Greg Monroe and Ben Wallace give Pistons nothing inside in loss to Rockets

Greg Monroe played like Ben Wallace tonight, and that was the problem.

They both started, both vanished offensively and both were abused defensively in a 97-80 loss to the Houston Rockets.

The Pistons are stuck in a limbo where their old players are no longer good, and their young players aren’t good yet. It’s not pretty, and nights like tonight display the low end.

Monroe didn’t score until the fourth quarter and finished 2-of-9 for four points. His 11 rebounds and six assists were fine, but his four turnovers stunk. Wallace (zero points and four rebounds in 19 minutes) wasn’t much better.

Monroe, whether matched up with Samuel Dalembert or Luis Scola, struggled to keep the Rockets’ bigs out of the paint. Wallace blocked three shots, but he wasn’t any more effective than Monroe at preventing Dalembert (14 points on 7-of-12 shooting with 12 rebounds, six offensive) and Scola (14 points on 5-of-12 shooting with five rebounds, three offensive) from establishing position inside.

Sure, there will be nights Monroe controls the offense with efficient shooting and passing. There will also be nights Wallace dazzles defensively by showing his legs are just spry enough to allow his supreme basketball intelligence shine. Occasionally, both might happen during the same game, and it will be extremely fun to watch.

But the swings in production have been wild, and they’ll continue to be for the entire team. The short list of Pistons who are theoretically in their prime – Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva – aren’t very good. That leaves a roster full of players too young to play well every night and players too old to play well every night.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of evaluating a player at his best or worst and thinking that’s his real value. Tonight should serve reality check that Monroe isn’t one of the NBA’s top players yet.

The game should also cause Lawrence Frank to revaluate whether Wallace should start. At 37, Wallace is no longer the dependable option he was just two years ago and although Jerebko is an undersized power forward, he might have more success at the position than Wallace.

Bad teams can’t win when their starting big men play so poorly. The good news is they likely won’t look as bad as they did tonight again. Many of us made the mistake of evaluating Monroe at his best. Let’s not demonize him for his worst.

Let’s just respect that he, and his team, have a lot of work ahead.

Tayshaun Prince finally looks healthy

Tayshaun Prince scored 20 points tonight, the same number he scored against the Warriors on Sunday, but I was much more impressed with his play tonight. For the first time since his knee began bothering him, he looked healthy.

Prince made shots to end the first (dunk) and third quarters (long jumper) because he hustled past the Rockets’ defense. I’m not sure he could’ve raced up the court like that a few days ago, even though he said he was healthy.

His points came against set defenses when the game was still competitive, and hopefully, that bodes well for the rest of the four(!)-year contract the Pistons gave him.

Brandon Knight plays hard in face of pressure

As predicted, Kyle Lowry gave Brandon Knight a lot of trouble. Lowry made three steals, and Knight had six turnovers. It appeared the Pistons had enough of the matchup, and Rodney Stuckey spent more time running the offense when Knight was on the court with him in the second half.

Still, Knight (15 points and four assists) showed determination in getting to the rim. His stats are bit inflated due to strong garbage-time play, but I’m happy with him.

Defensively, Knight was just as aggressive, totaling three steals and five fouls. He took one steal coast to coast for an easy layup. I hope Knight continues to gamble a bit more defensively. He has the length to collect more steals, and the ensuing offensive advantage they create provides more value than just staying in front of his man.

Ben Gordon locks down

Ben Gordon not only played hard defensively tonight – he does that more than he gets credit for – he played effective defense. In the process of holding Kevin Martin to 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting and just two free-throw attempts, Gordon had three steals and two blocks – the first time he’s had multiple steals and blocks in a game.

Gordon was solid offensively, scoring 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting, but his defense impressed me much more.

Jonas Jerebko off in first game off the bench

I wouldn’t read much into Jonas Jerebko’s off night. He shot 2-of-8, but a few of those misses were good looks he’d typically make that rimmed out. He was up and down guarding Luis Scola and going for defensive rebounds, but he offensively rebounded well and showed good energy.

Tags: Ben Gordon Ben Wallace Brandon Knight Greg Monroe Jonas Jerebko Lawrence Frank Rodney Stuckey Tayshaun Prince