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Ben Wallace should start over Greg Monroe at center for Detroit Pistons

Before the Pistons’ win over the Suns on Saturday, Ben Wallace hadn’t come off the bench since March of last year. Before that, he hadn’t come off the bench since April of 2009. In fact, Wallace never came off the bench with the Magic, in his first stint with the Pistons or with the Bulls – a 10-year stretch.

But for the first time since he was a Wizard in the 1990s, Wallace faces the prospect of becoming a regular bench player.

Wallace missed seven games with an ankle injury before playing against Phoenix, but Detroit’s game against the Magic tonight will be the true test of his role.

A Piston entrenched in the starting lineup has been injured twice this season. Both times, after missing games, he came off the bench until demonstrating he was completely healthy.*

*When Richard Hamilton missed two games with a sore foot, he came off the bench against the Bobcats before returning to the starting lineup. When Rodney Stuckey  missed two games with a sore foot, he came off the bench against the Jazz and Lakers before returning to the starting lineup.

With seven rebounds and strong defense down the stretch against the Suns, Wallace proved he’s healthy.

So will Wallace take his starting position back from Greg Monroe, who has played very well lately? Let’s look at the key considerations and decide who deserves to start.

Defense

Ben Wallace, one of the NBA’s all-time best defenders, has slipped to only above average at 36. In his rookie season, Greg Monroe has climbed to above average. At this crossroads in their careers, the difference between them defensively is minimal.

After reviewing their defense on Synergy, two areas stand out – isolation and pick-and-roll.

Wallace allows .52 points per possession on isolation plays (10th in the NBA), and Monroe allows .95 points per possession (196th in the NBA) on such plays. The difference comes largely because Wallace better understands how to position himself and uses his quick hands to generate stops.

Monroe could be bridging that gap, though. He’s averaging two steals in his last 10 games, and many of them have come on-the-ball.

As far as guarding the screener on pick-and-rolls, Monroe allows .96 points per possession when (29th in the NBA), and Wallace allows 1.12 points per possession (40th in the NBA). Monroe is a bit more agile and capable of hedging then falling back.

The information Synergy makes available to me tracks only on-ball defense. I think Wallace gets an edge with help defense, but his defense has probably fallen off more in that regard than any other. As Monroe learns to read plays, he’ll catch up.

Wallace’s defense has slipped considerably, even from last season. But that change is more pronounced late in games. So, when it comes to defense, Wallace would benefit from starting – and by extension, so would the Pistons.

Edge: Ben Wallace

Rebounding

Ben Wallace leads the Pistons with a 16.8 rebounding percentage, and Greg Monroe ranks third at 15.9 – a negligible difference. Neither is a tremendous leaper at this point, and both use great positioning to grab boards. For the most part, each will grab the same rebounds the other would, but Wallace holds the edge this season.

Edge: Ben Wallace

Offense

Ben Wallace and Greg Monroe are both limited offensive players. Both take about two-thirds their shots at the rim and 90 percent inside 10 feet, according to HoopData.

Wallace sets better screens, but Monroe has closed the gap since struggling to set picks during the summer league.

Monroe entered the league with the reputation as a good passer for a big man, but he’s rightly focused on defense and rebounding and hasn’t displayed that renowned passing ability. Wallace passes well right now. As the Pistons move from their isolation-heavy offense, this skill is becoming more relevant.

What separates the two is their ability to make shots, an area where Monroe has improved by leaps and bounds. Monroe, whose season field-goal percentage is marked in blue, has passed Wallace’s field-goal percentage, marked in red.

Edge: Greg Monroe

Fit with other starters

Ben Wallace and Greg Monroe, for the most part, are similar players. Their primary roles are to defend and rebound. The Pistons could stick either next to Chris Wilcox and Tayshaun Prince and expect similar results.

The difference comes when it relates to the guards.

