Zach Lowe analyzes Greg Monroe’s defense, Brandon Knight’s offense

You should read Zach Lowe’s article about the Pistons. More simply, you should read Zach Lowe. The Grantland writer, whom I consider the best NBA reporter around, is a must-read for any serious basketball fan, but it’s an extra treat when he discusses the Pistons.

You might realize Greg Monroe has issues on defense and Brandon Knight struggles as a playmaker, but the level of detail Lowe provides is incredible. I’ll give a couple excerpts, but read the whole article.

Greg Monroe’s defense

Lowe on Monroe:

Monroe is a very good offensive player, but he’s a glaring liability on defense in a league getting smaller and quicker. He’s a turnstile trying to contain the pick-and-roll out on the floor — a mess of bad footwork, poor timing, lazy reaches, and bad choices. When Detroit has him hang back at the foul line, ball handlers can zip around him with an easy crossover or launch wide-open jumpers as Monroe, petrified at giving up a rim run, retreats a step farther than most bigs would dare — often with his arms down. Pistons fans complained, with some justification, about Lawrence Frank’s reluctance to play Monroe and Drummond together for much of last season, but Monroe’s total inability to guard stretchier power forwards factored into that choice — just as it should factor into Detroit’s evaluation of things now.

When the Pistons asked Monroe to attack the ball higher on the floor, the mess was almost worse. Point guards can juke Monroe with laughable ease by faking toward a screener, watching Monroe lurch in that direction, and then crossing over the other way and into an unpatrolled lane. Monroe is often late in jumping out above a screen, meaning his momentum is going too hard the wrong way (toward half court) as the opposing point guard revs up to turn the corner. And when Detroit has asked him to hedge sideways, as in the still below, Monroe often arrives too late to cut off the ball handler

As someone who did more than his fair share of complaining about Lawrence Frank refusing to play Monroe and Andre Drummond together enough, I didn’t believe Monroe and Drummond would immediately thrive together. I wanted to see more of the pairing because those two might not perfectly complement each other immediately.

Drummond and Monroe are – by far – the Pistons’ two most valuable assets. In a lost season, there was no reason not to give them time to adapt to each other. That would have been valuable for the Pistons’ future in two respects. 1. Drummond and Monroe would have gotten better at playing together. 2. The team would have learned more about whether those two can coexist.

I suspect playing Monroe and Drummond, the team’s top two players, together more would have made the Pistons’ better despite the duo’s deficiencies. But my primary reason for wanting more of the pairing had to do with the future and ironing out those problems.

Brandon Knight’s offense

Lowe on Knight:

He also has a troubling habit of short-circuiting pick-and-rolls before they have a chance to develop, mostly by pursuing his own shot. One maddening tic: Knight loves to go around a pick in normal fashion, only to immediately cross back over toward the middle of the foul line and attack from there. Getting into the middle of the floor is generally a good thing. But doing so 18 feet from the hoop at the start of a pick-and-roll creates some problems. It puts Knight right in front of his rolling big man, mucking up the floor and taking away the most important passing lane in the pick-and-roll. And by getting middle so early, Knight allows opponents to defend the play without tilting all five guys too far toward one side — the dramatic kind of contortions that stretch a defense to its breaking point. The floor has appeared so tight in Detroit over the last two seasons in part because Knight hasn’t been able to exploit the cracks that do appear.

It will be imperative Knight improves those skills, especially if he starts next season. A Monroe-Drummond-Josh Smith frontline will cause matchup problems with its size, but it will also cause spacing issues in the halfcourt offense. The Pistons need guards who alleviate those concerns, not exasperate them.

Summer of 2009

Lowe also gave a theory why the Pistons signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, one I’d never heard before:

a sellout streak that gathered an outsize importance and helped drive the franchise, addicted to trumpeting the streak, into its 2009 free-agency freakout

The Pistons sold out 259 straight games between January 2004 and February 2009. The Pistons claimed to sell out 259 straight games between January 2004 and February 2009. By midway through the 2008-09 season – the year of Allen Iverson, Michael Curry and the Pistons’ first losing record in eight seasons – fans had noticeably stopped filling The Palace, especially for midweek games. The Pistons gave away tickets to prop up the streak, but eventually, it had to end.

This would explain why Karen Davidson, reported to be very tight with her checkbook, allowed Joe Dumars to spend $95 million on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. Those would have been worthwhile investments if she believed they would bring fans back.

Obviously, the exact opposite happened.

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Tags: Andre Drummond Ben Gordon Brandon Knight Charlie Villanueva Greg Monroe Josh Smith Karen Davidson Lawrence Frank

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