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Infusion of newcomers expands Pistons lineup possibilities

The Pistons fortified their frontcourt with the additions of big men Slava Kravtsov and Andre Drummond.
Fernando Medina/Oleksiy Naumov (Getty Images/Flickr.com)
Within a few weeks of the Miami Heat winning the NBA title with a lineup that often featured five essentially perimeter players, the Pistons added two 7-footers. Did the Pistons just get big as the NBA was going small?

No. Wrong way to look at it. What the Pistons did in adding Andre Drummond and Slava Kravtsov was arm themselves with the ability to be as flexible as they need to be in an NBA where not many teams have the luxury of winning the same way every night.

And let’s start with that. In a copycat league, if you’re going to hold Miami up as the example of how to build, well … good luck with that. Never mind the Pat Riley blueprint that enabled the free-agent recruiting pitch to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh two summers ago.

Ignore how Miami was assembled and focus on the reality of trying to match up with the sheer athleticism the Heat can muster in a lineup that includes Bosh at center, James at power forward and Wade anywhere from point guard to small forward surrounded by Swiss Army knife Shane Battier and, now, Ray Allen.

If you’re going to respond in kind to that lineup and try to win small, you’re in for a long night.

Matching up with other teams is a little less problematic, but matching up at all was a difficult chore a season ago for Lawrence Frank. It doesn’t figure to be going forward. Not only have the Pistons added frontcourt size and athleticism with Drummond and Kravtsov, they’ve added depth, size and athleticism on the wings, too.

Corey Maggette’s addition probably deserves more attention than it’s gotten. Not only has Maggette been one of the NBA’s absolute best at drawing fouls and shooting free throws for a decade, but his presence is one obvious way that allows the Pistons to match up when teams go small.

When Austin Daye’s confidence sputtered last season, Damien Wilkins became Tayshaun Prince’s backup at small forward. That pretty much cut Frank off at the knees with respect to shifting Prince to power forward in the final minutes of games when most teams now throw their five best players on the floor, which in many cases means downsizing. Prince isn’t a big fan of playing power forward, but if it means matching up primarily with other perimeter players it isn’t going to faze him, physically or mentally.

Even if Maggette can’t stay injury-free – he’s coming off an injury-riddled season that made him available for roughly half of Charlotte’s games – Kyle Singler affirmed the Pistons’ belief in his NBA readinesss, based on his success in Spain, with his play in the Orlando Pro Summer League. And Singler, nearly 6-foot-9 himself and noticeably stronger than when he left Duke after a year of Spain’s rigorous focus on strength training, provides another power forward option against downsizing teams.

The Pistons will be incorporating five rookies: Kravtsov, Drummond, Singler, Kim English and Khris Middleton. That’s never an easy task, but it’s much better done this season than last. Lawrence Frank is now entrenched and unencumbered by the lockout. All newcomers but Kravtsov got a crash course in Camp Frank during their nine days in Orlando. Frank’s summer ruminations this time around are grounded in firsthand observation and personal knowledge of his players, not the supposition and tape study of a summer ago.

And in Kravtsov, Singler and English, the Pistons are getting unusually well-prepared rookies. Singler and English are both five years removed from high school – Singler four years at Duke and one professional season abroad, English a prep school postgraduate year plus four seasons at Missouri – and Kravtsov has been a professional for several seasons. By the time the season starts, Singler and English will be 24, Kravtsov 25.

If Drummond and Kravtsov are both good enough to push for minutes, Greg Monroe could wind up spending as much time playing power forward as center this year and see that ratio start tipping the other way soon. If Frank wants to keep Monroe at center without sacrificing size or scoring in the frontcourt, he has Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye available as stretch fours. Jason Maxiell has endeared himself to a string of teammates and coaching staffs for his utter reliability and toughness.

If English is as ready to play as his Orlando run suggested, Frank could pair him with Rodney Stuckey when Brandon Knight needs a rest and field a physically imposing defensive backcourt.

And that’s scratching the surface of a set of possibilities that simply didn’t exist for the Pistons a year ago. A fascinating season lies ahead.