Monroe and Tracy McGrady have developed a nice chemistry, and Monroe helps McGrady run the pick-and-roll, using his good hands to catch passes on rolls to the basket.

If Wallace, not exactly an offensive threat, tried to fill that role, defenses would trap McGrady. As we’ve seen, he’s susceptible to turnovers when defenses aggressively trap him.

Plus, Monroe benefits from Rodney Stuckey, who passes well for a shooting guard. Wallace can’t take as much advantage of Stuckey’s dumpoffs as Monroe could.

In addition, Wallace, the better screener, would help free lanes for backup point guard Will Bynum to drive to the basket.

Edge: Greg Monroe

Minute distribution

Greg Monroe has worked his butt off since entering the rotation. The Pistons can plug him in at anytime and expect maximum effort and performance. The same probably can’t be said of Ben Wallace.

That’s not because Wallace isn’t committed to giving his all. It’s because, at 36, he likely can’t – and John Kuester knows it.

Ben Wallace has started all 37 of his games this season, and he’s started the second half in 36 of them. He’s re-entered the game in the first half in only 43 percent of them and re-entered in the second half in only 27 percent of games.

I’d say there’s a good chance Wallace gets tight while sitting on the bench. If that’s not case, the Pistons are playing him at awfully strange times.

So, it makes sense to play Wallace immediately after pregame and halftimes warmups.

Edge: Ben Wallace

Stature

Ben Wallace hasn’t actively led the Pistons this year. I think his message to the Pistons’ younger players – which, relative to Wallace, is everyone – has basically been, “I’ve been around the block. I’ve seen this already. It’s your turn to figure it out for yourselves. If you actively seek my advice, I’ll help you. If not, you’re on your own. I’m not leading this team. It’s your turn.”

It’s in the Pistons best interest for as many young players as possible to seek Wallace’s advice. If he becomes a bench player, his wisdom won’t shrink. But his respect in the locker room might.

I doubt anyone is running to Richard Hamilton right now for lessons. By starting Greg Monroe, the Pistons risk marginalizing Wallace’s impact on young players.

Edge: Ben Wallace

Development

The Pistons aren’t playing just for this year, even if that’s the primary consideration. The previous sections have analyzed only the present. But what about the future?

Ben Wallace likely will play only one more season, if there is a season. Greg Monroe, if all goes to plan, will be a Piston for many years to come.

So which starter would provide greater benefit to Monroe’s development?

On an obvious level, giving Monroe more experience would benefit him. But there’s no reason Monroe can’t play a lot while coming off the bench. And I think the benefits of playing him provide instant gratification more than long-term positives.

When John Kuester sat Monroe for the Pistons first two games, the rookie got hungry. The lack of hustle, defense and rebounding Monroe showed in the preseason disappeared. All of a sudden, he chased after every loose ball. He learned how to handle adversity and how to compete.

If the Pistons force-feed Monroe a starting job, he might become a better player next season than he would otherwise. But if they make him earn a starting job beyond any doubt, he might become better equipped to help the Pistons during the adversity of a championship run in five years.

Edge: Ben Wallace

Verdict

The difference between each player’s case is razor thin, and in all honesty, it doesn’t make a great deal of difference. Excluding the game against the Bulls, when Wallace injured himself during the tipoff, the two have split minutes fairly equally in game where both played.

Ben Wallace’s minutes are blue, and Greg Monroe’s are red.

I won’t criticize John Kuester for starting either player.But I began this post trying to determine the Pistons’ best course of action, so I’ll give my recommendation.

Ben Wallace should start.

His apparent need to play shortly after warming up, and to a lesser degree, retaining his respect on the team, outweigh the other considerations.

Monroe would likely still play in crunch time, putting the player who best fits with the other starters on the floor when it counts. Plus, he’ll still have a goal to work toward.

We should know tonight whether John Kuester agrees.

 

Tags: Ben Wallace Greg Monroe John Kuester Tracy McGrady Will Bynum

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