‘A Perfect Fit’
English’s talent at both ends, leadership qualities stir Pistons optimism
George David interviews somewhere between 60 to 80 college players every year in preparation for the June draft, either at the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational or the NBA draft combine in Chicago or in Auburn Hills when the Pistons bring players in for individual workouts.
Of those 60 to 80 get-to-know-you sessions that give the team’s assistant general manager critical insight into a player’s makeup, maybe one or two will stand out every year – good or bad.
His talk with Kim English will go down as an all-timer for him.
David went to Portsmouth already intrigued by English. He loved his size, his shooting ability and – most of all – the way English got into it as a perimeter defender, a kid who hiked up his shorts, got his backside down and clearly relished the challenge of winning the one-on-one battle.
Among the topics that raised David’s eyebrows was the way English spent his summers. Accustomed to hearing players tick off their cross-country treks with AAU teams, David heard English tell him about a summer job laying concrete.
“That one stood out for sure,” David laughed. “I hadn’t heard that one before.”
He also heard English tell him that after every Missouri game, he would immediately watch a DVD replay, perhaps on the bus or plane ride home or in his apartment after home games, to see what he might have done better or differently. Before every game, English would study the opponent’s 10 most recent games.
David made certain to schedule English for an Auburn Hills visit after that, which occurred just before the early-June Chicago combine. It was English among the workout participants with whom David and Joe Dumars had dinner.
“The thing that stood out with Kim is he was very genuine,” David said. “Everything he told you was real. There was no exaggeration, no script to what he was saying. From a leadership standpoint, from a preparation standpoint and from the standpoint of being able to showcase what he does well, that’s what made him, in our opinion, a perfect fit.”
“Kim English is the type of guy you have to have on your team,” Dumars said after English turned in a most encouraging week at the Orlando Pro Summer League, where he started all five games at shooting guard and averaged 11.4 points and 3.8 rebounds while leading the team in minutes played and making nearly half of his 3-point attempts (10 of 22).
“I think Kim English is a winner, I think he’s a tough guy, I think he makes shots, I think he takes the challenge to defend. He’s just the type of guy that’s going to help you win. High-character kid, type A personality. He ultimately wants to be a leader. To get a guy like that with the 44th pick in the draft, we feel really good about him.”
As a student of the game, English pored over NBA rosters to see which teams might need him most and provide the best opportunity to advance his career. From afar, he thought the Pistons fit that profile. After sitting down with Dumars and his team in Chicago, he felt an emotional connection, too.
“This is perfect,” he said in Orlando. “A really good, young core. I’m excited to be a Piston and excited to grow with these guys.”
It didn’t take English long to affirm management’s belief in his ability to contribute. In the Orlando opener, English led the Pistons with 18 points, making 3 of 4 from the 3-point line, while playing lock-down defense against 2011 Utah lottery pick Alec Burks, coming off a promising rookie season. Burks would go on to rank No. 3 in Orlando scoring at more than 17 per game and join Austin Daye on the Orlando all-league first team, but English held him to 10 points on 3 of 9 shooting – and nine of those points came in the last five minutes after the Pistons had built a big lead.
“The game where he defended Alec Burks was a great example,” David said. “Whenever I’ve given a description of Kim English, I’ve said he’s a guy who can make shots and really defend on the ball. You can’t let that part get lost in the equation. It’s very much a part of what he brings.”
“I take pride in guarding people,” English said, “so I really like to ramp it up on the defensive end.”
The trade of Ben Gordon creates an immediate opening for a backup shooting guard behind Rodney Stuckey. English, coming off of his week in Orlando, will go into training camp as the clear front-runner to claim that job barring any personnel moves before then. If English seizes the opportunity, it might mean more than just spot minutes when Stuckey rests. Lawrence Frank showed a willingness to use a three-guard rotation last season when Brandon Knight, Stuckey and Gordon were all healthy and playing well. Should English earn Frank’s trust, it’s possible he will play not only when Stuckey sits but when Knight rests, too, with Stuckey moving over to play point guard.
English will turn 24 before camp opens after spending four years at Missouri and a year before that at a Massachusetts prep school honing his game for college. At Missouri, he played three years under Mike Anderson, now at Arkansas, and a final season under Frank Haith, thriving in two significantly different systems. He loved playing for Haith and the more highly structured offense he installed, which bodes well for his NBA future, as well.
It’s a future that can’t get here fast enough for English, as he made clear at his introductory press conference at the team’s practice facility the day after the June 28 draft.
“We’re ready to work,” he said. “We’re ready to work today, if we could. We’re ready for Summer League. We’re ready for October first.”
English bears every characteristic of a future team leader, but it’s always easier to lead from in front than from behind. The more significant a player’s role is, the more naturally leadership will fall to him. The Pistons believe English has the talent and the drive to maximize his ability.
“Those types of personalities and those types of driven player are what you hope for,” David said. “You hope they have the talent worthy to put them on the floor to go with their drive. Sometimes you get a kid like that and the talent just isn’t good enough. In his case, he has both.”