Greg Monroe’s production this season really has Warriors fans smarting over the general manager Larry Riley passing him up in the 2010 draft. Golden State instead selected Ekpe Udoh. So far, Monroe has clearly been the most productive of the two.
After a better-than-solid rookie year, Monroe has been deemed the center of the future in Detroit. So far, from a distance, he seems to be living up to the anointing. He came into Sunday’s game against the Warriors averaging 16.6 points on 57.6 percent shooting with 9.2 rebounds – all team highs. And he’s doing it with such consistency, it’s harder to write it off as good numbers on a bad team.
Meanwhile, Udoh struggles on offense, leaves a lot to be desired with his rebounding, and is lacking consistency. He’s a role player who sometimes doesn’t get much run, averaging 3.6 points and 3.5 rebounds in 15.5 minutes.
GM LARRY RILEY: “What he has to do is get a little bit better as far as his rebound game is concerned, and get a little more offensive confidence. He defends. We know will defend and block shots. We need to see a little more growth out of him. It’s coming, but its coming slowly. He’s a guy who can show the ability to make a few jump shots in practice and he’s gotten to where it looks like he’s comfortable with some low-post moves. But we need his game to grow. There is no doubt about it.”
So, on paper, it’s looking glaringly obvious the Warriors made the wrong choice. But as Sunday’s game proved, it’s not that cut and dry.
In fairness, it must be pointed out that Udoh was disadvantaged from the start. An injured wrist kept him out of the 2010 Summer League and training camp. Udoh didn’t make his NBA debut until December 2010, a month into the season. Monroe got the full gamut of preparation.
Throw in this year’s lockout issues, and Udoh lost even more valuable experience. With that said, not even general manager Larry Riley is using that excuse.
RILEY: “Those things slow people down. But they slowed down everybody in this year’s draft and he didn’t have the benefit of playing the year before and he got a late start. But he’s close to where he’s played enough basketball where we’d like to see some growth. And I think we will. I feel good about the effort that he puts into the game, his understanding of the game, and his approach to everything. And I do think that will come here before too long, but I’d like to see a little more growth in him.”
But the reasons Golden State did not select Monroe still apply. He’s not the big body, physical big man they envision. Being more of a power forward (or a high-post center), he clashes with David Lee’s skills a bit.
The Warriors were leaning toward Udoh early in the draft, one team source said. They had their concerns about Monroe from the beginning, and Monroe’s bad workout didn’t help. I remember hearing back then that St. Mary’s big man Omar Samhan gave Monroe the business.
But even if those concerns are still valid, that doesn’t mean Monroe’s skills doesn’t override his (perceived) shortcomings. Certainly, a few people in the Warriors front office said they believe in going with best available player. And it’s hard, if not impossible, to argue Monroe is the best player of the two.
So the real question is does the need Udoh fill (or is expected to fill) justify passing on the better talent in Monroe? Tonight, Udoh made a case for yes.
The Warriors desperately need defense and Udoh provides it. He certainly did Sunday. His line: 27 minutes (season-high), 10 points, six rebounds, four blocks (season-high) and three steals. Udoh helped hold Monroe scoreless in the fourth quarter.
UDOH: “You’ve got to understand, I’m trying to help my team get wins. The more you win, the more people come in and watch. And then they’ll see. So I’ve just got to keep doing and just playing balls to the wall.
Udoh said he doesn’t pay attention to the people saying the Warriors should have taken Udoh. But I don’t buy it. Eventually, he acknowledged he hears it. He said it shows him he still has something to prove and it drives him.
But Udoh said he knows he still must play within himself and what he’s being asked to do.
UDOH: “It’s in the back of your mind. But at the end of the day, I’ve got to stick what I do best. It’s hard but look at the team makeup. You got those type of players here who go and get theirs. So I’ve just got to fall back and let it fall where it lays I guess.”
Riley said Udoh won’t be judged by Monroe. A couple team sources said they take solace in the fact that Udoh is still a good draft pick even if Monroe may have the sexier numbers.
Monroe is the better scorer and rebounder. Frankly, he’s the better basketball player. He has the most star potential. He makes opposing teams game plan against him.
But Udoh, the Warriors hope, will develop his scoring and rebounding and make up the difference with his intangibles. Over time, Golden State is praying, that will make Udoh the most valuable to them. And make their passing of Monroe that much more palatable.
RILEY: “What you have with draft picks, often times you’ll pick a guy and somebody picked two spots or 10 spots behind him will turn out to be a good player. So you know that’s part of the nature of the draft. … You have to work with that. You have to understand that, that happens from time to time and we feel like that Ekpe is still going to grow.”