The Detroit Pistons are having a hard time finding bright spots these days.
Greg Monroe might be emerging as one.
The 6-foot-11 rookie from Georgetown has played over 30 minutes each of the last five games. The Pistons have won three of them, which constitutes progress in what's been a dreary season.
"As the season's been going along, I've been getting more comfortable," he said recently.
The Pistons picked seventh in the draft last season, their highest selection since 2003, and they took Monroe from a college program with a history of producing talented big men.
Monroe wasn't as overpowering as former Hoyas Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning, but he can make plays facing the basket and was considered a good passer. On a Detroit team lacking size, Monroe had a chance to play pretty much from the start. He scored in double figures only twice before the new year, but this month, he's been more of a presence.
Starting with a loss to the Lakers on Jan. 4, he had four straight double-doubles. That streak has been snapped, but Monroe has still scored in double figures in six consecutive games, including 11 points in Saturday night's victory over Sacramento. Monroe has been in the starting lineup the last three games.
Detroit hosts Dallas on Monday.
Defensively, the lumbering Monroe is beginning to hold his own.
"One of the things that people are underestimating is his ability to guard a number of players," coach John Kuester said. "He's really been very versatile in his ability to move his feet quickly. Now he might not be the fastest person up and down - even though he teased us a couple of times on how fast he can be - he moves his feet well, he understands positioning, he has quick hands and gets deflections."
Although his playing time has increased, Monroe has fouled out only once - last Wednesday against Memphis. He had only two fouls against Andrea Bargnani and Toronto on Friday and played longer than anyone on the team.
"What he's able to do is control his body," Kuester said after that game. "Guarding Bargnani is as difficult as anybody out on the perimeter because you know what he does, he's a strong right hand and he ball fakes. If you aren't disciplined in your game to not go for those ball fakes, he gets to the foul line so easily. That's where Greg, I thought, did a great job."
If it wasn't obvious before the season, Pistons fans are quickly learning that the team's 2004 championship is well in the past.
Of the players from that team, only Tayshaun Prince has been in Detroit's starting lineup recently. Richard Hamilton has been benched entirely the last three games and there's talk he could be traded, while 36-year-old Ben Wallace has been battling ankle problems.
Detroit hasn't been able to draft an instant-impact star who could help speed up the rebuilding process. Instead, the Pistons have tried to bring in young prospects who could at least earn spots in the rotation - players like 2009 draft picks Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko, the latter of whom has spent this season recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon.
Monroe is another player who is working into the mix, and if he keeps improving, the Pistons can plan on him being a big part of their future. At 14-26, Detroit is far removed from its days as a championship contender, but Monroe is eager for the team's fortunes to turn around.
"I'm not trying to celebrate myself, I'm all about winning," he said. "It's all about the team - doesn't matter what I do if we're not winning."