After falling to DeAndre Jordan and the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday, the Pistons fell to 17-24. If the season had ended right then, they'd not only sit below .500, but they'd be outside of the playoff picture, even in the ridiculously weak Eastern Conference.
This was supposed to be a year of success. A year of dominant defense and an abundance of offensive weapons—and the combination was surely going to push the Pistons to the top of the East.
Instead, 2013-14 has been filled with struggle after struggle.
The reason he's at the center of the storm is Detroit's ability to move his expiring deal before he hits free agency at the end of the campaign.
And there lies the dilemma: Should the Pistons count on Monroe as a piece for the future?
To answer this, we have to rewind and first determine the big man's natural position.
Power Forward or Center?
Historically, Monroe has usually been a center.
Dating back to his days in high school, he was viewed as a power forward. In fact, Scout.com gave him a 5-star rating, ranked him No. 8 overall and had him listed behind only Samardo Samuels at the position. But then, he grew an inch.
Monroe played center throughout his two years with the Georgetown Hoyas and he entered the draft in 2010 with the ability to play either position. DraftExpress.com even listed him as a PF/C, but leaned toward calling him a 5.
Below you can see the breakdown of the time he's spent at each position since entering the league in 2010, as provided by 82games.com:
Basketball-Reference estimates things a bit differently, claiming that Monroe spent 100 percent of his time at center each of the last three seasons. But either way, the point still stands: This is the first year that Monroe has been asked play significant minutes at the 4.
Monroe has yet to raise his game when slotted at power forward. Change is acceptable so long as it's beneficial, and it's best that teams don't get stuck in a rut.
But unfortunately for the Pistons, things haven't worked out so nicely with Monroe at the 4.
82games shows that the big man has posted a PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 17.6 while playing power forward—he's allowed opponents to post an 18.9 PER. That's a net PER of minus-1.3, although the statistical databases indicate that rounding errors are steering us away from a more-accurate number of minus-1.4.
When he plays center, he's posting a 19.9 PER and holding opponents to 15.5. That's a net PER of 4.4.
That's a pretty sizable difference, as Monroe is more effective at center on both ends of the court.
NBA.com's statistical databases (subscription required) also show that Monroe's most effective five-man unit (among the ones with at least 30 minutes played) is outscoring opponents by 20.3 points per 100 possessions.
He plays center in these units.
In fact, the big man has been a part of eight five-man units that have spent at least 30 minutes together, and here's how he's fared in them:
|Lineup Rank||Position||Net Rating|
Based on all that information, which position would you rather have him at?
It seems like center is emerging as the clear-cut favorite.
Worth Max Money?
Even though Detroit has insisted on playing Monroe at a position that doesn't truly suit him, he's still putting together a fairly nice season.
Heading into Wednesday's contest against the Milwaukee Bucks, the former Hoya standout is averaging 14.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.5 blocks while shooting 50.2 percent from the field.
It's the worst season Monroe has recorded since his rookie campaign, and that's largely due to the lack of time he gets to spend with the ball in his hands. Now that the Pistons have a ball-dominating point guard (Brandon Jennings), a ball hog (Josh Smith) and a developing center who needs touches (Andre Drummond), Monroe simply isn't as involved.
Basketball-Reference shows that his usage rate has declined from 24.8 to 20.7, and his assist percentage has nosedived. Part of what's always made Monroe a special center is his passing, but he can't feed the ball to his teammates if he doesn't have it.
Last season, his assist percentage of 18.6 was ridiculously good for a frontcourt player. To put that in perspective, Blake Griffin—who earns rave reviews for his passing skills—currently boasts a 16.7 assist percentage.
But this season, it's plummeted to 9.7.
Is that due to declining skills? Absolutely not; if anything, Monroe should only be getting better since he's just 23 years old. If he was able to dominate to such a great extent last year, he shouldn't fall off so dramatically.
That's just a testament to his changing role with the Pistons, as well as the ineffectiveness following the switch.
Monroe is a young big man with an abundance of skills, so long as they're milked from him in the right manner. And such players come as a premium, as B/R's D.J. Foster explained quite well:
Talented young big men who can score on the block, pass incredibly well and clean the glass don't come available all that often, and so it seems like Monroe will be a lock to receive a maximum offer in free agency, which will be a four-year deal starting at roughly $15 million a season.
According to Foster, Monroe isn't just a candidate for a max deal.
He's a near lock.
Remember, he plays at a position that's crucial to most teams with championships dreams, and he's one of the few established options that can make some noise in All-Star conversations. Not this year, but he's done so in the past and will in the future, so long as he's handled properly.
But is he a max-deal candidate for the Pistons?
Worth Max Money on the Pistons?
This, above all else, is the most crucial question for the Motor City squad, and the front office doesn't have much time to figure out its answer.
If Detroit is either unsure of its decision to the above inquiry or decides that it's a firm "no," then the logical move is to trade him prior to the Feb. 20 deadline. Failing to move him means that Monroe hits the market as a restricted free agent, one sure to sign a max or near-max offer sheet with one of the Association's 29 other teams.
At that point, the Pistons will either have to match the offer or let him walk away for absolutely nothing.
And there are already some vultures.
"One team that is interested in Monroe is the Washington Wizards, according to multiple league sources. It’s becoming clear that Washington is planning to pursue Monroe, either through trade or free agency," writes Basketballinsiders.com's Alex Kennedy.
Even Rodney Stuckey—who may also be on the block—recognizes that the team could use some shooters.
"Why wouldn’t you want a three-point shooter to spread the floor? Anybody would take that," the combo guard told The Detroit News' Vincent Goodwill. "It’s not up to me, you’re putting a lot of heat on me. To tell the truth, it’s on (general manager Joe Dumars) and the rest of those guys to make that decision."
It makes sense to trade him, simply because he's not worth max money on the Pistons.
If the man they call "Moose" isn't going to play center, he's not worth an eight-figure salary. And as long as Andre Drummond calls Detroit home, Moose isn't going to play center.
Drummond is taking the league by storm, drumming up some All-Star hype even though he wouldn't be able to enjoy all that Bourbon Street has to offer. After all, the true center is averaging 12.7 points and 12.6 rebounds per game, but he's only 20 of age.
I won't get into everything that makes Drummond so special, but he's clearly the future of the franchise. If Joe Dumars were asked to pick his franchise player, he'd select the Connecticut product without pausing for a second.
Additionally, parting ways with Monroe, particularly if it's a backcourt player or true small forward they get in return, Josh Smith can now move back to the 4. He'd actually be an effective asset there, rather than an overpaid liability.
So really, this isn't much of a dilemma after all.
The Pistons can either hold onto Monroe and wait to let him walk away for nothing or pay him a max deal and continue to fail in maximizing his talents—or they can deal him and dramatically improve the lineup.
Shouldn't be tough to pick between those options.