NBA Ready

Singler’s four years at Duke prepare him for Pistons rotation role

Kyle Singler's NCAA rivals turned out to be NBA stars; the Pistons believe the Duke forward could be one as well.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Image Sport
Kyle Singler vs. Kevin Love is to Oregon what Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird was to the world. In a smaller state that produces relatively few blue-chip basketball players, Singler and Love dominated the stage for their entire high school careers in the Pacific Northwest.

They met as both juniors and seniors for the state championship, Love’s Lake Oswego team winning in 2006, 59-57, and Singler’s South Medford squad coming back to win the following year when both were seniors, 58-54.

They were McDonald’s All-American teammates – both among the winning West’s five double-figures scorers on a loaded roster that also included Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and Michael Beasley – and recruited by all of America’s elite basketball programs. Singler and Love thought about joining forces, but ultimately landed about as far as they could get from each other – Love heading to UCLA and Singler to the opposite coast to play for Duke.

Their careers since have taken similarly divergent paths. Love entered the NBA draft after his freshman season, while Singler stayed all four years at Duke.

Love emerged as a double-double machine in his third NBA season, earning a berth in the All-Star game. Singler, meanwhile, led Duke to the NCAA title as a junior – he was named Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four – yet despite indications he would be a first-round draft choice, decided to return for his senior year.

“I had a great career at Duke,” the 6-foot-8½ Singler said when the Pistons introduced him along with fellow draftees Brandon Knight and Vernon Macklin. “I feel like I got better as a basketball player and I matured as a person, too. I feel like coming in, I’m ready to play and I’m ready to help the Pistons win.

“I don’t (have regrets about not leaving Duke earlier). After going through my senior year and just looking back on it, I would have regretted not experiencing the things I experienced in my senior year.”

The Pistons had Singler rated as a first-round pick in 2010 and again this year, and when he was still on the board when they picked at 33 in the second round, they pounced.

“When I first saw Singler as a freshman at Duke,” personnel director George David said, “I said he’s going to go five to 15 in any draft – a lottery pick. He’s a talented small forward. We spent a ton of time on him. He’s a guy we honestly, in no way, shape or form, thought was going to be there at 33. That was as much of a home run for us at 33 as Brandon was at eight.”

The Pistons strongly felt Singler would go in the 20s, believing there were several teams picking in that range that had heavy interest. If there could be a single reason why Singler didn’t wind up a lottery or first-round pick, it’s probably that his perimeter shot became erratic over the course of his Duke career. His shooting percentage went from .441 as a sophomore to .415 as a junior and his 3-point numbers plunged from .396 as a soph to .330 as a senior.

Yet nobody thinks his shot is broken and everybody sings the praises of Singler’s versatility, attitude and hustle.

“Kyle is all substance,” David said. “What you see is what you’re going to get, but what you see is really good. He’s very good at doing what he does. He’s a tough, tough, tough kid. Everything about his core is what we’re about.”

The Pistons went into the draft hoping to land someone who could provide immediate help at small forward in the event that free agents Tayshaun Prince, Tracy McGrady and DaJuan Summers all land elsewhere. In Singler, they feel like they got the ideal candidate.

Singler’s passing, ballhandling and IQ should make him a solid facilitator at small forward, a role similar to what Prince has played, while his body of work at Duke suggests he’ll be as NBA-ready defensively as any rookie.

“He’s as good a defender as there is the country,” his Duke coach, Mike Krzyzewski, said midway through Singler’s senior season. “Kyle really can defend one through five.”

Both David and Krzyzewski evoked the name of Shane Battier, one of the NBA’s smartest and most versatile perimeter defenders, by way of assessing Singler’s value defensively.

“He’ll fight everybody,” Krzyzewski said of Singler. “He gets through screens. A beautiful part of his game is how, when he is (guarding) the ball, how he orchestrates our defense. He is like Battier in that regard. Defensively, he is very similar to Shane. I think he can guard more perimeter positions than Shane.”

“Kyle is a guy you value because of the resume he can put in front of you,” David said. “Whatever you want to question on him, there’s an answer in his resume. You question being a winner – he’s a national champion. You question him being a leader – he led a team to a tremendously successful four-year career. You question the talent he played against – he played against the best all four years at Duke.

“Usually, there are holes and gaps when you’re picking at 33 and you just hope the positives outweigh the holes and gaps. In his case, we feel really, really good about a guy who had no business being there at 33.”

The Pistons are comfortable with both Singler’s floor and his ceiling. If Singler recaptures the results his shooting form suggests should occur, he could have a lengthy career as an NBA starter. If not, at minimum the breadth of his contributions should allow him to find a niche off the bench.

But the Pistons believe the shot will fix itself, in large measure because they know Singler will throw himself into the task.

“In the early stages of his career, he made shots,” Perry said. “Fundamentally, his shot looks good. He gets that back and feels good about that, it will open up a lot of things in his game. What we’ve seen, historically, from a lot of college guys – not guys who were as good a shooter as Kyle is – is they get better at this level. They put in the time, their confidence grows. I’m sure that will be a goal of his, to make that happen.”

If it doesn’t, the Pistons already know that Singler won’t allow shooting woes to seep into other areas of his game.

“I remember interviewing him and one thing he talked about was he wasn’t going to let that bother him,” Perry said. “He said, ‘Hey, we’re still winning and there are things I can do. My shot isn’t on, I can defend, I can make the right pass, rebound, run the floor, hustle – all those things. If my shot is not falling, I won’t allow it to impact those areas and affect my game.’ ”