The New Orleans Pelicans have experienced their fair share of failures over the last two seasons, but perhaps none loom larger than the inability to find a reliable frontcourt partner for star big man Anthony Davis to grow with. In Detroit Pistons big man and New Orleans native Greg Monroe, they could very well acquire a perfect fit.
Up to this point, we haven't seen Davis with a player as talented as Monroe. Ryan Anderson's season-ending neck injury kept that pairing from expanding on its offensive potential and ironing out the wrinkles defensively. The same could be said for Jason Smith (albeit on a smaller scale), as he's a big-bodied mid-range jump shooter the Pelicans also lost early in the year.
Other frontcourt partners for Davis haven't quite worked out, either. Big bangers like Alexis Ajinca and Greg Stiemsma have limited what Davis could do on both ends, which is sort of a scary proposition considering how good Davis really has been.
But what Davis really needs, aside from a healthy Jrue Holiday to deliver him the ball, is a player who can consistently play next to him for a full season. There should be no more shuttling in and out of bottom-barrel talent. Davis needs to build chemistry and define himself as a player next to his frontcourt partner, and that's tough to do when the faces are constantly changing.
As we've seen, Davis will look great next to just about anyone, but the Pelicans shouldn't be content with settling for that. General manager Dell Demps has had a tough time varying the types of talent on the roster, and head coach Monty Williams has struggled to make it all blend, but there's obviously potential for greatness here. Davis is capable of being that dominant on both ends of the floor.
But which direction will New Orleans choose to go? Is the plan to hope that Anderson will stay healthy this year and that the duo will defend better than before? Or do the Pelicans need to look outside of the organization and target a player like Monroe?
While Anderson is certainly a very good player and one of the league's best shooters, he may be a luxury New Orleans can't really afford. While floor spacing is undoubtedly important, Anderson is a below-average player in nearly every other aspect of the game.
If New Orleans had better overall players in the backcourt who were reliable, maybe things would be a bit different. That's just not the case, though. Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans are streaky, injury-prone players who both need the ball quite a bit, and you wonder how many possessions will be stolen from Davis when this core is fully healthy.
Although his versatility allows him to do just about everything, ideally, you'd want Davis to focus on being a weak-side shot-blocker, rim protector and deadly pick-and-roll defender defensively while working in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations offensively.
That's primarily because his biggest strength other than length is his mobility. Forcing him to stay in the paint and bang with guys thicker and stronger than him isn't leveraging his strengths, even though he can do it just fine. You want Davis on the move, wreaking havoc all over the floor.
Getting back Holiday and Anderson will help on both ends, but as the San Antonio Spurs have shown us, the truly great offenses don't have "dead" players who can't score, pass, cut and think all at a moment's notice.
You can still be really good playing four-on-five, essentially, but if you can find a big man who can be comfortable in different areas of the floor and exchange roles with Davis on the fly, then you're really cooking.
Those kind of players are often hard to locate, but Monroe, a restricted free agent this offseason, should most definitely be jumping off the radar.
Here's Sean Deveney of the Sporting News with more:
The fact that Van Gundy opted for the Pistons over the other team in pursuit of him—the Warriors—offers some insight, one league general manager told Sporting News.
“There are two things that made that job better for Stan,” the GM said. “One is the fact that he gets to make personnel decisions, that is a big deal of course. But the other is Andre Drummond. If you want to build your team around a young player, Drummond is the guy.
"You’re not going to build around both him and Monroe, they had too much trouble making that work. You pick Drummond and move on from Monroe.”
Ideally, Van Gundy’s offense will be constructed like the one he had in Orlando, which was innovative at the time—he wants to spread the floor with shooters and create space for a power big man down low. It will be Drummond in Detroit, just as it had been Dwight Howard with the Magic.
If Van Gundy wants to construct an offense similar to the one he had in Orlando with Howard, he might seek out a familiar face to help him accomplish that. That's where Anderson comes in as trade bait, as he played under Van Gundy for three seasons as a tried and true stretch 4.
But is it really that simple? Just a sign-and-trade of Monroe over to New Orleans for Anderson? While it's possible it could be, Monroe would seemingly have more value as a trade asset, which could complicate things.
