I didn’t post a full recap on the Pistons’ Summer League finale, simply because there was only one thing in the game worth writing about.
After a few so-so performances that led to many questioning his energy level, Greg Monroe showed the skillset that made him a lottery pick in Detroit’s loss to New York Friday. Monroe had 27 points and 12 14 rebounds. While he only finished with 2 assists, he would’ve had at least three more — he made the right pass to teammates who just failed to convert on open shots. When he’s playing with the regular season roster, that won’t be a concern.
But I didn’t come away from Friday’s game thinking about the Summer League. I came away thinking hard about how Greg Monroe fits with the regular season roster (barring a trade), and at the risk of pissing off Chris Webber (hey C-Webb … at least Monroe is better than Darko), I am envisioning a future Pistons lineup that resembles what the early 2000s Sacramento Kings did.
If you remember those Kings teams, they operated with a point guard in name only. Mike Bibby’s job was to dribble the ball up-court and make a quick decision — shoot himself, get it to the high post (to Webber, Vlade Divac or later, Brad Miller) or hit one of the team’s shooters (Peja Stojakovic, Hedo Turkoglu, et. al.). The majority of the Kings’ offense was run through the post, thanks to the luxury of having big men who could face up, see the floor and generally make good decisions.
Bibby didn’t dominate the ball. He’s not what anyone would call an elite ball-handler. He was a very good player and a great clutch shooter.
And when you look at what he did for the Kings, there’s a guy on the Pistons who has a pretty similar skillset: Ben Gordon. Now, Bibby probably handles and passes better than Gordon, Gordon’s a better scorer than Bibby. But Gordon dribbles well enough to advance the ball upcourt. Perhaps giving him a similar assignment — advance the ball, quickly shoot or make a pass that gets the team into its offense — would break him of the bad habit he has of dribbling the air out of the ball. After Gordon advances the ball and gets it where it needs to go, he becomes important for spacing, just like Bibby was for Sacramento.
This moves Stuckey over to the off-guard spot. Not that he can’t bring the ball up or get the Pistons into their offense if necessary, but Gordon’s shooting ability makes him a guy the opposing defense would have to find right away because of the threat of the quick shot. Stuckey actually moves very well without the ball, but we just haven’t seen him much without the ball in his hands, so he hasn’t fully displayed it. Playing him with Gordon, but switching their responsibilities, allows Stuckey to focus on scoring. Defensively, he’d take the opposing team’s best guard, similar to how the Kings used Doug Christie.
The final member of that Kings lineup was Peja Stojakovic, a tall shooter who was simply on the court to score. Although in-his-prime Peja was rightfully known for this three-point stroke, before he was beset by injuries, he could actually score in a variety of ways. The Pistons just so happen to have a lanky guy with a nice stroke on their roster in Austin Daye, and as he showed this summer, Daye has a couple of counter-moves in his arsenal and is developing a decent mid-range game.
Now, of course, my way-too-generous take on the Pistons lineup doesn’t take into consideration a few big factors: for the time being, Daye and Gordon are behind Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, so if Monroe starts, he probably won’t play many minutes with Daye or Gordon. Secondly, John Kuester doesn’t seem particularly interested in changing the offensive system, ill-fitting personnel be damned. Third, the Kings had two great passing big men in Webber/Divac. The Pistons have a rookie who might be one.
But watching Monroe pick apart the Knicks, after watching a full season a year ago with several skilled players not living up to their potential, was another reminder that the Pistons actually have the personnel to be an entertaining offensive team. It’s obviously a stretch to compare them to a great up-tempo team like the Kings, but I think most fans would agree that trying a different offensive philosophy would be preferable to watching another season filled with constant isos, the team scoring in the 80s most nights and no ball movement or spacing.
Here were a couple other takes on Monroe’s strong game:
Kevin Arnovitz, TrueHoop: “No big man in the 2010 draft class has a more aesthetically pleasing offensive repertoire, something that was captured on a single play in the first half when he delivered a no-look interior pass in the paint, through traffic, to his baseline cutter. When the ball clanked out, Monroe — a prolific collegiate rebounder — grabbed it, then muscled his way to the rim through a scrum of Knick defenders for a basket-and-one. It was an assertive possession for a guy sometimes unfairly tagged with the soft label.”
Matt Watson, FanHouse: “Despite standing an inch shy of seven-feet, Monroe is known to be more of a finesse big man than a bruiser, but his offensive talents should complement Ben Wallace’s defense-first mentality on Detroit’s front line — assuming they share the court together. Wallace, who signed a two-year contract to remain with the Pistons earlier this summer, started 67 of his 69 games last season at center. That just so happens to be Monroe’s natural position, as well, although he certainly has the versatility to slide to power forward. Whether that actually happens remains to be seen.”