That question is going to fuel how the Pistons move forward this offseason and for years to come.
Just what exactly is his future as a player? To begin answering that question, let's first assess Monroe as a player.
On the plus side, Monroe is a polished big man. He plays very well with his back to the basket, a lost art in today's NBA. He has incredibly quick hands that allow him to swipe the occasional steal. And most impressive amongst his traits as a big man is his passing ability. Few men his size can set up teammates quite like Monroe can.
Additionally, he is a fantastic rebounder, especially on the defensive end. He has a strong frame, and while not a natural athlete, he shows better than average quickness in making his move to the hoop.
However, Monroe is not without his faults. He is a terrible defender. He lacks the elite strength to hold his own down low, and he lacks the athleticism to get out on the perimeter and hang with athletic 4s. Additionally, stretch 4s will always be a nightmare for Monroe.
Offensively, he has some nice post moves, but he relies way too much on his spin move. If a defender sees Monroe on the left block facing up and dribbling with his left hand, they should immediately shift their body to Monroe's right side since he is bound to spin there.
Monroe also lacks the ability to block shots. To be nearly seven feet tall yet average less than one block per game is almost criminal. Due to his lack of jumping ability and instincts, that doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.
So why is it that I am questioning his ceiling?
For one, we haven't seen very much improvement in Monroe's game. In fact, we are seeing not only a stagnation in his development but even a little bit of a regression.
As a rookie, Monroe improved drastically from month to month, going from only about four points and five rebounds per game during the month of November to 13 points and nearly 10 boards in April.
As a second-year player, Monroe showed that his improvements were not a fluke, upping his scoring and rebounding averages to 15.4 and 9.7, respectively.
Therefore, most Pistons fans hoped that Monroe would take the next step in his development and start to flirt with 18-20 points and 10-12 rebounds per night.
Obviously, there have been extenuating circumstances, including injuries and trades. But that is a way of life in the NBA. Monroe still should have built on his second year and improved his game.
Instead, we have seen some alarming trends from him.
First, Monroe is not playing nearly as efficiently as he did in his sophomore campaign. He has seen his field goal percentage drop from 52.1 to 48.5. His scoring has only slightly improved (to 15.9) but because of his lower field goal mark, it is taking more shots to get that marginal improvement.
Second, Monroe has not only seen his field goal percentage dip, but his free-throw numbers are way down as well. As a second-year player, he had a respectable 73.9 percent average from the stripe. That has plunged all the way down to 67.6. This again falls in line with his lack of efficiency. He is shooting one more free throw per game, yet making less than half of a point more to show for it.
Third, while Monroe has improved his assist numbers (3.3 versus 2.3), his turnovers have jumped to nearly three per game. For a point guard, this isn't bad. But for a big man, that is pretty high.
Overall, Monroe has not improved his faults and has actually decreased his effectiveness in executing his strengths.
Where can he improve
Some of Monroe's weaknesses will never becomes his strengths. He is never going to develop into an elite athlete, and he will never play above the rim or become a shot-blocker.
Those traits and skills just aren't in the cards for him. But that's okay—those faults can be compensated for by the Pistons' other big man, Andre Drummond.
That being said, Monroe needs to improve on a few things in order to take the next step in his development.
First, he needs to improve the range of his jump shot. As of now, Monroe is effective out to about 14 feet. But once you get into that 15-to-18-foot range his numbers fall of a cliff.
From 15 feet in, Monroe is hitting over 52 percent of his shots this year. Outside of that range, his percentage falls to just over 30 percent.
Monroe needs to pattern his game after someone like Patrick Ewing or Charles Oakley or even Chris Bosh. If he can consistently knock down the open 15-foot jump shot, he will open up space for Drummond down low and work the high-low post game much more effectively.
If Monroe could get his shooting percentage in that range up to where Bosh's is (50.9), he would have hit roughly 40 more shots this year. That would be roughly 80 more points, which would put his average up to about 17 points per game. When teams respect his outside jumper they will be forced to play up on him which will allow him more space to drive the hoop.
Despite not having a ton of quickness, taking the ball to the basket is actually something that Monroe does well. This will basically cancel out the few additional shots that he misses from a deeper range.
But once he gets to the hoop, he will need to capitalize on his free throws. With his touch, making less than 70 percent from the stripe is unacceptable. If Monroe shot what he did last year from the free-throw line, he would have an additional 20 points this year. That may not sound like a ton, but that alone would get him over 16 points per game.
Little tweaks in Monroe's game could easily drive his points-per-game average up to where it should be.
Major decision ahead
The Pistons have a major decision on their hands. Monroe is still playing on his rookie contract, a deal that runs out after next year, at which point he will be a restricted free agent and the Pistons will be able to match any offer extended to him.
However, this comes back down to the fundamental question of this article: Is Monroe reaching his ceiling as a player? And if so, what is that worth?
A lot of that value has to do with how he pairs with Drummond. If he can work on his defensive tendencies and effort, he might be able to at least cover up some of his deficiencies on that end.
But just as important, he has to show that he can knock down the mid-range foot jumper. If he can get that up to about 45 percent or higher, the Pistons offense will become much more dynamic, and Drummond could really break out.
Therefore, next year will be a crucial one for Monroe and the Pistons. If his development stagnates and there are no improvements either on defense or in his offensive game, the Pistons might want to consider fielding offers for Monroe.
Obviously this could be considered sacrilege in some circles, but if Drummond and Monroe can't play together, Monroe is the obvious one to be dealt. Drummond has a much bigger impact on a game than Monroe and is a much rarer talent in today's NBA.
That's why Drummond's injury last month was so devastating for the Pistons. Given that Monroe is not overly eager to sign an extension with Detroit at this point in time, it would have been nice to pair the two together over the last few months of the season to see if there is a natural chemistry between them.
If they struggled together, then the Pistons would have some leverage in contract negotiations and perhaps give them an open window to deal him for another high draft pick.
But this is all very premature. Players with Monroe's skill set are rare enough to merit some patience. Should he develop into the player that they hope he can become, then he certainly will earn a hefty raise—perhaps not a maximum contract, but something in the range of $10-12 million per season would be in line with his talents.
The good news is that the Pistons will have one more season to determine whether or not to keep Monroe and Drummond together.
By no means should this article be taken as an indictment on Monroe. Nor should it be a reason for concern.
Monroe is a tremendous talent who has a bright future in this league. That being said, there are legitimate concerns about the stagnation and signs of regression in his game.
If Monroe improves in the ways outlined in this article, he certainly will make himself an invaluable member of this team, which will raise his ceiling.
However, another season in which he takes a step backwards should give the Pistons pause and perhaps open the door to trade talks.
Either way, it will be an interesting year or two in Detroit.
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