Here's what Van Gundy told Perry Farrell of the Detroit Free Press on Monroe's contract situation:
Before you talk about style of play we have a current roster right here, right now and we’ve got to build around that, and I think a key piece around that right now is the Greg Monroe situation as a restricted free agent. What’s going to go on there? With Greg and Andre Drummond you certainly have to play a little bit differently than we played in Orlando. That doesn’t mean you still can’t find a fit.
We have two of the best young guys in the league. I value Greg Monroe highly. I do want him here, but obviously when you’re dealing with a free agent, even restricted free agents, the situation gets a little more complicated.
We’ve sat down face-to-face and they know how highly I value him. Greg Monroe is a very good young talent. He has great offensive skills. He has very high character. Those are things we value a great deal. I hope he’s here for the long haul.
As a restricted free agent, it's very possible that Monroe inks a max offer sheet this offseason, as smart 24-year-old big men who are this reliable and can score with their backs to the basket don't grow on trees.
Would Detroit be willing to match a max offer and sit tight, even though the trio of Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Monroe was a disaster last year?
It doesn't seem all that likely, and so the potential reality of Monroe and the Pistons being stuck with each other for the future might provide motivation for both sides to work together and find a good fit elsewhere. That's exactly what happened with Tyreke Evans last offseason, who was a restricted free agent with Sacramento for whom Demps negotiated a sign-and-trade deal.
That might be in the cards for Detroit this offseason, as Deveney from the Sporting News explains here:
Van Gundy’s priority will be to work with Monroe and Falk to find a sign-and-trade deal, allowing Van Gundy to address the big weakness on his team—perimeter shooting, a vital aspect of Van Gundy’s offensive approach. The Pistons shot 32.1 percent from the 3-point line, which was 29th in the league last season.
Multiple league executives said that New Orleans, where Monroe is from, would be on his list, and it is easy to imagine a pairing of Monroe with young star big man Anthony Davis.
Either way, the arrival of Van Gundy means that Monroe’s tenure in Detroit is probably over.
If Monroe decides he wants to play in New Orleans, some cooperation could make this happen fairly easily so long as Van Gundy wants Anderson.
But how would Monroe look next to Davis? With the league going small, would trending the other way make a whole lot of sense?
It's the interchangeability and stretch that matters more than the actual size, but that often gets lost in translation. Davis can cover every player who spends time at the 4, and his jumper has enough range to make defenses come out and guard him.
Monroe, meanwhile, is a traditional low-post scorer, but he's also an excellent passer from all spots on the floor. He would burn up defenses for sending too much help toward Davis, and if Williams wanted to borrow from former mentor Gregg Popovich's playbook, he could position Monroe at the high post and really play through him. It would all be familiar for Monroe, anyway, as he's a Princeton-offense-trained big man, meaning he knows how to find backdoor cutters.
Basically, the basketball I.Q. of Davis and Monroe together is too high not to work offensively, especially when things slow down in the halfcourt, which is where Williams wants his teams to play.
Even though Monroe isn't a very good defender on an individual or team level, he can fulfill a defined role. He'll bang, he'll hit the defensive glass, and he'll sap up space just fine. He's not a shot-blocker, but Davis can offset that so long as Evans, Gordon and Holiday defend at the levels they're capable of. New Orleans would really need to find a "3-and-D" guy at small forward with a Monroe-Davis pairing, but continuity would play the biggest role here.
At least in that respect, there aren't many more dependable producers in the league at the 4 or 5 than Monroe. He's missed just one game in the last three years, despite playing for a crummy team.
It's also important to remember that big men typically blossom a lot later than guards. Monroe is already one of the better big men in the league at 24, and it's not hard to see him getting even better with more time to hone his jumper and defensive skills, particularly when he plays with such a transcendent talent like Davis.
While maybe you'd like to see Davis paired with a better defender who could shoot with range in addition to all the other things Monroe does (like Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol), those players are far too rare and almost never available at a discount.
The Pelicans won't have the necessary cap space to sign Monroe this offseason, but if they can provide Detroit with the shooting they so desperately need, a sign-and-trade could work for both parties.
Monroe coming back home to play with Davis would be about as good as frontcourt pairings get. If the opportunity is there, New Orleans should jump all over it.