Orlando Checklist

Pistons head to Summer League with a full agenda

Brandon Knight will join several of his teammates in Orlando for the NBA Summer League.
Pistons photo
ORLANDO – About two hours short of a full week since the Pistons called Andre Drummond’s name with the ninth pick in the 2012 NBA draft, he will be wearing their uniform – well, Pistons-logoed practice gear, at least – and participating in his first practice as a professional basketball player.

By the time the 18-year-old leaves central Florida eight days from now, the first chapter in a very thick instruction book will have been written for him – and by him.

“With Andre, we look at a young man who from an athletic standpoint is off the charts at his position,” Lawrence Frank said last week. “We think it’s going to be a process. Andre is 18. He’s played one year of college basketball.”

The process begins on many levels in Summer League, where the Pistons will log seven practices over the next four days and then play five games in five days. Drummond joins Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight as pillars of the franchise’s future and they’ll come together in Orlando. Knight will be the team’s starting point guard; Monroe, a well-established NBA starter on his way to All-Star status, accepted Frank’s invitation to practice with the team to begin fostering chemistry with his young teammates.

So that’s first on the checklist for Orlando. Here’s what the Pistons might hope to get accomplished in the week ahead:

1. Indoctrinate Drummond – It wasn’t long after Monroe moved into the starting lineup midway through his rookie season and began posting routine double-doubles that the Pistons (a) knew they had that important first building block for the next generation and (b) began the quest for a frontcourt mate whose talents complemented those of the skilled and cerebral 2010 lottery pick.

Had the Pistons built that player in a chemistry lab, he would look exactly like Andre Drummond: a 7-footer with freakish length and athleticism. Now it’s time to cultivate their harvest – time to see if the on-court reality can live up to the on-paper ideal.

The Pistons are looking for Drummond to first exhibit consistency in the areas where they know he can be special: block shots, intimidate penetrators, rebound and finish lob dunks. The evolution will continue with Drummond working side by side with assistant coaches led by Roy Rogers on post moves and the nuances of NBA interior play, but for now if he sets hard screens, plays defense responsibly and cleans up rebounds, the Pistons will be thrilled.

The Pistons believe Drummond’s reserved, easygoing demeanor will mesh well with Monroe and Knight; they’ll be looking for signs that Drummond’s fire can be stoked to burn as hot as they’ve come to see Monroe and Knight’s to do.

2. Advance Leadership – Frank spoke as last season wound down about the value he sees in Summer League and how he watched Oklahoma City’s young core players grow as leaders in the course of Summer League play.

He recalled Kevin Durant returning to Orlando after his second season, by which time he was clearly an ascendant superstar, specifically to bond with Russell Westbrook and James Harden and make certain they shared an organizational vision.

That was behind his hope Monroe would join the Pistons in Orlando. And it’s a certainty the Pistons will put Knight in situations where he has to use his voice for the many young players who figure to be his teammates for the long haul, Monroe and Drummond foremost, but also second-round picks Khris Middleton and Kim English and holdovers Vernon Macklin and Austin Daye.

Knight has been his usual dogged self this summer, working on strength gains and the finer points of running an offense, including a particular focus on operating out of the pick and roll and sharpening his skills as a passer in those settings. That will be on display, as well; it will bear watching to see how Knight and Drummond – who could be a fearsome weapon with his size and athleticism rolling to the rim – team in pick-and-roll situations.

3. Fast Track Rookies – The Pistons were thrilled to come away from the second round with both Middleton and English. They made it clear they expect both to be on the roster next year. Since they bring the size, shooting and athleticism the Pistons lacked on the wings, there is playing time available if they prove up to the responsibility.

Orlando will be their first chance to prove themselves. English, after a prep school year following high school and a four-year career at Missouri, might be more ready to step in immediately, especially considering the void created by the trading of Ben Gordon.

Don’t forget Kyle Singler, either. He’ll fight for minutes behind Tayshaun Prince, but he might not get quite as much court time in Orlando as English and Middleton. Singler is coming off a very long season in Spain and the Pistons will be mindful not to overwork him.

4. Rehabilitating Daye – It’s somewhat unusual for a third-year pro to participate in Summer League, but Daye’s third season was such a complete washout that he was eager to press the reset button as soon as possible. The Pistons are willing to write off 2011-12 as the product of a lockout that saw Daye go to Russia, lose weight and then struggle when his one certifiable NBA skill – his jump shot – betrayed him from the start.

It will be important for Daye, more than any Piston in Summer League, to produce consistently. His position is now crowded with not only Prince, but Singler, Middleton and Corey Maggette. He might have to show conclusive evidence he can survive as an NBA power forward or shooting guard and Orlando is the place to start.

Macklin is also under the gun to a degree. The Pistons did not make him a qualifying offer, which means Macklin goes to Orlando as an unrestricted free agent who can sign with any team. Coming off his impressive D-League stint to finish last season, it’s possible he’ll have suitors if he can continue his success in Orlando. The Pistons appear to have 15 committed roster spots with last week’s news that they intend to sign Ukrainian 7-footer Slava Kravtsov, but a trade could free up a roster spot and give Macklin a way back to the roster. More double-double production in Orlando would make that an easier call for the Pistons.