Auburn Hills — The intelligence of Greg Monroe was on full display early in Monday's game against the Orlando Magic, when he received the ball on the low block in the first quarter.
He knew the double team was coming from the extra defender, waited patiently before kicking the ball back out to Brandon Jennings. He re-posted, caught the pass and with the lane clear, easily drove against Channing Frye for an easy layup.
It sounds simple but there's only a handful of players with his level of understanding and ability to accomplish what he does, while not getting massive numbers of opportunities.
"They're starting to attack them now," said Jennings before the game, in a somewhat clairvoyant manner. "We have to be ready on the outside to knock down shots, so it can open up for him."
With his scoring (16.8) and rebounding (10.8) at a career-high through eight games, the word that probably comes to mind is "efficient," as his PER mark of 22.2 is a career high, as well, meaning he's making the most of this situation, with a crowded frontcourt and an uncertain future, as he'll be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
His PER trails Anthony Davis, Dirk Nowitzki and Derrick Favors among power forwards, being 20th in the league overall.
"I'm just letting the game come to me, while at the same time being aggressive," Monroe said. "I'm trying to make sure I work within the offense. That's when you see efficiency, when you're playing off your teammates and getting stuff in the flow of the offense. That means you're not going out of your way."
Although he's playing for his fifth head coach in his five years as a professional, he's picked up on Stan Van Gundy's offense, displaying a comfort that doesn't usually come 10 games into a season.
"He's playing great, really well for us so far," Jennings said. "Especially with the contract situation, he's showing his value's really high."
Depending on who you believe, the Pistons either failed to trade Monroe or failed to meet his contract demands over the summer, leading to his signing a one-year qualifying offer as a restricted free agent.
Monroe came into the year with whispers he'd have to possibly come off the bench, and even started one game with the second unit before being re-inserted into the starting lineup, with Josh Smith and Andre Drummond, a sign of his value to this team, at this moment, regardless of the future.
Van Gundy, who also doubles as president of basketball operations, has repeatedly praised Monroe for his approach after the two sides couldn't reach a long-term agreement.
"I never was harping on the offseason," Monroe said. "When I came here, it's been all about the team, doing whatever I could do to contribute to helping us win. At the end of the day that's all that matters. It's about winning the game in front of you."
Jennings, like mostly anyone else who's played with Monroe, marvels at his intelligence and his aforementioned focus.
"That's real important because bigs, you're asking a lot of them," Jennings said. "You want them to screen, to roll, to get open in the post, to make moves. They do as much as I do."
Usually it's a point guard's responsibility to know all the positions, but Monroe seems to have a handle reserved for the perimeter players, although he's certainly the furthest thing from a swingman.
"Most people would say, when they say learn the offense, they mean memorizing the offense," Monroe said. "But I try to understand the offense. I think that's a difference. As I understand it more, I can pick my spots and get easier buckets."
He said Van Gundy asked him to be more aggressive offensively, as he's also done with Smith and Drummond. So far, though, Monroe has clearly been the most productive — and clearly the best Pistons player.
Jennings wholeheartedly agrees, and doesn't think the contract situation will play in his mind any more than it should.
"Because everything is gonna work out for itself, as long as you do what's between the lines," Jennings said. "As long as you focus on the main goal."