Greg Monroe was the No. 7 pick. He has averaged 14.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game in his career. When he became a free agent this summer, he signed a max contract with the Bucks – and his agent claims multiple teams offered a max deal.
Anthony Tolliver went undrafted. He has averaged 6.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in his career. When he became a free agent the previous summer, he signed a two-year, $6 million contract with the Suns – and they wanted to dump him a few months later.
Monroe is better than Tolliver.
Nearly nobody would dispute that.
But when Pistons franchise player Andre Drummond played with Tolliver at power forward as opposed to Monroe, Detroit fared much better. Here are the ratings (offensive/defensive/net) for each combination:
- Monroe-Drummond: 102.7/104.4/-1.7
- Tolliver-Drummond: 110.3/105.3/+5.0
Essentially, the Pistons went from a middling offense to better than the league-best Clippers. That was more than enough to offset a slight defensive dip and make Detroit look more like a high-50-win team than the 32-win outfit they were.
This season, the Pistons – despite losing Monroe – have a chance to overcome that talent downgrade with a better-fitting roster.
President/coach Stan Van Gundy was brought in to maximize Drummond the same way he helped develop Dwight Howard with the Magic. In Orlando, that meant spreading the floor around Howard – especially playing Rashard Lewis at power forward.
But spacing didn’t come so easy in Van Gundy’s first year in Detroit. He jammed Drummond, Monroe and Josh Smith into the starting front court before waiving Smith in December. Even then, Van Gundy had a difficult time using Monroe and Drummond together. It’s not the most natural pairing, but the talented players could have performed better together.
Now, that discussion is left to the past. Van Gundy has his players, including Ersan Ilyasova. Ilyasova, absorbed into cap space with the Pistons knowing Monroe would leave, is a legitimate NBA starting power forward with range outside the arc. No longer must Detroit rely on Tolliver when it wants to go small.
Tolliver will still play off the bench, and Marcus Morris – also acquired in a salary dump – could also see minutes as a stretch four. But Morris’ primary role will be starting at small forward, where he replaces stop gaps Caron Butler and Tayshaun Prince. The Pistons practically punted the position once they traded Kyle Singler at midseason. So, Morris is a fairly big upgrade.
Van Gundy also has Stanley Johnson, the No. 8 pick who has drawn rave reviews from his new coach. It seems inevitable he’ll overtake Morris for the starting job at some point.
And then there’s Reggie Jackson, hand-picked by Van Gundy as Detroit’s starting point guard. The Pistons rewarded Jackson this summer with the richest contract in team history.
They’re trying to find the right players around Drummond, and Van Gundy clearly thinks the formula starts with Jackson and a stretch four. Ilyasova is an upgrade at power forward, and Morris, Johnson Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jodie Meeks are good enough on the wing for now. Johnson will improve, and the Pistons will try again in free agency next summer after striking out this year and having to resort to salary dumps.
Other teams are more talented, but Van Gundy should know how to coach this one. Given his track record of success, that might be enough to push the Pistons into the playoffs.