For Greg Monroe, Pistons to progress, defense must get way better

I’d like to write about Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, the Pistons main building blocks.

I’d like to explain how the Pistons have excellent prospects (and solid players) at the two most important positions in basketball, center and point guard.

I’d like to imagine when Monroe (22 points on 9-of-12 shooting with nine rebounds, six offensive, and four assists against the Celtics tonight) and Knight (23 points on 10-of-13 shooting, six assists and two steals against the Cavaliers on Wednesday) are clicking on the same night.

But the Pistons’ immediate problems, including the ones involving Monroe and Knight, are too startling. With an 0-10 start on the horizon, it doesn’t seem right to focus on the positive.

The Pistons are NBA medicine.

Start the season 0-3, including a blowout at the hands of the Eric Gordon-less Hornets, like the Celtics did? No problem, the Pistons will cure you with a 96-85 win and let you build a lead as high as 25.

Greg Monroe is an extra-strength dose.

Offensively, Monroe showed what made him so effective last year. He crashed the offensive glass and put himself in position to receive dumpoff passes, converting layups when his teammates found him. He also showed why he has so much potential. He often set up in the high post, hitting cutters with pinpoint passes or knocking down his improved mid-range jumper. If he continues to mesh both styles, he’ll be an elite offensive player.

But as the anchor of the Pistons’ defense, Monroe is wholly overmatched.

Maybe that’s an unfair burden for Monroe, and the Pistons could help him by adding a legitimate defensive big man to play next to him. Hopefully, they find that player in the next draft. They’ll certainly have options, because the lottery will be full of bigs the Pistons will have a high pick.

For now, they don’t have that player, and the responsibility falls to Monroe. Even when the Pistons eventually get him help, that won’t be enough on its own. He doesn’t defend well enough to serve as the second-best defensive big man on a contender. He reads the passing lanes well and has quick hands, his saving graces, and made two steals tonight.

But his man-to-man and help defense are poor. Jermaine O’Neal (19 points on 7-of-9 shooting and seven rebounds) and Brandon Bass (17 points on 7-of-11 shooting) took turns abusing Monroe.

Eventually, it got so bad, Ben Wallace entered the game for the first time late in the third quarter. It wouldn’t have surprised me if Wallace was schedule to have the night off, with the Pistons hosting the Pacers tomorrow. At 37, he might not be capable of playing back-to-backs, and it makes little difference whether he sits out the first or second game. But Monroe’s defense was so bad tonight, Wallace became necessary.

Despite all of Lawrence Frank’s talk about defense, the Pistons are bad defensive team. That’s not necessarily Frank’s fault – Detroit has bad defensive players – but it’s disheartening, nonetheless. Multiple times, the Pistons allowed a Celtic to leak out for an uncontested layup.

Those aren’t all Monroe’s fault, and the Pistons have several sieves. But tonight, he was the worst culprit. Plus, he’s one of two players who are, bar none, the center of Detroit’s future. Fairly, expectations for him are a bit higher.

Multiple times tonight, Monroe pointed to himself after a Celtics basket, indicating that one was on him. To me, that action was unnecessary. I’m already looking at him, and I don’t like what I see.

As good as his offense is, Monroe won’t be a true franchise cornerstone until his defense improves. And as long as the Pistons depend on him, they won’t be a true playoff threat until his defense improves.

Point guard problems

If you believe Brandon Knight should start, you’re totally right. Rodney Stuckey (1-of-11 for three points) was terrible.

If you believe Brandon Knight should come off the bench, you’re totally right. Knight (3-of-11 for 10 points with two turnovers and no assists) was terrible.

Really, both played poorly, and I doubt anyone change their mind on The Great Knight Debate of 2011.* Everyone will just see their opinion as validated by tonight’s game.

*Which will surely become The Great Knight Debate of 2012 in two days.

As someone who believes Knight should still come off the bench for now, I know this game didn’t change my opinion. Despite all of Stuckey’s misses, he had seven assists, and the offense seemed to flow a bit better when he was in the game.

I’m not totally convinced Stuckey is better than Knight, but I’m not ready to shake everything up and increase the pressure on Knight.

By the way, if you’re wondering about Will Bynum, he played just two minutes, not enough time to show anything of consequence.

Ben Gordon’s passing

Ben Gordon has passed very well the last couple days. With five assists tonight and four against the Cavaliers, he has nine assists in his last two games. It’s been more than a full year since Gordon had such a high-assist two-game stretch.

At least once, Gordon grabbed a defensive rebound, brought the ball up himself and initiated the offense. Are the Pistons giving him more point guard-like responsibilities?

Austin Daye’s slump buster?

Austin Daye missed four of his first five shots, but he made four of his last six shots to finish with 11 points. Hopefully, that sets him on the right track after he went 0-for-8 with no points in the Pistons’ first two games.

But sometimes, we see patterns where none exist, and Daye’s 5-of-11 night doesn’t exactly inspire on the whole. It will take a good game, not just a few good quarters, from Daye until I’m convinced he’s back on track.

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Tags: Austin Daye Ben Gordon Brandon Knight Greg Monroe Rodney Stuckey

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