by his coaching staff and teammates, are the two areas Monroe needs the most help. If you've been watching the numbers, Monroe has clearly earned a bump in both.
Greg Monroe: 2011-12 Year In Review
66 games, 15.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 2.4 turnovers, 52.1% shooting.
There was nothing but progress in Monroe's sophomore season, save for a slight regress in scoring efficiency. The efficiency dip is expected, given the increase in shot attempts (which nearly doubled vs. his rookie season) and the increase in shots from range. With Monroe's greater involvement in Detroit's offense came another trip to the free throw line per contest, a trend I hope continues in the coming season.
On the glass, Monroe rode a nice increase in defensive rebounding to a total 11% improvement on both ends of the court. He was one third of a rebound away from averaging a legit 10 per contest, something he would have achieved in averaging just one more minute per game.
Monroe's box score defensive numbers are respectable. He didn't show a marked improvement with shot blocking, but he led all NBA big men in steals with 83 on the season. The shot blocking shouldn't be a significant concern for Monroe, at just shy of one block per game, especially given the additions of shot blockers deeper in Detroit's frontcourt.
In his rookie season, Monroe struggled while defending his man, but showed an awareness of the other team's offensive plays that helped him defend pick-and-rolls. He improved in his sophomore season, handling post-up and isolation plays with greater success. He's still got a long way to go on man defense, but he made significant strides in 2011-12.
Areas to Improve in 2012-13
This season, two things stand in the way of a significantly-improved Greg Monroe, neither of which are directly in his control. Monroe needs more playing time and a greater involvement in the offense as reflected by shot attempts. "Feed the Moose" was my mantra in 2011-12, and it'll remain the same until it actually happens. There are no apparently justifiable reasons to hold Monroe back the way he was last season. Freeing the young fellow might have a greater impact on wins than any move the Pistons have made in the last two years. Let's explore.
1. Playing Time
Last season, Monroe averaged 31.5 minutes per game, good for third most on the team behind Brandon Knight and Tayshaun Prince. The most common issue keeping a big man off of the court is foul trouble, something that isn't much of an issue with Monroe. Match all NBA big men at 32 minutes per game, and Monroe's foul rate is good for 34th, in range with Dwight Howard, who himself averages 38 minutes per game.
Increasing Monroe's burn would make for an obvious improvement for this team. More playing time for the team's most productive player can impact wins, and the increase in burn would elevate Monroe's individual numbers. With five more minutes of playing time each night, Monroe would have scaled to roughly 18 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists, which absolutely zero NBA players achieved last season. He wouldn't even need to improve to register those numbers, just continue doing exactly what he was doing all season long.
2. Shot Attempts
If you're nearly third in shot attempts behind players that are shooting 42.1% and 41.5%, there are two possible explanations. Either you're even worse from the field or your coaching staff and/or ball handlers are muppets. Given that Greg Monroe is a 52.1% shooter, the answer is clearly the latter. Either the coaching staff wasn't properly including Monroe as its best offensive weapon or the ball handlers, Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince, were not getting the ball to Monroe to execute. The result was predictable-- the team flirted with the basement for the league's worst offense last season.
There is no reason for Tayshaun Prince and Brandon Knight to be throwing up bricks on every other possession with a weapon like Monroe on court. This offense should feature Monroe to the tune of 14 or 15 attempts per game-- more than either Prince or Knight should receive next season. While the increase in usage might lead to a decrease in scoring efficiency, a one, maybe two point drop is reasonable. What would Monroe offer his team with that level of usage?
2012-13 Projected Production
If Monroe's minutes and usage largely stay the same when compared to last season, similar numbers or a slight improvement can be expected. Monroe will be 22 years old on opening night, with a good three or four years until he's producing at a peak level. So if the coaching staff and teammates don't do their part to get Greg more burn and possessions, it's still reasonable to expect a slightly improved Monroe in 2012-13.
If Monroe sees the 7 minute per game bump that Kevin Love saw entering his third year, you can pencil in an All Star appearance now. More likely, however, would be a simple 5 minute increase to 36.5 minutes per game-- the same burn that Marc Gasol sported last season. It shouldn't be a question of durability here, given that Monroe hasn't missed a single game since his NBA debut.
In terms of touches, the liberal estimate would be 15 shots per game and a related drop to 51% shooting. This increase in usage might give Monroe another trip or two to the free throw line, likely good for a total of 6 attempts per game. If he maintains a 74% performance at the line, all of this would combine to about 19.74 points per game. If Monroe is paired with Jason Maxiell and Andre Drummond for most of the season, two below-average defensive rebounders, Greg's rebounding numbers should evenly scale to 36.5 minutes per game for about 11 total.
While these projections are liberal, they're based on no improvement by Monroe, only the added benefits of increased minutes and more shot attempts. If he continues to improve, which most players do toward their prime, he could eclipse even these liberal projections. The point is-- 20 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists are within his reach now if the team properly designs its offense with Monroe as a primary option.
A more likely increase next season will see Monroe earning 2 more minutes per game and 2 more shot attempts. While his performance is deserving the 7 minute, 3 attempt increase Kevin Love saw in year 3, it'd be foolish to bank on it in a projection. Returning to the conservative 2/2 estimate, a reasonable projection for Greg Monroe's 3rd season might round out like this:
33.5 minutes, 17.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 2.8 turnovers, 51.1% shooting
That conservative estimate is nothing to sneeze at, but it's not likely to earn Monroe a trip to the All Star game. He'll be looking up at Andrew Bynum and Roy Hibbert unless he receives the increase in minutes and shot attempts I've advocated above. Monroe has the skill, durability and efficiency to handle the added responsibility, and such an improved Monroe would only be a good thing for the Pistons. While more wins will fill seats at the Palace, an All Star Greg Monroe would too. This team hasn't had a hero since November 2nd, 2008, and the only things keeping that crown from Greg Monroe are the misguided personnel around him. If you're listening, Lawrence, Brandon and Tayshaun, FEED THE MOOSE-- our once and future king.