The Greg Monroe era in Detroit has come to an end. That much seems apparent after the Pistons acquired power forward Ersan Ilyasova from the Milwaukee Bucks Thursday afternoon in exchange for Caron Butler and Shawne Williams.
Monroe’s existence in Detroit has been delicately hanging in the balance since the end of the 2013-14 season, when his restricted free agent status could have allowed him to sign an offer sheet with any team in the league (with the Pistons having the option to match said offer).
Instead, a one-year $5.5 million qualifying offer kept Monroe in Detroit for at least one more season, igniting a year’s worth of rumors regarding his ultimate destination once he earned unrestricted free agent status following the season.
So now we’re here. While Monroe has been rumored to have had one foot out the door for the majority of the 2014-15 campaign, his agent David Falk had previously insisted that the Pistons remained a legitimate contender when it came to retaining his client’s services this offseason.
With yesterday’s acquisition of Ilyasova, everything changed.
The Perfect Fit
Ersan Ilyasova’s numbers won’t blow anyone away. For his career, he’s averaging a shade under 11 points per game and exactly six rebounds. He has also struggled with injuries of late (though suffering a broken face, as he did last December, doesn’t necessarily relegate someone as being injury-prone in our book). Still, there’s one key aspect that may place Ilyasova firmly over Monroe in Detroit: he was made for Van Gundy Ball.
Monroe’s skills are undeniable. He’s been a consistent and highly skilled post presence ever since the Pistons selected him seventh overall in 2010. Throughout his five seasons here, he’d established himself as a model of reliability and consistency. One way or another, he was going to find a way to carve out 15 points and 10 rebounds night in and night out.
But a plot twist popped up with the arrival of head coach and team president Stan Van Gundy in the summer of 2014. While Van Gundy was adamant in his support and praise of Monroe, it slowly became clear that Monroe may be a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Van Gundy’s desired offensive system is one that revolves around floor spacing and the ability for positions 1-4 to assert themselves as perimeter threats. While Monroe’s ground-and-pound game still produced individual results, it was often at the expense of the floor spacing necessary to allow the likes of Brandon Jennings and Reggie Jackson to continuously run free and create in space.
Ilyasova, on the other hand, is a career 37 percent 3-point shooter. He also prefers to operate along the perimeter, which happens to not-so-coincidentally fall right into Van Gundy’s wheelhouse. When Monroe missed 11 games late last season, the Pistons reeled off seven wins in 11 games with another stretch four, Anthony Tolliver, taking over Monroe’s duties at power forward. Van Gundy has a system in mind, and it’s one built for the likes of Tolliver and Ilyasova, not so much for Monroe.
Of course, the loss of Monroe would also mean the team’s post presence may now fall upon the shoulders of Ilyasova and center Andre Drummond, the latter of which has developed at a snail’s pace when it comes to operating with his back to the basket. Moreover, when Monroe leaves, he’s taking his 10 rebounds a night with him. It’ll become imperative that Ilyasova rediscover the thirst for rebounding that led him to becoming just the third player in Bucks history to score 25 points and grab 25 rebounds in the same game when he dropped 29 and 25 against the Nets in 2012.
Ilyasova’s rebounds per 36 minutes have steadily declined from a peak of 11.5 in 2012 to just 7.6 in 2015. But at just 28-years-old, a healthy Ilyasova is still spry enough to reverse the pattern in a prominent role in Detroit.
Still, is Ersan Ilyasova the answer in Detroit? Surely not, for it will take a continued cohesive effort to piece together a team worthy of making a playoff run for the first time since 2009. Significant matters of business remain, such as the re-signing of point guard Reggie Jackson, utilizing the eighth pick in the upcoming draft (likely focusing on the small forward position with the acquisition of Ilyasova and departure of Caron Butler), and targeting additional help in free agency with upwards of $18 million in cap space to throw around.
One way or another, Monroe’s days in Detroit are limited. Meanwhile, Van Gundy Ball rolls on.