SHARP: Centers like Drummond no longer rule NBA

There should be a computer-generated character in the new “Jurassic World” movie patterned after Greg Monroe’s grinding, plodding game. Monstrous in its day, but now resigned to the sport’s Paleolithic age because NBA big men now must play farther from the basket — both offensively and defensively.

Monroe is done as a Piston. That truth was evident two years ago, if anybody bothered to look at the situation honestly.

The “stretch four” is the new normal at power forward.

“In many ways today, the stretch four has become even more valuable than the five,” Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy told me recently. “It’s not that the center’s become irrelevant. Far from it. But how that stretch four pairs with your five has become a critical franchise building piece. The game’s now about creating space offensively and covering space defensively.”

The role of the big man has changed dramatically, and the Pistons’ immediate response to that evolution will help determine their fate.

It’s an absolute no-brainer to deny Monroe anything remotely close to a max contract. But it also shouldn’t automatically be concluded that Andre Drummond is deserving of a maximum deal that could pay the 21-year-old as much as $21 million annually as early as next season.

Drummond’s game fits the profile of the modern NBA center: a rim protector and veracious offensive rebounder, but not a primary offensive weapon who forces defensive adjustments. Possessing the quick feet to shade high pick-and-rolls and get back into defensive position near the basket, but lacking the hands and balance necessary for low-post offensive moves.

Drummond is a younger version of Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan: a significant defensive presence but an equally significant offensive liability. He can’t shoot free throws. He can’t create offensive opportunities on his own. Jordan’s offense is wholly dependent on missed shots and electric point guard Chris Paul creating low-risk chances such as lob passes for thunderous slam dunks.

The prototypical NBA center today is more of a supporting cast member than marquee-dominating star.

It probably won’t stop the Clippers from making Jordan a “max player” this summer. But is it really smart business to invest $20 million per season in somebody who needs others to make him better, rather than the other way around?

Van Gundy reiterated that discussing a contract extension with Drummond remains one of the summer’s top priorities. Drummond is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He’ll make $3.2 million next season. And team owner Tom Gores already has called Drummond a “maximum guy.”

But he isn’t a max-contract player. Those deserving centers retired with Shaq. But if the Pistons are adamant about giving Drummond the franchise, they at least should wait until next summer before making that commitment.

If the Pistons sign him to a max deal now, Drummond’s salary cap slot would be $21 million next summer. But if they sell Drummond on waiting a year, his 2016 salary cap slot would be much closer to $9 million.

That’s money Van Gundy could use to find another shooter next summer.

Drummond will work much better with stretch four Ersan Ilyasova, whom Van Gundy acquired two weeks ago, than he did with Monroe. But it will be a situation of the power forward making the center better.

How times have changed.

It wasn’t that long ago when Duke’s Jahlil Okafor was considered the runaway No. 1 selection in Thursday’s NBA draft. But it wouldn’t be a huge shock if he fell as low as No. 4, with the Minnesota Timberwolves taking stretch four Karl-Anthony Towns first overall, the Los Angeles Lakers opting for dynamic perimeter scorer D’Angelo Russell at No. 2 and the Philadelphia 76ers taking Latvian 7-foot stretch four Kristaps Porzingis with the third overall selection.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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