Singler aims to capitalize on opening at small forward for Pistons

With Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s return to practice on Sunday – assuming no setbacks for him in the next few days – Stan Van Gundy’s starting lineup is set for Wednesday’s opener.
Dan Lippitt (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

ORLANDO – Kyle Singler had breakfast with Stan Van Gundy in New York on May 20, hours before he represented the Pistons on stage when the NBA draft lottery cost them their shot at a 2014 lottery pick.

That was more Van Gundy wanting to establish a personal relationship before starting to pick apart one of his player’s games or delving into his vision for the future of the Pistons. Tuesday morning, when Van Gundy addressed those assembled here preparing for the Orlando Summer League, gave Singler his first real glimpse of Van Gundy’s leadership style.

But the way Van Gundy has spoken publicly about how he intends to use his big men – Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe, assuming Monroe’s restricted free agency returns him to Detroit – hasn’t been lost on Singler. With Van Gundy all but declaring that Josh Smith essentially is now a power forward exclusively and that he didn’t envision playing all three together, Singler knows he has a chance to more emphatically push his case to be considered central to the Pistons’ future.

“It does (open up minutes at small forward),” he said. “Really, the only people that have played that position are me, Jonas (Jerebko) a little bit and maybe Gigi (Datome). There are minutes to be earned there, so it’s good for me but it’s also good for other players, too.”

Some of those players, no doubt, are players not currently under contract with the Pistons. Van Gundy also has been frank about his priority in free agency or trade: to address the thin depth chart at shooting guard and small forward. It wouldn’t be a surprise if two or three new players at those spots were added over the next several weeks – perhaps sooner.

But Singler is in Orlando hoping to quickly win the confidence of Van Gundy in the same way he did with Lawrence Frank, Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer before him. Singler, 26, hasn’t missed a game in his two NBA seasons and has averaged 28 minutes each year. He’s started 110 of his 164 games and proven comfortable in either role and at both small forward, his natural position, or shooting guard.

Singler said Van Gundy told him what other coaches have – that they appreciate his diligence, all-around versatility and movement without the ball. He also told him he wanted to see Singler add some range to his 3-point shot. That matches what Van Gundy told me last month as we discussed key Pistons.

“I look at Kyle and I think three things right off the top of my head,” Van Gundy said. “No. 1, he plays hard on a consistent basis. That’s great. No. 2, he’s a low-mistake guy and I don’t mean just turnovers. And he spaces the floor on offense – he gives guys room. He’s a hard-playing, low-mistake guy who can shoot the ball. And you don’t see a lot of egregious defensive breakdowns.

“Now, he has to get better shooting the long three. His corner 3-point shot was good, his mid-range shot was good. All of that was good – very, very positive. But, like with everybody, there’s always something you can work on. He’s got to extend that range enough so he can shoot the long three closer to the effectiveness he shoots the corner three.”

Singler shot .350 from the 3-point arc as a rookie on 2.4 attempts per game and improved to .382 on 3.0 attempts per game in his second season.

“He told me he really wants me to work on extending my range, especially up on top at the 3-point line,” Singler said. “He said, ‘Really focus on your lower-body strength and work on those long threes.’ ”

Singler is one of five players from last year’s roster participating in the seven Summer League practices scheduled before Saturday’s league play begins. Along with Andre Drummond, Singler’s participation will be limited to practices only. Last year’s three rookies – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva – will play and presumably get long looks.

The only 2014 draftee, second-rounder Spencer Dinwiddie, is in Orlando to observe and work with strength coach Arnie Kander as he rehabilitates the torn left ACL suffered in January. Van Gundy said last week he doesn’t have any expectations for Dinwiddie to play in 2014-15, though he didn’t rule it out.

Singler had decided even before Van Gundy was hired to participate in Summer League practices, a growing trend for even established young players like Singler and Drummond.

“It’s beneficial for me, beneficial for the team,” Singler said. “It’s too bad that Spencer can’t play to get integrated with the team, but for everyone else it’s the first time since the season ended that we got together as a team.”

So far this off-season, Singler has limited his basketball activity but maintained his conditioning while he allowed his body to recover. One thing on his summer to-do list is to chat up fellow Duke alumnus J.J. Redick, though their time there did not overlap, who played under Van Gundy in Orlando. Based on what he’s seen so far, Singler is optimistic Van Gundy is the one to get the Pistons on course.

“Totally,” he said. “I have total confidence in him to make some good moves. I won’t be surprised if there are some changes made, personnel wise, in the next two or three weeks. We have some flexibility with our money, so it’s going to fall on his shoulders. You can’t really pay attention too much, but I have been reading different articles on where our needs are and what the focus is. Once it’s all said and done, it’s that guy’s choice.”

Kyle Singler gets seven practices in Orlando to make his case for Van Gundy investing the bulk of his free-agent war chest on other positions on, perhaps, on a small forward to serve as his backup.