Khris Middleton again started for Singler and undrafted free agent Casper Ware for Knight and they scored the last two critical baskets as the Pistons beat Philadelphia 71-67 on Friday.
“Brandon’s had a good week,” Pistons Summer League coach John Loyer said as the Pistons wrapped up a 4-1 week. “He’s a starting point guard in this league and to come out and play four games and practice the way he practiced, he earned it. Kyle’s played a full season and I played him quite a few minutes those first few games. It’s also good to sit back and watch a little bit. We were happy with both of those guys, so we shut ’em down.
“It’s a game of stepping up and a lot of guys stepped up today.”
Without Knight and Singler, a greater share of the offensive burden shifted to Kim English and Austin Daye. English responded by draining 4 of 7 3-pointers to lead all scorers with 17 points, but English again demonstrated his game is about much more than scoring. Daye’s trial at power forward couldn’t have gone much better for him and he finished with a flourish.
He scored 10 points, none bigger than a contested baseline jumper with the shot clock at hand and the Pistons leading by two with 2:25 left, amid a stretch that saw the Pistons score on six of their final seven possessions, superb execution given the point guard who dominated minutes through four games was on the bench at crunch time.
But Daye’s contributions went well beyond points, as well. He grabbed 11 rebounds, had three steals, two assists and a blocked shot. He finished the week averaging 15.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots and gave the Pistons solid evidence that power forward might well be his NBA future.
Daye made a handful of winning plays, including a series where he blocked a shot, took a charge and grabbed two offensive rebounds on a possession that concluded with a Vernon Macklin basket.
“I’m proud of Austin this week,” Pistons president Joe Dumars said. “He’s not shied away from any challenge down here. He didn’t blink an eye. He accepted it and played very well down here.”
Everybody made plays down the stretch – Ware with a nice pass to Macklin for a reverse layup on one trip and a tough floater to put the game away with six seconds left; Middleton, who shot into some tough luck but over the past two days showed signs of finding a comfort level with the pace of NBA play, with two late rebounds and a gorgeous 14-foot pull-up with 35 seconds left to put the Pistons ahead by five; Macklin with a basket and his defensive hustle; undrafted rookie Yancy Gates with his surprisingly good jump shot and physical presence.
“We would have loved to have (Singler and Knight),” English said, “especially the way we all played together yesterday. But it was an opportunity. That may happen sometimes this year if guys are tired or need rest. I know it’s Summer League, but coach Frank said it best: If they’re keeping score, we’re going to try to win.”
“We told our guys, people have amnesia,” Loyer said. “You always want them to remember you with a win. There was one other team (Boston) 4-1 and we beat Boston, so these guys really wanted to go out and win a championship and to their credit, did a nice job.”
Andre Drummond didn’t get as much time in the finale, scoring six points with two rebounds and one emphatic blocked shot in 17 minutes, showing some lapses in focus along the way, particularly in boxing out for defensive rebounds. But the Pistons left Orlando feeling even better about the No. 9 pick than they did on draft night.
“It’s always encouraging to see a guy get on the floor and play in an NBA setting,” Dumars said. “To have watched him over the last 10 days down here, between practice and games, it’s encouraging. The most encouraging thing is he’s a willing learner. This is not a kid that’s brushing you off. When you talk to him, he’s looking you dead in the eye and trying to soak everything you say. He’s a kid who listens.”
The players will go their separate ways for a few weeks and get off of their feet. It’s been a whirlwind for all of them. English said he hasn’t taken a day off since his college season ended – first preparing for the draft and then for Summer League. Singler’s Spanish league season, which started with practices way back in August 2011, didn’t end until 12 days before the draft. The young players all plan to filter back to Auburn Hills by early August to get settled and work out regularly under the eyes of strength coach Arnie Kander and the coaching staff.
They’ll come back with a greater sense of what the NBA and Pistons culture is all about for the experience of the past week-plus.
“I came here and I wanted to get better each day and I feel like I did,” said Middleton, only 20 and still getting over the effects of knee surgery early in his college season. “Each day I wanted to come out here and gain confidence, just try to get better every day.”
“Our practices prepared me for training camp,” English said. “The difference is I’ll be guarding Rodney Stuckey when training camp starts. But I’m excited. I’ll learn a lot more guarding a savvy vet like Stuck.”
The coaches, too, feel like they’ll go into training camp with a much better feel for their team this season than last, when the lockout wiped out Summer League. Loyer said the staff felt all of their major goals set before coming to Orlando had been achieved.
“We sat down as a coaching staff and really laid out some things for each individual and as a group and we thought we did,” Loyer said. “We’ll sit back now and look at the tape a little bit deeper, but we’re happy with the way our guys competed. The two things we really wanted to do was play hard and play together and we think we accomplished that.”