Take a relatively short walk down memory lane with me, if you will, back to the 2010 NBA draft. You remember that draft, right? The one where five — count 'em, five — Kentucky Wildcats were selected in the first round, including the No. 1 overall pick along with a guy who didn't even start for John Calipari.
That was the draft that centered around John Wall being the clear-cut No. 1 pick and Evan Turner, the reigning Wooden Award winner as college basketball's best player, the de facto No. 2. It was the draft that saw scouts infatuated with Derrick Favors and nonstop debate about DeMarcus Cousins.
You know who rarely anyone mentioned in that draft class? Greg Monroe. And some two years later, Greg Monroe is without a shadow of a doubt the most reliable NBA player of the bunch as it stands today.
Don't get it twisted — I'm not saying Monroe is necessarily the best player from that draft class right now. John Wall didn't win the Rookie of the Year, ceding that award to Blake Griffin, who had to sit out what would have been his rookie season the year before due to injury. But Wall was the most effective and had the biggest impact on his team of any player from the draft class of 2010. And DeMarcus Cousins has become a major force, coming off a season in which he averaged a double-double, a standard he is nearly duplicating this year.
Of course, there is the little fact of Wall struggling a little bit his sophomore season and now not even stepping on the floor yet in his third year in the league, while Cousins' maturity and off-court issues have made nearly everyone across the league take caution.
Meanwhile, Greg Monroe — easily my favorite player from this draft and quickly becoming one of my absolute favorite players in the entire NBA — is quietly becoming one of the best bigs in the entire Association, with no caveats to blink at.
Truthfully, Monroe was pretty damn impressive his rookie season, averaging 9.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals a game while shooting 55 percent from the field in less than 28 minutes a night. Then last year, he really broke out and raised a few eyebrows, improving nearly across the board, averaging 15.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals while still shooting above 50 percent (52 percent) from the field. He also improved his free-throw percentage drastically, going from a not-so-good 62 percent as a rookie to a very respectable 74 percent in his sophomore year.
Now so far in this 2012-13 season, Monroe is proving last year was no fluke. While his field goal percentage is slightly down, his numbers are roughly where they were last year, even upping his assists and steals.
But numbers aren't why Monroe is not only the most reliable player from the 2010 NBA draft, but one of the most reliable bigs period in the NBA. It's the way he plays the game. Monroe truly is a student of the game, the type of player who understands what he's supposed to do all the time. He is, like Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, a remarkable passer, rarely making the wrong decision with the ball. He can score inside and has decent touch, and he helps put his teammates in position to be proficient.
Defensively, he's just as intelligent. While he won't be making any All-Defensive teams anytime soon, his quick feet and fluid motion, not to mention his 6-11, 253-lb. frame, allow him to stay in position and hold his own.
Plus, Monroe is simply a joy to watch. A selfless, intelligent player out there to play basketball the way it's supposed to be played, never calling attention to himself or making me-first decisions.
Perhaps it's that Georgetown big man legacy that went missing for a while. While Monroe isn't the force of Hoya predecessors Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo, especially on the defensive end, he's rapidly moving up the NBA ranks. He has soft hands, can run the floor and never seems to force things. He lets the game come to him. He never looks out of control or hurried. Truthfully, he looks like a 10-year veteran at the ripe old age of 22.
Maybe it's his performances against my hometown 76ers that's pushed me completely over the edge. After all, he went for 22 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists Monday night in a loss and a monstrous 19 points, 18 rebounds and 6 assists in a blowout victory back in November, absolutely abusing a size-challenged Sixers squad the way a real big man should. But I loved Monroe's game back in college, and I not-so-secretly kind of rooted for the Sixers to not get the second pick that year and instead nab Monroe or Favors later in the lottery.
Even as Evan Turner is having his best season as a pro and getting better every game, I can't help but envision Monroe in a Sixers uniform. Six teams passed on Monroe back in 2010, and most of them would think long and hard about getting a mulligan.
The reason is simple: Greg Monroe is the most reliable player from the 2010 NBA draft, and he is now one of my favorites in the entire league.