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Pistons learning on the run without Monroe

The Detroit News
Greg Monroe

Auburn Hills – The Pistons were to get another look at life without Greg Monroe Tuesday night at the Palace against the Toronto Raptors.

They might have to get used to it. Monroe, the 6-foot-10 power forward, becomes an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. He will be free to sign with any team, and that includes the Pistons. But does Monroe, in his fifth season without a playoff appearance with the Pistons, want to return?

Monroe is not likely to be back in the lineup until his knee is 100 percent. Why risk further injury before hitting the free-agent market? In the meantime, the Pistons appear to have adjusted without him, even though this four-game sample size is small.

Life without Monroe is different. It means a faster pace for the Pistons. They spread the floor and hope to compete on the boards and push the ball up the floor. It also opens up some spaces for the guards, who have played well without him.

The Pistons (26-44) were 3-1 without Monroe, but players wish him a speedy recovery from the practice injury that sidelined the Moose on a pick-and-roll play.

"You have fewer options without Greg," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. "He is our best low-post player. He is our best low-post defender and he is an outstanding rebounder. So you miss a lot."

And players do not get as much rest. Minutes increase and teammates are unable to relax now that Monroe no longer slows the game by bobbing and weaving on the low block.

"There is definitely not a lot of easier possessions," Van Gundy said. "We miss a lot without him."

But Van Gundy's system can work with one big man in the middle and shooters spaced around the floor.

The Pistons entered Tuesday's game averaging 100 points and shooting 43.1 percent from the floor without Monroe. With him they averaged 97.9 points and shot 42.6 percent.

They have gotten a boost from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Reggie Jackson.

Jackson (18.3 points, 13.0 assists) has had a double-double in each game without Monroe and is shooting 43.8 percent from the floor, as opposed to averaging 14.7 points, 6.6 assists and 37.0 percent shooting.

KCP is averaging 21.5 points and 4.3 rebounds without Monroe while shooting 52.3 percent from the field. His numbers before were 12.0 points and 39.1 percent shooting.

"Our guards have been outstanding," Van Gundy said.

For KCP it is a conscious effort to attack the basket more. Before he settled for jump shots -- and many of them were not good looks. One in particular occurred in Utah, where he launched a 26-foot balloon that bounced off the side of the basket.

"When (Monroe) is here it is another big underneath the basket that can rebound and score the ball and play defense," KCP said. "When he is not there we spread he floor, kick and drive. It is much easier to kick and drive and move the ball around."

Jackson sees more opportunities for others. It was a similar situation when the Pistons released Josh Smith and went on an 18-10 run -- before a recent 10-game losing streak turned the season south again.

"Everybody is out there trying to play more freely," Jackson said. "Our offense is better. The defense allows us to get into transition. He (Monroe) is definitely a key part of what we do. He gets it done on the block and causes a lot of havoc. It allows us to get teams into foul trouble. We miss him and are trying to play as tough as we can without him. Just wish him the best and hope he can get back healthy."

Van Gundy on Izzo

Many years ago, Van Gundy ran around in the same circles as Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.

Izzo was a young assistant at Michigan State. Van Gundy cut his teeth at the University of Wisconsin and they often bumped into each other on the recruiting trail, at coaching clinics, and during handshake lines after games. They remain friendly. And Van Gundy remains an admirer of Izzo's work at MSU.

Izzo advanced to his 13th Sweet 16 and it impressed his old friend.

"It is phenomenal," Van Gundy said. "I think people know what they've got in him. You are talking about one of the best college basketball coaches of all time. His record and his consistency are great. And then the eyeball test of watching them play and how hard they play. That Virginia game they just competed so hard."