Published November 20, 2014
The best young, unheralded player in the NBA resides in Detroit Rock City.
The young man's name is Greg Monroe. He's a 6-foot-11 center in his third season from Georgetown and last season, he averaged 15.4 points per game and 9.7 rebounds per game.
Those are both significant upgrades from his rookie season.
Monroe is a future All-Star, although the East has solid pivot men in Philly (Andrew Bynum) and Indiana (Roy Hibbert). Monroe has a great skill set and is able to toil in relative anonymity with the Detroit Pistons.
The Pistons haven't been relevant for a little while. They were the 2004 NBA Champions and Tayshaun Prince remains from Larry Brown's title team.
The job of replacing that group hasn't gone smoothly.
President of basketball operations, Joe Dumars, spent poorly -- very poorly as a matter of fact.
The result was the signing of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. Gordon got shipped to Charlotte for the selfish Corey Maggette and Villanueva would get traded if someone wanted him.
Once the Pistons get past that, there is hope on the horizon, anchored by Monroe.
Last season's first-round pick, Brandon Knight, showed promised, averaging double-figures in points. His appearance opened up the off-guard for Rodney Stuckey, who is a more natural shooting guard despite playing the point for several seasons.
The Pistons have a boatload of similar players and head coach Lawrence Frank is working to peg them into spots. With five rookies, coupled with only two true veterans in Prince and Maggette, Frank has some sleepless nights ahead.
"We're going to continue to evaluate," Frank said. "You've got to see. I don't want to be in a game with a lineup that we haven't worked on. We have some interchangeable parts and we'll continue to evaluate guys at different positions."
2011-12 Results: 25-41, fourth in Central; Missed playoffs.
ADDITIONS: C Andre Drummond, G/F Corey Maggette, F Kyle Singler, G Kim English, F Khris Middleton
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Brandon Knight SG- Rodney Stuckey SF- Tayshaun Prince PF- Jonas Jerebko C- Greg Monroe
KEY RESERVES: G/F Corey Maggette, F Charlie Villanueva, G Will Bynum, F Austin Daye, F Jason Maxiell.
FRONTCOURT: Monroe is the best player on the team. He can score in the post and he's also a great passer out of the block. Monroe has some work to do in the weight room and defensively, but he's emerging as a leader.
There are only six players who've been in the league longer than him on the Pistons' roster.
"Greg went from being one of the lower-talking guys to now being the loudest guy in the gym," Frank said in the first week of camp. "It just gives you great evidence of how, when you're willing to improve and make changes, what happens. Greg is a great example."
Prince is on the downside of his career and who knows what he has left. He does provide leadership and with those freakishly long arms, can still defend some.
Jonas Jerebko and Jason Maxiell will battle for the starting job at power forward and there's a lot to like about both, but Jerebko gets the nod. He missed the entire 2010-11 season with a torn Achilles, but came back with an 8.7 PPG campaign. There's worlds of improvement to be made, but this fellow scampers around the court. His energy is infectious.
BACKCOURT: Knight will be 21 in December. That is young to be running an NBA team for a second season, but the University of Kentucky product is doing just that.
Knight started 60 of 66 games last season and scored nearly 13 PPG. He averaged less than four assists a game and that's a pretty pathetic number for a point guard, but he'll have time to improve that number.
Stuckey is in his more natural position off the ball. His point-guard numbers looked bad when he was at that spot, but now that he's not, they are good for a shooting guard.
At 6-foot-5, Stuckey is a big, strong guard who will overpower the weak. There have been some personality clashes with coaches in seasons past, but he and Frank get along well. Stuckey is vital to any chance of success for this season's Pistons.
BENCH: Andre Drummond was selected No. 9 by the Pistons in this year's draft. He has huge upside, but the possibility of him becoming the next Hasheem Thabeet looms large. In the preseason, Drummond has looked good.
Will Bynum and Maggette are the guards off the bench. Bynum used to be an explosive-type scorer, but a foot injury last season set him back.
Maggette has been poison to every team he's touched. He may temper his selfishness since this is a contract season. Otherwise, Maggette can score, but the rest of the team won't enjoy him.
The up-front guys are interchangeable with the exception of Villanueva, who's probably the odd-man out.
COACHING: Frank won two Atlantic Division titles with the Nets. Last season was a struggle, but Frank's defensive-minded philosophy has resonated with the Pistons. He is a good NBA head coach and, after a 4-20 start in 2011-12, his Pistons went 21-21.
OUTLOOK: The Pistons can absolutely contend for the eighth spot in the East and that's based largely on the confidence everyone should have in Monroe.
The team can adopt the personality of its city and be a hard-working, defensive group. There are some potential landmines with Detroit, like if Maggette acts up, Stuckey shows some of those old attitude problems or if Monroe or Knight regress.
Call it a hunch, but the Pistons will be one of the pleasant surprises in the NBA this season.