Friday, February 4, 2011

Monroe Establishing Himself As A Starter

Monroe Establishing Himself As A Starter
By Steve St-Pierre

The Pistons are clearly going through a rebuilding process. The bad part of that is seeing the team move away from the veteran players who helped bring Detroit the 2004 NBA Championship. On the bright side, though, the team is seeing great success out of their younger players like rookie Greg Monroe.

After a slow start to the season, Monroe has worked his way into the Pistons’ starting lineup, shifting between power forward and center. He’s greatly improved both his hands and footwork. Not only has his team noticed, but the entire league has acknowledged his improvement, so much so that he has been named to the 2011 T-Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam at All-Star Weekend later this month in Los Angeles.

“He’s such a refreshing player to be around because he just wants to play basketball,” says John Kuester, Pistons Head Coach. “It’s pretty impressive to see him continually grow.”

Monroe’s been consistent at rebounding as well as moving without the ball, finding open paths to the rim and getting a variety of scoring opportunities.

“My teammates find me, and that’s basically it,” Monroe says. “I’m just trying to get myself in position to get easy baskets, and they’re making great passes that find me.”

To his credit, Monroe’s been able to adjust to extended minutes. With recent injuries to veteran Ben Wallace, Monroe’s had to shoulder the load in the post.

“I’ve got to come out and perform,” he says. “I’m not worried about my legs right now. It’s my first year, so I’m trying to produce.”

The rookie’s opened many eyes on the court, and his teammates acknowledge that he’s increasing his workload and improving day by day.

“I wouldn’t say he’s becoming one of the leaders,” says point guard Tracy McGrady. “He’s still a baby. The guy ain’t 21 yet. He’s still got a lot to learn in this league, but he’s progressing. He’s playing well, great energy, he’s learning the game and he’s going to continue to get better because he works.”

Monroe admits that having a teammate like Wallace has been extremely beneficial towards his development as an NBA player.

“It’s been great,” Monroe says of Big Ben. “He’s been out for a while, but it’s always good to have somebody that’s out here rebounding, great defender, somebody who can play off you, very unselfish. It’s always good to have a player like him on the floor.”

Unfortunately, the Pistons are beginning to transition themselves away from some of their veteran players. In fact, former starting shooting guard Rip Hamilton claims to have played his last game in a Detroit uniform. He had been rumored to be close to being traded, but the deal fell through. As a result, the team has opted to bench the disgruntled veteran in an effort to give extra playing time to younger players. The team has even moved him to the inactive list, meaning he will be in dress clothes during games.

Many players have voiced their frustrations throughout the season regarding not only Hamilton’s situation but even the constant shuffling of the rotation.

“That’s none of my business,” McGrady says. “I mean, really, I don’t get involved in that. But at the end of the day, we support Rip.”

“It’s tough, but it’s part of being a professional,” adds reserve guard Will Bynum. “We get paid a lot of money to play this game, so all I can do is stay ready…I’m 100 percent behind it.”

Kuester insists he’s just searching for the best combination of players throughout his entire roster.

“Anybody that wears a uniform in the NBA (has) to be ready to play…” Kuester says. “…We’ve talked about this throughout the season. Sometimes you’ve just got to have a gut where you’re gonna ride the people that are playing well.”

“We have so many weapons on this team,” adds forward Charlie Villanueva. “Sometimes, we’re going to need something from each and every guy.”

Though the team has essentially gone with a youth movement, the Pistons haven’t completely given up on all their veterans. Besides Wallace, they have depended greatly on the guidance of McGrady and longtime forward Tayshaun Prince. Prince has been Detroit’s best all-around player, while McGrady has become the team’s primary ball-handler and floor leader.

“He’s really done a nice job of keeping the pace of the game,” Kuester says of McGrady. “That’s one of the things I love about him…he’s always probing the court to see where there’s a mismatch.”

T-Mac’s conditioning continues to improve, as he said it would when he first signed with the Pistons this past summer.

“My legs are starting to feel normal,” he says. “I feel like I’m getting my bounce back, so it’s starting to show a little bit.”

“I think one of the things that’s evolved about him is, listening to him, how he talks to his teammates,” Kuester explains. “The other thing that’s very impressive is he was a superstar, and he has checked his ego. He really doesn’t care whether he scores. He wants to make sure that everybody’s involved.”

As the organization continues to steer itself into a new direction, the goal remains to compete for a postseason berth in a weak Eastern Conference. As up and down as the Pistons have played this year, they still have a chance to finish the season strong.

“Momentum can change like that,” Kuester says. “Momentum can change from play to play, to quarter to quarter, to a half, to a game and then all of a sudden things change.”

“For us to make a playoff push, we’ve got to step it up,” adds McGrady. “We’ve got to play a lot better on both ends of the court, and the effort’s definitely got to be there.”

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