By Brian Spencer
There’s a been a big story brewing in Detroit the past few months, and it has nothing to do with the near team-wide turmoil that’s grabbed all the headlines and threatened to swallow the once-proud Pistons franchise whole. It doesn’t involve embattled head coach John Kuester, or apparent player protests by petulent, overpaid players, or public spats between player and coach, or idiot free-agent busts retweeting messages critical of Kuester. It doesn’t involve the ongoing struggle of Karen Davidson to unload her deceased husband’s franchise onto a willing buyer.
Forget all of that garbage. It’s background noise. Deafening noise this year, maybe, but ultimately insignificant. Flush all that silliness that has become the Pistons’ 2010-11 season down the toilet and forget the whole thing as quickly as possible.
Forget everything, that is, except for the lone positive to emerge from this disastrous trainwreck: rookie big man Greg Monroe. This kid is quietly turning into a legit post presence with each passing game, and has risen above the drama to turn in the type of credentials that should earn him serious NBA All-Rookie First Team honors–especially given the maelstrom of shit that’s been swirling around him all year. So far, Monroe has emerged as the best big man to emerge from the 2010 NBA Draft class.
The Big East’s Rookie of the Year as a Georgetown Hoya in ’09, Monroe was taken 7th overall by the Pistons and was the fourth big off the board behind Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins, and Ekpe Udoh. Only 20 years old, Monroe was expected to endure a steep learning curve, and wasn’t necessarily being counted on for the type of minutes he’s playing now. Most observers expected growing pains, especially early on. Tolerance and patience were the keys, and I think the Pistons were onboard with that.
Back on November 9, Portland Trail Blazers TV analyst Mike Rice mercilessly tore into Monroe early in the broadcast of what turned out to be an embarassing 100-78 home loss for the Blazers at the hands of the Pistons. The unfair and off-base criticisms came out of nowhere and without much reason, with Rice deriding Monroe’s work ethic, claiming the Pistons were not happy with him and essentially wished they hadn’t drafted him, and basically writing him off as a bust a whopping 8 games into his NBA career. (Monroe incurred two DNP-CDs in the team’s first two games, so technically he was just 6 games in.)
Perhaps Rice let his personal bitterness over Greg Oden’s bust status boil over onto Monroe? Either way, I usually enjoy Blazers broadcasts but was embarassed for Rice that night. His mysterious diatribe sounded amateurish and uninformed, and just a few short months later, Monroe is making him eat every single one of those misguided words, and then some.
Since January 1, Monroe has been entrenched in the starting lineup and logged somewhere in the neighborhood of 34 minutes per in the past 29 games. During that stretch, he’s posted strong pers of 12.1 points (59% FG), 9 boards, 1.3 steals, and about 1 block, including double-doubles in 4 of his past 5 games (he missed the fifth by 1 rebound). You’d like to see more blocks from your 6-11 center, but that should come in time, along with more assists given his obvious talents as a passer.
Monroe has kept his head down, his nose clean, and his work ethic intact throughout this messy transition season for the Pistons and that, perhaps more than his statistical output, is what’s key here. Monroe is a quiet, humble guy by nature, but there’s a clear leadership vacuum in the locker room, and it’s going to become even more vacant next year when Tayshaun Prince is gone, Ben Wallace is probably gone, and (hopefully) Richard Hamilton’s situation has been somehow resolved and he’s gone too. As a Pistons fan, I’ll always appreciate those guys and what they brought to the city of Detroit, but pro sports is a cruel profession: it’s obviously time for them all to move on. It’s time for a change of the guard.
Can Monroe develop into the rock this franchise so desperately needs? They better hope so: the jury is still out on guys like Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko and their ability to lead, while pending restricted free-agent Rodney Stuckey has unfortunately not yet hinted at much of any ability to be a dependable cornerstone. If Monroe is a quiet guy, fine: maybe he can be the Pistons’ version of Tim Duncan, if not statistically than at least in stature.
That would take some time for a guy who won’t be able to legally drink until June, sure, but the focus is quickly and necessarily shifting in his direction. This franchise needs him badly. The talent, still very much in the development phase, is there–but whether he likes it or not, talent and production isn’t enough.
This team needs Greg Monroe to be a leader.
Greg Monroe Photo Credit: Icon SMI