Detroit Pistons: Why Greg Monroe Is the Best Up-and-Coming NBA Center

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Detroit Pistons: Why Greg Monroe Is the Best Up-and-Coming NBA Center
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Detroit Pistons are a very atypical NBA franchise.

The reason being is that they consistently buck the trends of NBA truisms.

When the league says that it takes a superstar to win, the Pistons win without one.

When the league says that it takes a transcendent offense to win, the Pistons win with defense.

When the league says that it takes a big man to win it all, the Pistons win not once, not twice, but three times without one.

In fact, the Pistons have been a franchise without a big-time big man since Bob Lanier was traded to Milwaukee in February of 1980.

That is over 30 years!

During the 1980's and 90's, the Pistons were going up against the likes of David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon.

During the late 90's and the last decade, they were going up against Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard.

So while the league was trotting out some amazing big men, the Pistons were countering with Bill Laimbeer, James Edwards and a vastly undersized Ben Wallace.

In fact, the Pistons really have only attempted to bring in a stud center four times before they got lucky with Greg Monroe.

That's right, they have only drafted a true big man in the first round four times since Lanier left and Monroe came.

In 1986 they drafted John Salley No. 11 overall, in 1995 they drafted Theo Ratliff No. 18, in 1997 they drafted Scot Pollard No. 19, and of course in 2003 they took Darko Milicic with the No. 2 pick.

It's hard to say why the Pistons have avoided big men like Rob Reiner avoids Splenda, but it has definitely been a position that the Pistons have looked to fill through free agency and trades.

The overall team philosophy has typically been guard-centric, with most of the offense coming from the perimeter and the big men supplying the defense and rebounding down low.

But a funny thing has happened to this Detroit Pistons squad. They find themselves with perhaps the best up-and-coming center in the NBA.

 

Monroe vs. Lanier?

When looking at Greg Monroe and his game, you are immediately struck by how similar he is to Lanier.

They are the same height, weight and are both southpaws.

Neither is or was overly athletic, although they both made up for it with quick hands and intelligent play.

Both have a feathery touch from 10-18 feet, and both are superb rebounders.

The biggest difference between the two is defensively. Lanier was certainly stronger, able to anchor the post and impose his will against opponents. Also, Lanier was a much better shot blocker, averaging as much as three per game once it became an official statistic in the early 1970's.

Monroe, however, may already be a better offensive rebounder, which is remarkable given how young he is (21).

Obviously, Monroe has a long way to go before he reaches Lanier. Lanier was already averaging over 25 points and 14 rebounds per game by the time he was 23.

The big difference between the two is that the Pistons back then ran their offense through Lanier, something that the Pistons are just now beginning to do with Monroe.

Lanier was hoisting about 20 shots per game while Monroe is just now hovering around 12.

But given time and an offense that plays to his strengths, Monroe certainly is capable of filling Lanier's sizable shoes.

 

Monroe vs. The Field

Let's take a look at the All-Star ballot for this year and the centers therein.

There is a lot of talent on that list and a number of them are up-and-comers.

In the East, Andrew Bogut, Spencer Hawes, Roy Hibbert, Al Horford, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee qualifty.

In the West, Andrew Bynum, DeMarcus Cousins, Marc Gasol, Marcin Gortat, Al Jefferson, DeAndre Jordan, Nene and Kendrick Perkins round out the list.

First, let's take the East.

Howard should be removed since he technically already has arrived and is by far the best big man in the game.

McGee is athletic and a very good shot blocker, but he isn't in the same league as Monroe offensively. The same can be said for Hibbert and Horford.

Bogut certainly is the most talented of the rest, but consistent injuries certainly are taking their toll, and his best days are likely in the rear view mirror given the fact that he turns 28 this year.

Out West the competition is certainly more stout.

Monroe has the edge offensively over Perkins, Jordan and Gortat.

Nene is an interesting matchup for Monroe, but at age 29 he also is what he is at this stage.

It really comes down to a matchup between Monroe and Bynum, Cousins, Gasol and Jefferson.

Bynum is supremely talented, but injuries remain a concern for the Lakers big man.

The same could be said for Jefferson, although lately he has proven to be much more resilient. But Jefferson's numbers continue to trend downwards as the talent around him gets better in Utah.

Cousins is a real question mark in many ways. Though he is more athletically gifted and stronger than Monroe, he is an unquestioned knucklehead that is capable of collapsing into himself faster than a black hole.

The real competition for Monroe is Gasol. The Memphis big man is a better shot blocker, low post scorer and defensive rebounder than Monroe, and he continues to improve the other aspects of his game as well.

However, you really have to give Monroe the edge against Gasol given their ages.

Think about this, Monroe at the ripe old age of 21 is already putting up comparable numbers to Gasol who is days away from turning 27.

Therefore, the likely ceiling for each player is vastly different.

Monroe, in just his second year, is averaging 17 points and over nine rebounds per game. He is improving daily, as evidenced by the fact that he is averaging 25 points and 11 rebounds per game during his last three contests.

 

The Future

The Pistons have got to be truly giddy at the thought of another decade of play from Monroe.He has the temperament and dedication that should lead to great things for the Pistons.

The key will be how the Pistons choose to build around him.

Dominant centers need perimeter players that can shoot and drive to create easier points for them down low.

They also need some help in the form of strong power forwards to assist in doing the dirty work.

Look at the dominant big men over the last few decades.

Ewing had Charles Oakley and Charles Smith, as well as Kurt Thomas.

Olajuwon had Otis Thorpe and later, Robert Horry.

Duncan had David Robinson as well as Horry.

The Pistons need to bring in a strong big man to help take the load off of Monroe.

Doing so will allow Monroe to take his rightful place as the top center in the league.

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