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Since Josh Smith waiving, Greg Monroe has been among league's top big men

The Moose has been loose.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It's been in typical understated Greg Monroe fashion that he's taken the step as one of the elite big men in the league.

In the past month and a half of the post-Josh Smith era for the Pistons, the team's point guards have received most of the accolades - and they've deserved plenty of praise. Brandon Jennings and D.J. Augustin have stepped up brilliantly when needed most.

But without the steady presence of Greg Monroe, their efforts wouldn't have mattered.

Since December 22, Greg Monroe has averaged 16.5 points per game on an excellent 56 percent true shooting percentage, 12.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.2 steals, and only 2.2 turnovers. Playing as the team's featured offensive big man, Moose has combined a level of skill, versatility, and efficiency that constitutes the long-awaited next step for him as a player.

Over that stretch, he's fifth in the league in rebounds and boasting a combination of scoring and passing that only Pau Gasol and Zach Randolph have matched.

And after Jennings' season-ending Achilles injury, Monroe has stepped up to play even better. In the 10 games since Jennings went down, Monroe has responded with 17.2 points per game and 12.7 rebounds. He made an exclamation point of a performance Friday night against Denver, carrying the team with the first 20 point, 20 rebound game of his career.

The result? Monroe is boasting some of the best numbers of his career.

His standard box score may look right in line with where he typically falls in - around 15-16 points on 50 percent shooting, and about 10 rebounds. Don't be fooled.

Monroe's points per 36 minutes is a career high 18.5 and he's managing it with an efficiency that has been missing the past two years, a very solid 55 percent true shooting on the season. He's also cracking double digit rebounds for the first time in his career, currently sixth in the league in total rebounds.

One of the keys to his improvement in scoring efficiency has been his ability to get to the line. Monroe is leading the team in free throw attempts on the season and knocking them down at the best rate of his career, 75.6 percent.

Perhaps most significantly, he's gotten two major issues that have plagued him in the past under control: defense and turnovers.

Monroe is never going to be a lock-down defender and will have a quickness disadvantage against some of the more perimeter-oriented players. But last season he started making strides at some of the fundamentals, which has carried over this season.

Opposing big men have plenty of trouble against him in the post as he uses his strength to force them farther from the basket and beats them to spots as they make their move. Thanks to that, he's one of the few players on the team who has held the player he's guarding to a lower field goal percentage than their norm according to SportVU data.

While other players have surged their way into the spotlight for the Pistons, their most valuable player for them heading into the All Star break has been clear. And if the team does wind up earning a spot in the playoffs, it'll be largely thanks to the play of their quiet, steady, reliable big man.