Greg Monroe insists he’s a regular guy.
While he seems well grounded for a 22-year-old professional athlete, most “regular” guys aren’t close to seven feet tall, weigh nearly 250 pounds or nearly average a double-double in the NBA.
In just his second season with the Detroit Pistons, Monroe has emerged as one of the best post players in the league. He has also been a consistent bright spot for a struggling franchise that has lost 74 games since the beginning of the 2010-11 season.
Selected by Joe Dumars with the seventh overall pick out of Georgetown in the 2010 NBA Draft, Monroe matured in a college program with a history of winning and producing big men with remarkable success. He is the latest in a long line of Hoya bigs to succeed in the NBA, following Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning and Roy Hibbert.
Despite the high standard set by those players, Monroe doesn’t feel burdened to live up to those that came before him.
“Not at all,” Monroe told RealGM. “Those guys have done what they are going to do. Dikembe, Patrick and Alonzo, those are Hall of Fame-type players. I’m nowhere near that right now, but I have to continue to work.”
Still, Monroe does know he can learn from the school’s alums, especially when the grind of the NBA schedule doesn’t monopolize his time.
“We all talk a lot, especially during the summer time,” said Monroe. “Georgetown is a special place, we all keep in touch and we all stay close.”
Monroe has been so productive and reliable this season -- he has scored double-figures in 27 of his 31 games and grabbed at least seven rebounds in all but three -- that many felt he was one of the biggest snubs when the Eastern Conference All-Star reserves were announced.
Coincidentally, Hibbert was one of the players selected over Monroe as a reserve. After Dwight Howard was tabbed by fans as the starting center, coaches voted to add Chris Bosh and Hibbert as the team’s other big men. The three are the only Eastern All-Stars taller than 6-foot-9. The Western Conference has six such players.
Bosh and Hibbert both play on winning teams, while the Pistons are just 9-22 and have the fourth-worst point differential in the league. Monroe would love to eventually make an All-Star team, but he’s willing to wait for the honor to come along with team success.
“If you ask any player in the NBA if they want to be an All-Star, they’re going to say ‘Yeah.’ I’ve always been about winning though, and that’s what I focus on,” said Monroe. “Whatever comes with that, I’ll take it. I can’t lie, I definitely want to be an All-Star one day, but right now I understand that to make the team, other than numbers, there are a couple of things that need to come with it. I have to focus on helping this team get wins and everything else will fall in line after that.”
The logical assumption is that Detroit’s poor record hurt Monroe’s chances of being honored, but he refused to take anything away from his peers when I asked him if he felt more wins would have sent him to Orlando.
“If I said that then it would be saying that someone shouldn’t have made it and I don’t believe that at all,” he said. “Everybody that’s on the All-Star team definitely is deserving. I think it could have helped my case, though, I’ll say that. I don’t think that’s the reason why, necessarily, but it may have helped my case. That’s why I’m focused on helping this team get wins.”
That Monroe is considered a fringe-All-Star is impressive on its own. It usually takes big men several years to approach their potential and Hibbert is a perfect example. After spending four years at Georgetown, Hibbert is earning recognition in his fourth professional season. Monroe has adapted very quickly, despite already playing for multiple head coaches.
“I’m more comfortable,” Monroe said of this season. “At the end of last season things started to slow down and this year it has slowed down even more. I’m a lot more confident.”
When I mentioned the longer learning curve for big men, Monroe was quick to point out that he hasn’t yet reached his potential.
“I don’t think I’ve reached my peak yet,” he said with confidence. “Everyday I just come in and try to get better.”
Future Hall of Famers like Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett may be on the downside of their careers, but young guys are still able to learn from them as they begin their NBA tenures. The lessons they learn will be valuable as they progress and begin to climb towards the crest Monroe mentioned.
“Growing up you watch guys like Duncan and KG, future Hall of Famers. I think that’s one of the beauties of this game, two nights in a row you are playing against two Hall of Famers, two guys that you looked up to your whole life,” Monroe said before facing the Celtics on Wednesday night.
“You watch those guys, you study them. I was privileged enough to watch them in their primes as the best big men in the league. You try to take as much as you can from watching, but there is nothing that compares to being on the court with them.”
With Garnett a late scratch because of a hip injury, Monroe had his way with the undersized Celtics. He had 22 points on 11-for-14 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds in 36 minutes as Detroit upset Boston. He scored on a wide variety of shots, including midrange jumpers, post-up attempts and even a hook shot.
February has been good to Monroe. He is pushing up his season averages with 19.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and nearly a block in eight games. His worst effort this month was a 2-for-11 performance (four points and six rebounds in 22 minutes) against Duncan and the Spurs this past Tuesday.
Monroe looked like a regular guy against San Antonio, albeit one getting better by the game and striving for so much more.