Auburn Hills — The general consensus surrounding Pistons forward Greg Monroe is that his defensive struggles prevent him from being an elite big man in today's game, as his perceived lack of athleticism turns him into a liability.
But don't tell that to coach Stan Van Gundy.
"I think Greg's actually pretty good defensively," Van Gundy said. "I've thought that all year.
"He's a very good low post defender, in my opinion. And he's a smart defender. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes."
In a way, Van Gundy believes Monroe's lack of athleticism makes him a more sound player because he knows he doesn't have the natural ability to cover up for mistakes and play above the rim. Of course, Andre Drummond is the athlete who can erase everybody's mistakes when he's on, but Monroe is usually in the right place at the right time.
"He's not a shot blocker but he's not out of position very much," Van Gundy said. "He's very attentive to game plans, you can make adjustments with him. He's smart, a very good position defender. I think he's developed that over time."
Position-wise, Monroe is likely a more effective low-post defender than Drummond. Monroe knows how to use his base to provide enough resistance against other bigs while Drummond is still learning how to use his base, relying more upon blocking shots than keeping a guy away from his sweet spots.
"He's not that freak athlete where he can make a mistake and recover with quickness and jumping ability," Van Gundy said of Monroe. "He's got to be in the right spot and he is. His mental approach and ability makes him a solid defender."
Of the 14 players currently averaging 10 rebounds or more per game, Monroe and Cleveland's Kevin Love probably have the least to work with athletically — and Love has been criticized for abandoning defensive principles in the attempt to stuff the stat sheet.
Monroe said he's always known from his college days he would have to rely on his brain and preparation over any other skill on that end. Oftentimes, Van Gundy will switch Monroe onto opposing centers when Drummond is having trouble defending on the ball, and Monroe has shown the ability to disrupt rhythm.
"Yeah, just making sure I'm in the right position," he said. "Definitely understanding personnel, knowing what guys like to do, their habits and tendencies. It's something I've been trying to get better on and focus on. As a team, we've gotten better defensively."
Monroe appears to be a natural center, which made his transition to power forward last season a difficult one. But he and Drummond don't play bulk minutes together, leaving Monroe back at center more times than not. And when he does play the power forward, Van Gundy isn't very concerned about the "stretch fours" who can drag Monroe out to the perimeter.
"Some of the real quick 4's are a challenge for him, but they are for David West and Zach Randolph and anyone else who are inside-oriented bigs," Van Gundy said. "I don't look at Greg as anything else than a good defensive player."
Monroe was asked about rookie Spencer Dinwiddie's assertion that the Pistons' winning ways began with the low-key acquisition of Anthony Tolliver, who appears to have moved ahead of Jonas Jerebko in the hierarchy of bench bigs.
On twitter, Dinwiddie playfully calls it, "The Tolliver Effect."
"I wasn't aware of that; nobody really pays attention to rookies," Monroe said with a smile.
"I honestly haven't seen it though. You can give it any name you want as long as we keep on playing the right way and winning games."
Pistons at Bucks
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee
Outlook: The Pistons are 1-2 against the Bucks this season. They won 98-95 on Nov. 7 in Detroit before losing twice in four days in Milwaukee, the last time, 104-88, on Nov. 28. ... Former Piston Brandon Knight leads the Bucks at 18.2 points per game.