Bulking Up

Kravtsov’s sheer size, athleticism help to transform Pistons

The Pistons should have a tougher frontcourt with the addition of Slava Kravtsov alone.
Aleksandr Osipov, Flickr.com
The Pistons have known about Slava Kravtsov for a while now. They saw him play for Boston in the 2010 Summer League and agreed with the consensus opinion: He simply wasn’t ready to play in the NBA at that point. So they filed his name away, as they do scores of names every summer, and decided he was worth monitoring.

Around the middle of last season, Pistons assistant general manager George David noticed Kravtsov was racking up player of the week and month awards in the Ukrainian Superleague and decided a firsthand look was in order. For the past two years, Kravtsov has been voted his league’s domestic player of the year.

“I watched some of his games on tape,” David said. “Two things stuck out to me. He looked very athletic and he looked very strong. The athleticism you could see on tape and can judge accurately, but when you see somebody on tape and try to judge if they’re 6-10 or 7 feet, you really have to see that in person.”

So David amended his itinerary for a long-planned April trip to Europe to check up on 2011 draft pick Kyle Singler, going to Dnipropetrovsk for a playoff game. David thought Kravtsov’s BC Donetsk team was ahead 2-0 in its best-of-five playoff series, so hurriedly arrived for Game 3 only to find out the series was instead tied 1-1; a Kravtsov blocked shot at the buzzer of Game 2 to apparently preserve a one-point win was reversed to a goal-tending call and a Dnipro win overnight.

So David settled in to watch an intensely contested and critical Game 3 in which Kravtsov was brilliant. He e-mailed Joe Dumars immediately to let him know Kravtsov had 21 points – all on dunks and free throws – and three blocked shots. “This kid is pretty good,” David told his boss.

“Joe responded, ‘Wow, great game,’ ” David said. “I wrote back and said, ‘No, it’s only halftime.’ ”

“Seeing him in person for the first time, the first thing that came across was his size. He definitely has an NBA center’s body. He’s all of 7 feet and very strong and his athleticism just jumped out at me in terms of his ability to get up on the rim quick. He got up very quickly.”

David returned to Detroit and talked to Lawrence Frank’s assistant coach, Brian Hill, who had assisted Mike Fratello with the Ukrainian national team last summer.

“Brian confirmed what we had seen,” he said. “He said that at worst, he would be a good NBA backup center. Speaking to Brian about him as a kid off the court, being receptive to coaching, Brian gave him flying colors. That gave us the confidence to go ahead with it.”

Dumars has seen plenty of Kravtsov on tape, not just highlights but complete games.

“I see a 7-foot guy, great body, plays above the rim, great finisher around the rim, shot-blocker,” Dumars said. “He runs the floor extremely well. We feel like we’re getting him at the right time.”

Kravtsov speaks English and, according to both David and Dumars, has clearly expressed his desire to play in the NBA.

“He wants to play in the NBA – is excited as heck to be in the NBA,” Dumars said. “Not only playing in the NBA,” David said, “but playing in Detroit. He’s very excited about it.”

Dumars and David will travel to Europe within the next month to see Kravtsov play for his national team as it competes in qualifying rounds of the European championship, just as Jonas Jerebko will compete for the Swedish national team, planning to see him play in Kiev for sure among the several places the Ukrainian team is scheduled to play.

“We’ve found a lot of times when you first sign a player in Europe, it’s nice to see them play in their home country,” David said.

Kravtsov is right-handed, but frequently blocks shots with his left hand. He also flashes a left-handed hook shot near the basket, where Kravtsov does the bulk of his scoring. But Kravtsov’s value to the Pistons will be his sheer physical presence, especially on defense. Adding both Kravtsov and rookie Andre Drummond will transform the Pistons from one of the NBA’s least imposing teams to one with potentially great size and frontcourt athleticism if both crack the rotation.

“Then you can match up with anybody,” Dumars said. “That’s been key for us. You better have bigs to compete and now we have that right.”

“He’s as ready as you can get,” David said. “He’s a guy who’s played a number of years of professional basketball at a high level in Europe. His body is as good as you’re going to get. I don’t think you can get a better situation than we have with him.”