Internal Improvement: Greg Monroe

Tom Gores said it better happen. Jonas Jerebko guaranteed it. Rodney Stuckey agreed.

The Detroit Pistons can certainly make the playoffs this season, but given how similar the team is to last year’s, it won’t be easy. It appears the Pistons are mostly relying on internal improvement in order to exceed expectations and reach the postseason.

For our 2012 preview series, Patrick and I will each examine one area where we see realistic room for improvement from each Piston. Today, we look at Greg Monroe.

Defense

Greg Monroe excels in the two areas where big men are most judged – scoring and rebounding – so his poor defense has been mostly unnoticed. Actually, Monroe has been mostly unnoticed despite clearly being the best player in his draft class to date.

But as Monroe begins to get the positive attention he deserves nationally, it’s time for his defense to catch up.

Monroe should be able defend in at least one of two ways. 1. He could improve his quickness, leaping ability and recognition in order to become a valuable help defender who protects the rim. 2. He could improve his core strength in order to become strong enough to prevent opponents from successfully posting up. Right now, Monroe provides help in neither of these areas, but I’d prefer to see him take the second route. For one, Monroe’s offensive game isn’t exactly predicated on speed, so bulking up shouldn’t hinder him on that end. Plus, Andre Drummond is shaping up to be the Pistons’ help-side shot blocker of the future, so if Monroe can keep opposing bigs from establishing good position, that would be a huge help. — D.F.

Steals

Monroe certainly has the tools to be better defensively. He’s strong, he’s mobile and he’s smart. His lack of explosive athleticism will never let him be an elite big man defender, but those other things will eventually make him solid.

In the interim, though, he’ll become more useful if he’s able to consistently take advantage of his quick hands. Although he doesn’t block many shots, he’s pretty good at stripping the ball from players as they go up for shots. This is a really useful skill — as Dan Feldman always likes to point out, steals are one of the more under-valued stats in basketball because they often lead to transition opportunities, which then lead to more high percentage shots, especially for a team like Detroit that’s not always great in the halfcourt.

Anyway, if Monroe can get more steals on defense and combine that with his new-found confidence starting the break, he could potentially help the Pistons pick up a couple more easy scoring opportunities per game. For a team that figures to be in close games a lot this season, those couple extra possessions could be pivotal. — P.H.

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