Singler comes to Pistons with impressive year of Spanish seasoning
The Pistons believed Kyle Singler was NBA ready when they picked him 33rd in the 2011 NBA draft. They had ample reason to arrive at that conclusion, too. A consensus top-10 recruit in 2007 and a McDonald’s All-American, Singler, after all, had played a whopping 148 games over a four-year career at a place where the lights burn as hot as anywhere in college basketball, Duke.
And much like Pistons assistant coach John Loyer discovered over the first three games of the Orlando Pro Summer League, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski found it difficult to take Singler off the floor. He averaged 33 minutes a game over his four years in Durham, including 36 as a junior when he led the Blue Devils to the 2010 NCAA title.
But if it was a belief that Singler was NBA ready a year ago, it is now a conviction. As an American rookie playing in the Spanish ACB league – widely considered the world’s best after the NBA – Singler’s contract was bought up mid-season by power Real Madrid, for which he became a key player as the team came within a game of winning the league title. In the process, Singler not only put up impressive stats but, perhaps more tellingly, won the trust of coaches and veteran teammates in a league that historically is a tough proving grounds for young players, domestic or otherwise.
He has two proven veterans ahead of him at small forward, mainstay Tayshaun Prince and recent trade acquisition Corey Maggette, but no one would be surprised if Singler wiggles his way into Lawrence Frank’s rotation.
“Kyle’s going to be a good player,” Loyer said. “He runs the floor every time, he’s a great cutter, he really knows how to play. When he’s out on the floor with four veteran guys, Kyle will help those guys, kind of how Tayshaun played as a young player.”
The Pistons saw a little bit of everything from Singler through six practices and three games – enough that they decided to shut him down for the final two games, in part motivated by the heavy mileage accumulated through a Spanish season that started with practices last August and concluded in mid-June.
Singler made tough shots both in practices and games, where he averaged 10 points and shot 50 percent while leading the team in minutes per game, 33.
“It’s hard to take the guy out,” Loyer said after Singler logged 36 minutes in a win over Orlando. “The guy does a lot of good things. He’s just a good basketball player.”
Maybe the most impressive slice of Singler’s week, though, came in a Saturday practice two days before games got going. Singler took a nasty poke in the eye – it would be visibly bright red for the remainder of the week – that hushed the building as he writhed in pain and eventually walked off with a towel over his face. But he came back just a few minutes later, threw down an emphatic transition dunk in traffic and followed up with a 3-pointer.
Basketball IQ, toughness and athleticism … a pretty nice package, all in all. Greg Monroe, Charlie Villanueva, Jason Maxiell, Austin Daye and Brandon Knight were all a part of that practice, at which Singler definitely left an impression on teammates and coaches.
“I was playing with a little bit of an edge (after getting injured),” Singler admitted. “Once you play well in practice, you do gain a little respect from the older guys.”
“What he did just confirmed what we’ve been saying all along about him,” Joe Dumars said. “This is a tough guy. This is a true tough guy. He’s not a guy who’s going to do a whole lot of talking, but he’ll show up and stick his nose in there. That’s for sure.”
Singler measured 6-foot-8½ at the 2011 NBA draft combine and looked all of that in Orlando. He also appeared noticeably thicker through the upper body, a byproduct of the Spanish league’s intense weight-training sessions. A typical non-game day includes two practice sessions, one on the court and one in the weight room.
“He’s got good length on him,” Dumars said. “He’s gotten much stronger. You can see it physically. His body has bulked up because they lift every day in Spain.”
“What you saw was the culmination of literally five to six days a week in the weight room for a year,” assistant general manager George David said. “It definitely showed.”
Some of his new teammates expressed surprise at Singler’s level of athleticism – though Monroe, whose Georgetown teams played Duke in each of his two college seasons, told them it didn’t catch him off guard. “Definitely sneaky athletic,” Kim English said.
“When you say some people were surprised (by his athleticism), exclude us from that,” Dumars grinned. “We knew Kyle Singler, the day we drafted him, was a tough, competitive guy. We knew he was skilled. We knew he was talented. None of those things surprise us.
“But I think the biggest key was this past year he spent in Spain. Going to Spain has been tremendous for him. Kyle comes to us now as a ready-made professional athlete. He’s that already. He’s been that for the past year.”
Singler said it was purely the specter of the NBA lockout that sent him to Spain last season, but he believes he returns a better player for the experience.
“The game is definitely different,” Singler said. “The main thing is just coming from college to playing professionally was just that transition – you’re a professional athlete and you’re getting paid to keep your body in shape, be as good a basketball player as you can be. Just being in that environment made me become a better basketball player.”
“Definitely a great player,” Knight said. “He got a lot of exposure overseas. You can see the maturity and how he plays the game. He knows how to play.”
David’s dossier on Singler goes back to his days in Medford, Ore., when Singler and Kevin Love went head to head, each leading his team to a high school state championship against the other in their final two seasons. David saw him through four years at Duke and traveled to Spain twice last season for extended looks. He saw what he expected to see from Singler in Orlando.
“There were some moments he had some great plays where we said, ‘Wow,’ ” David said. “But overall, it was certainly my expectation that he would have the smoothest transition of anybody in this Summer League in terms of picking things up right away. You’re talking about a player who in his rookie year at the highest-level team in Europe was expected to be on the floor to finish games. Believe me, not to downgrade what he did in Summer League, but that might be more impressive than Summer League.”