Greg Monroe could be just what the Pistons are looking for in the middle.

Lucky No. 7: Greg Monroe

This post could also be titled “The curious case of Greg Monroe.” Not because Monroe the player is curious, necessarily, but because he seems to embody little of what the Pistons are looking for if you pay attention to the rhetoric of GM Joe Dumars or the pundits talking about the Pistons’ needs: Mainly, a defensive-minded big man that can play with his back to the basket. And yet, despite all that, Monroe might be the best option available when the Pistons select at seven.

The knocks on Monroe are that he is soft, lacks passion, and has very few post moves or instincts and is hoplessly lost if the lefty big is forced to go to his right.

With the Pistons not really having any low-post players since the days of big small man Corliss Williamson, few fans see the Monroe scouting report and are terribly intrigued. But the man has some definite positives. Monroe is known to have tremendous character, played in a team-oriented system at Georgetown, has an incredible basketball IQ, is an especially gifted passer and seems to have the chance to develop a consisent jump shot eventually. He also is a legit center prospect, measuring 6-foot-11 in shoes with a Piston-like 7-foot-plus wingspan and a relatively beefy (for a  19-year-old) 240 pounds.

He might not have the upside of Demarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside or Ekpe Udoh, but the odds of him being a legit contributing big man are higher than most other contenders for the pick. And just because the bust potential is low, doesn’t mean that the upside is minimal. According to John Hollinger’s draft rater, Monroe ranks as the fourth best prospect in the draft, and the best big man behind the number one man on his board, Cousins.

I’ve always paid attention to Hollinger’s player rater because it quantifies college prodution, but doesn’t treat it as gospel, takes age into consideration and doesn’t fall in love with vertical leap and other combine measurables. And he does have a history of success. Last year, for instance, he ranked Ty Lawson, Blake Griffin, Tyreke Evans and the Pistons’ own Austin Daye as the top four players in the draft. And Hollinger’s player rater also has some major red flags on other possible Pistons selctions, including Cole Aldrich, Udoh and Ed Davis.

But back to Monroe. Even though he might not have the skills Pistons fans WANT in the next draft pick, he might have the skills the team NEEDS in its quest to get markedly better. If the Pistons begin the season with Rodney Stuckey manning the point position, a Brad Miller-type big man in the high post could really facillitate the offense and get the team’s collection of jump shooters open looks and players like Jason Maxiell, Jonas Jerebko and Chris Wilcox good looks at the hoop if the defense breaks down.

And he might not be as soft as many often suggest. Casual Hoya, a Georgetown blog, had this to say about all the Monroe hate:

People question his heart, passion, and ability to take over a game.  There were very few times in his Georgetown career that I questioned the same.  It’s becoming laughable that six seasons into John Thompson III’s tenure at Georgetown, NBA scouts still say the exact same things about every lottery-bound player entering the draft from the school.  First it was Jeff Green’s perceived heart, then Roy Hibbert‘s, now Greg Monroe’s.  I assume at some point it will click that Thompson has smart, well rounded, hard working basketball players that don’t need to make Kobe Bryant’s jutted out nonsense face to show that they care about winning and care about the game.  Each of the three aforementioned players have gotten significantly better year-by-year since they have been in college and then the pros. 

And Tom Ziller doesn’t want to hear any talk about Monroe being passionless.

One of the ways to resolve such questions is by looking at defensive rebounding. For big men, rebounding is a central defensive responsibility. If you’re paper-thin but can rebound defensively, you’re of value. If you’re built like a truck and can’t rebound defensively, that’s a problem. Results, production — that’s what matters. Not the look on your face or the size of your bicep. When we talk about “soft” big men, we’re really talking about big men who can’t rebound or defend in the paint.

Monroe was the 26th best defensive rebounder in college this season, up from 430th last year. The only likely first-round pick with a better defensive rebounding rate than Monroe was Cole Aldrich at 25.7 percent versus Monroe’s 25.2. (That’s an extra rebound for Aldrich every 200 opponent misses.) 

And the Pistons are so starved of difference makers on both sides of the ball, I’d hate for the team to pass up on a great prospect, which Monroe might be, just to take a player with a bigger rep for defense. The Pistons can address their need for a defensive center via trade, dangling either Tayshaun Prince or Richard Hamilton and filler. Assuming Charlie V. will continue to be a bench player (and unless he learns how to play better defense that seems to be a strong possiblilty) and with Ben Wallace a year older and a stop-gap starter at best, it would seem the Pistons have two vacancies in the frontcourt. Greg Monroe could certainly fill one of those spots.

*Previous entries: Ekpe Udoh

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