Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond will remain the Detroit Pistons’ starting frontcourt.
But those three, as the numbers have indicated would work best, have their seen their minutes staggered recently.
That will continue, said Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks.
“We’ll probably have Josh Smith and any one of the bigs on the floor,” Cheeks said in a video posted by David Mayo of MLive. “It will safe to say we’ll have those guys on the floor more, as opposed to Greg and Andre.”
So, lots of Smith-Drummond and Smith-Monroe and very little Monroe-Drummond.
All three combinations have actually yielded positive net ratings as long as the third player has been on the bench. That’s pretty significant on a team with a 16-22 record and a point difference that reflects an even worse record.
Sure, the Monroe-Drummond pairing has been the least-fruitful of the three, but eliminating it almost certainly means reducing the minutes of Monroe and Drummond.
Cheeks’ new strategy has really begun to take hold in the last four games. Monroe and Drummond have played together with out another big just one minute in that span.
The starting Smith-Monroe-Drummond lineup has wisely been used less than earlier in the season, but it’s still received an average of 15 minutes in the last four games.
Let’s say Smith keeps his per-game average of 35 minutes per game (though that’s ticked up to 38 in these last four games). If the recent trend holds, 15 of those will come with Monroe and Drummond. Let’s say the other 20 are split equally with Monroe and Drummond (though some could come with neither), Smith-Monroe and Smith-Drummond each getting 10 minutes per game.
That leaves 13 minutes for Monroe and Drummond to split – not share, because Cheeks said he wants to avoid that pairing (unless Smith is on the court too, which makes it significantly less effective).
Take it all together, and in this plan, Monroe and Drummond are each averaging 31.5 minutes per game. Of course, one of the two could get more minutes, but they’d come at the expense of the other.
Though that’s just over a one-minute drop in their season per-game averages, the symbolism is more telling.
The Pistons are becoming Josh Smith’s team.
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Smith struggled at small forward, but the Pistons won’t pull him – or Monroe, a pending free agent, or Drummond, a prospective All-Star – from the starting lineup. So, they’re left trying to get Smith as many minutes as possible at power forward in other ways. And because Cheeks doesn’t believe in using Monroe and Drummond together with a tradition 1-2-3 behind them – following the misguided lead of his predecessor, Lawrence Frank – that means fewer minutes for Monroe and Drummond, two of the NBA’s top young bigs.
With the absence of a third big to clog paint, Smith-Drummond and Smith-Monroe are probably better combinations than Monroe-Drummond right now. But Monroe-Drummond could be the Pistons’ future, considering they’re five and eight years younger than Smith. And in the present, the combination trumps most of what Detroit has done this season.
But, for the time being, Monroe and Drummond will just have to fit best they can once Smith is comfortably situated.