President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars built the Pistons into a powerhouse during the last decade by signing or acquiring either veterans in their prime or younger players ready to blossom into quality starters. Even the starter he drafted during that stretch, forward Tayshaun Prince, was a four-year star at the University of Kentucky.
As the current rebuilding effort takes shape, it's clear that the primary players will grow before their eyes. Center Greg Monroe and point guard Brandon Knight, the franchise's centerpieces, rank fourth and sixth in scoring league-wide for players under 22 years of age. Monroe played two seasons for Georgetown and is in his second season in the NBA but he doesn't turn 22 until June. Knight, who played just one season at Kentucky, turned 20 in December.
Monroe is averaging 15.8 points and 9.6 rebounds after contributing 13 points and eight rebounds in Detroit's 100-94 overtime loss to Chicago Sunday. Knight, who had 13 points and seven assists against the Bulls, is averaging 12.8 points.
What's more important to coach Lawrence Frank is their humility and work ethic. He won't identify either as his best player just yet but they both fit his criteria.
"If your best player is not your hardest worker, he's not your best player," Frank said. "I always say if your best player is your hardest worker and he's unselfish, you have a chance to be really good. The flip side of that is if he isn't, guess what? Rent, don't buy. You're not going to be there long as a coach."
Frank stands a good chance to end the Pistons' coaching carousel because Monroe has shown growth since his rookie season while Knight has given the franchise every reason to believe it has found its long-term floor leader. Monroe ranks among the top 10 in the league with 28 double-doubles, while Knight is the Pistons' fourth highest-scoring rookie in the last 31 seasons, trailing only Kelly Tripucka, Grant Hill and Isiah Thomas.
Not only have they produced, they have answered the bell every time. Both have appeared in every game this season, despite the taxing nature of the condensed schedule. The Pistons have six games remaining, including a three-in-three-nights obstacle course that begins Tuesday against Cleveland.
"We've had (several) guys who have played every single game," Frank said. "It's impressive for all those guys and I want to keep on going on that path because one of the biggest skills and talents you look for is availability. Is that guy going to be there? Because with talent that can only show up half the time, you've got to figure out what you're going to do with the other half."
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