In Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond the Detroit Pistons have collected a pair of the most promising young big men in the league. A wealth of front-court talent is rarely a problem, but we see quite a bit of overlap in both strengths and weaknesses when looking at Monroe and Drummond. Playing them separately is one solution, but requires the sacrifice of keeping one of your most talented players on the bench. Looking forward to next season how can the Pistons keep both on the floor, and maximize their talents?
In their first season together, Monroe and Drummond played 452 minutes together for the Pistons. Over that stretch the Pistons scored an average of 100.9 points per 100 possessions and surrendered 102.9, for a differential of -2.0. That offensive mark is exactly what the Pistons averaged on the season as a whole, but the defensive efficiency is considerably better. The biggest offensive challenge that arises when both are on the floor is spacing. Drummond was just 11-of-46 this season on shots that didn’t come right at the rim. Monroe’s passing and ability to put the ball on the floor making him a little more dangerous outside the paint, but he shot just 31.0% himself on shots that weren’t exactly at the rim.
When both players were on the floor the defense was usually able to keep two big defenders right around the basket. Inconsistent outside shooting from the rest of the Pistons further complicated things since additional perimeter defenders were often collapsing into the paint as well. According to mySynergySports.com, 27.9% of Monroe’s offensive possessions this season were post-ups, and these are the kind of defensive arrangements he often faced when posting up with Drummond on the floor.
The Pistons often tried to resolve the paint logjam by using HORNS, a set which involves placing Drummond and Monroe at either elbow, with shooters in the corners and a ball-handler up top. Here’s an example of the Pistons setting up in that orientation.
On one hand, moving both players away from the rim solves some of the spacing concerns. The problem is that Drummond is so limited at this point as a shooter, passer and ball-handler that he’s often left completely uninvolved with no way to contribute from that spot on the floor. Here is the possession that follows the image above. Monroe and Brandon Knight use a nice two-man hand-off to create an open three-point look, but Drummond spends the entire possession standing and watching, diving to the rim at the last second to get into offensive rebounding position.
In offensive sets utilizing both players, Drummond’s limitations often make Monroe the fulcrum around which everything needs to pivot. However, both players are solid screeners and extremely mobile threats to dive to the rim off a pick-and-roll or anytime their man gets caught ball watching. By moving both players, and the ball, around those elbow positions the Pistons were able to generate some really solid openings this season. When both players are purposefully involved those sets become extremely potent.
Here the Pistons begin with both Drummond and Monroe stationed at the elbows. Monroe sets a pin-down screen for Tayshaun Prince who receives the ball from Bynum as he passes the free throw line. As Prince continues curling around, Drummond pops out from the opposite elbow to set another screen near the top of the key.
Drummond’s man Andrea Bargnani has had to hedge hard on Prince, which leaves an open lane for Drummond to dive to the basket. Prince doesn’t have a passing angle, but Monroe has trailed the action back to the free throw line. Monroe’s man, Jonas Valanciunas, has had to duck in on Drummond.
From here Prince swings the ball back to Monroe. As Valanciunas recovers back out to Monroe, Drummond turns and seals Bargnani on his back. There’s an easy passing angle available and no one to protect the rim from Drummond.
Here’s the play in real time:
This is a terrific set and takes advantage of a lot of pieces – Prince’s ability to handle the ball, the screening prowess of both big men, Monroe’s passing ability and Drummond’s finishing ability. It also helps that the shooting threats Kyle Singler and Will Bynum present in the corners are largely able to keep additional perimeter defenders from collapsing on the action.
This next set is a bit of a modified look, with Drummond and Monroe at the elbows but the wings below them on the low-block. Monroe comes out a bit to receive the pass from Stuckey and then hands back off to Stuckey as he cuts across the floor, bumping his man along the way. As this action is happening, Drummond steps across the lane as well preparing to set a second screen on Stuckey’s man.
As Stuckey curls around that second screen from Drummond, Monroe heads for the right block setting up with deep post position. Meanwhile, Drummond drops back to the elbow.
Monroe has terrific position but doesn’t handle the pass cleanly and isn’t able to take advantage with a quick move. As he holds the ball Charlotte’s perimeter defenders begin to cheat in, as does Drummond’s man. For a minute it looks a lot like the cluttered post-up chances we looked at above. But Drummond notices that Kyle Singler is parked in the corner and his defender, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, is right on the edge of the paint. Drummond slides over to prevent him from recovering to the corner.
Monroe makes the cross-court pass and Singler knocks down the wide-open shot. Here’s the play in real time:
The basic orientation of Drummond and Monroe at the elbows is not the only way the Pistons were able to create space with both on the floor last season. Here’s another example of the Pistons using some simple movement and screening with Drummond and Monroe to create a great high-low look. The Pistons are running a side pick-and-roll involving Drummond and Prince. Jeff Green hedges hard and Drummond is left to roll unfettered to the basket. As he heads for the rim, Monroe is popping out from the baseline to the free throw line to facilitate.
Green’s hedge keeps Prince from making the pass to Drummond, but he’s able to hit Monroe in the center of the floor who can turn and make the easy lob.
Here’s the play in real time:
In this set Drummond and Monroe are again parallel, slightly below the free throw line. They set dual pin-down screens, and as their wings curl around the Pistons end up with a side pick-and-roll between Monroe and Singler. Drummond is on the weakside and is threatening enough to keep his defender a second longer than he should. By the time he commits to contesting Singler’s drive he’s stuck in between and it’s an easy pass to Drummond for the dunk.
On occasion the Pistons also got very creative using Drummond and Monroe to stretch the defense into some very bizarre shapes. Here they’re clustered together on the weak side and near the free throw line. The Pistons run some action on the strong side with Prince setting a screen for Singler. Drummond’s man has to come over and protect the rim, again leaving Drummond open for the duck-in dunk.
The Pistons don’t always need to run a complicated set in order to use both players effectively. Monroe is good when facing up and attacking off the dribble from the center of the floor. Simply getting him the ball in the high post and clearing out one side of the floor can create cutting lanes for Drummond. Here are a few examples:
The common elements in all of these successful possessions are lots of movement and plenty of screening. That movement comes not just from Drummond and Monroe but also from the wings, around the perimeter and along the baseline. Although the Pistons don’t always have the threat of front-court shooting, big bodies in motion can create and exploit open space. Another key element is the ability of the perimeter players to take advantage, both with their shooting and by attacking off the dribble. Keeping three players on the floor capable of doing both, goes a long way towards making things work for and with Drummond and Monroe.
Heading into next season it’s easy to say that Monroe and Drummond can’t work together unless one develops a jump shot. While that certainly would simplify things a great deal for whoever takes over the head-coaching position in Detroit, lots of motion and a little creativity could yield similarily potent results.