Since releasing Josh Smith, the Pistons have won seven in a row and played terrific team basketball night in and night out.
But even as Stan Van Gundy has played a deep rotation and spread the offensive workload around pretty evenly, individual players have found ways to shine. Andre Drummond has looked like a budding superstar, Jodie Meeks is hitting nine 3-pointers in a game, Brandon Jennings is hitting game-winners. Everyone has had their moment to shine ... except Greg Monroe.
That all changed Wednesday night in Dallas where Monroe powered the Pistons to a 108-95 victory with 27 points, 18 rebounds and six assists -- on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Pistons weren't expected to win this game. They hadn't won in Dallas since 2006, were facing the NBA's second-best offense and were playing on the second night of a back-to-back after going 12 rounds in a win against the Spurs the night before.
Many of the players just didn't have a full tank of gas tonight. You could tell with some of the jump shots they were settling for and the lack of explosiveness from Drummond that the team was running on fumes.
But Monroe stepped up when it counted. He scored 11 points in the first quarter to stake his team to an early lead that they would never relinquish. Monroe was making smart, assertive moves with the ball, hit cutters for easy hoops at the rim and found teammates when defenders tried to double him. He hit all of his team-high five free-throws.
During this winning streak, Monroe has often been a bystander down the stretch as Van Gundy has used Drummond and a perimeter threat such as Jonas Jerebko or Anthony Tolliver to put teams away. But it was obvious that tonight just wasn't Dre's night. He had nothing left to give after his transcendent performance against the Spurs. Against the Mavs, Drummond was just 3-for-11 and didn't attempt a free throw -- a telling sign that he just wasn't as aggressive as usual (though he did still manage to grab 19 rebounds).
Monroe had carried his team offensively for three quarters and was out there in crunch time in the fourth grabbing key rebounds, hitting a couple key shots and providing a secondary threat as a very angry D.J. Augustin took over and put the game away.
It was a great performance for a player who has consistently seemed lost in the shuffle in Detroit. Too much losing, too much Josh Smith as well as having to deal with the long shadow casts by Drummond. People assume Monroe wants out as soon as possible, and also think that Van Gundy doesn't want a non-shooting big alongside Drummond long-term.
Maybe they're right.
But Monroe is a tantalizing young talent in his own right, and against the Mavs you could see why the Pistons might just want to keep him around. The 24-year-old big man has the ability to score in the post, find open teammates and make sure the Pistons have a chance even when things get a little messy. And if the winning continues, Monroe might just have a reason to want to stay in Motown and see if he can be a part of something special.