Singler on His Way

2011 2nd-rounder boosts depth after standout year in Spain

After playing in Spain last season, Kyle Singler will join the Pistons in July.
Joel Auerbach (Getty Images)
There were seasons not so long ago when the Pistons, confident in Tayshaun Prince’s ability not only to play every game but give them 35 or more minutes a night, addressed small forward depth with nothing more than an annual rotation of limited veterans. Think Jarvis Hayes or Walter Herrmann.

The position is suddenly stacked with depth, so much so that 2009 No. 1 pick Austin Daye – once seen as the heir apparent to Prince – might have to scrap for minutes at shooting guard or power forward next season.

Corey Maggette came from Charlotte in the Ben Gordon trade and the Pistons are high on the shooting potential of Texas A&M’s Khris Middleton, taken with the 39th pick in last week’s draft.

But don’t forget about Kyle Singler, either, the 2011 second-rounder who will be on the team’s Summer League roster that gathers Thursday in Orlando. Singler spent last season playing in Spain, first for Alicante and then for powerful Real Madrid, which purchased his contract after he opened eyes by leading Alicante in scoring. The Pistons expect to sign him to a contract shortly and have him on the team for 2012-13.

Pistons personnel director George David spent time in Spain during the lockout watching Singler and then again for nearly two weeks in April and came back convinced Singler is ready to play NBA minutes.

In some ways, David says, Singler calls Prince to mind – the ability to play through him as a small forward.

“One of the first things that stands out about Kyle and one of the reasons for his success in Europe is he is a very responsible player,” David said. “He’s a player you can play through. You trust his decision making. He’s got very good instincts for finding open cutters, for making the right play, for making the right pass.”

David particularly remembers a play late in a road game that underscored not only Singler’s basketball IQ, but the unusual level of respect he earned from teammates as an American rookie in a league that is generally distrustful of young players.

“They were playing at Manresa and there were about five seconds left in the game, Kyle’s team up three and Manresa has the ball out of bounds,” David said. “Kyle is grabbing all of his teammates by the arm and telling them, because of time and score, let’s make sure we switch everything. Now this is a rookie – not only a rookie, but an American rookie – doing this.

“It told me a couple of things. One, it told me he was confident that he was right. You don’t say it at that point unless you know you’re right. Two, it told me he had created a tremendous trust and bond with his teammates for them to accept this from a rookie.”

David said he believes the success Singler experienced playing in Spain can only help his confidence as he transitions to the NBA and, beyond that, the experience of playing there enabled Singler to develop his game in ways beyond what four years at Duke allowed.

“I think he had a chance to show some things that he wasn’t able to show just because of the difference between playing professional basketball and college basketball, not specific to Duke,” he said. “Kyle had a very unusual situation in terms of being a true American rookie starting on a high-level – one of the highest-level – European teams, and being a true American rookie who finished games. He did both, which is very rare.

“One of the things he’s gotten better at is his play around the basket. He’s got some nice pump fakes. He’s become a little more clever and craftier around the basket. The second thing would be passing. He’s a very good passer. He sees the floor well, especially in the half court. We never considered him a pure shooter, but he’s a guy who puts a tremendous amount of work in. He had good work habits before he went to Spain; from what I saw, they increased.”

Singler shot right around 40 percent from the 3-point line for both teams and also in Euroleague play, a stat that speaks both to his improved shot and to his basketball IQ, David said.

“Part of that is attributed to his shot selection,” he said. “Part of the reason he was able to play so many minutes as a rookie is he took so very few poor shots. If you take a lot of poor shots over there, you’re not playing long. He made good decisions – when to shoot, when not to shoot.”

The Pistons will be mindful of Singler’s workload in parceling out Summer League minutes. He arrived in Spain last August for two-a-day practices and his season didn’t conclude until June 16 when Real Madrid lost the ACB finals to Barcelona.

“He’s had a 10-month season. I would be guessing to tell you what his body would be like,” David said. “There’s nobody on our roster right now who can tell you what that would be like. It’s something we’ll gauge day to day with him in Summer League and be very receptive to how he feels.”

Middleton’s presence on the Summer League roster should allow Singler to play limited minutes, perhaps even skipping a game or two. The Pistons play five games in five days start July 9. The battle for backup minutes behind Tayshaun Prince – maybe even the battle to one day replace him – could have its roots in Orlando.