Arnie’s Rundown

Pistons strength coach talks about strides made over the summer

Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe are wrapping up a summer of improvement.
Bernstein/Ehrmann/NBAE/Getty Images
Arnie Kander’s holistic approach to physical well being can be extrapolated to his perspective on what makes for a successful basketball team. His is a sort of a “chain is only as strong as its weakest link” view, a belief that a team composed of players who takes the time to get to know one another off the court will be better on the court for the bonds they’ve built.

If you read Thursday’s True Blue Pistons blog, you’ll know the Pistons strength and conditioning coach since 1991 is getting a good vibe about the brotherhood being forged by Lawrence Frank’s 2012-13 team. Here are a few of his observations on a number of the individuals with whom he’s gotten a chance to work this summer and the strides they’ve made during an off-season that might have been the busiest of his tenure.

  • Brandon Knight – “It was maybe a little bit of a good thing for him that he had to deal with plantar fasciitis. It got him off of his feet a little. We have a daily little ritual between me and him of honoring getting away from the court. Put your time in and then get away. Five hours on your feet is five hours on your feet. This is a long season coming and we’re hoping for a really long season, beyond the 82 and the eight exhibition games. It requires great recovery, which allows body growth.

    “He’s put on 12 pounds, maybe a little more than that. He’s banging into people. He knocked Andre (Drummond) down the other day, a big, strong man. He’s hitting people, he’s able to move them defensively. Wrestling with Rodney (Stuckey) every day in here, what a great experience for him. His ballhandling is even better than where it was last year, when it was already pretty good. He’s a great example of if you put the time in, you’re going to improve.”

  • Slava Kravtsov – “Efficient. No nonsense, no complaints. Gets right to what he has to do. Teach him one thing and – boom – he understands it. There’s no language barrier, and even when there is, there’s no learning barrier. He’s very upright, even in the post. He’s going to get better at stance technique, but, my goodness, what a quick jumper. Powerful, explosive. There’s no waste of power. He’s pure power, no waste of energy. It’s what you want your athletes to have. He’s the model of efficiency.

    “He’s pretty narrow in everything he does, but he’s going to learn to get his feet a little bit wider, which means a little quicker on shows. I think he’s really good at front to back speed right now, but he’s going to get better at lateral speed. He’ll get a little better at ballhandling.

    “Not even basketball related, but this will be a season of adjustment for him. He seems so far to be really related to his teammates, especially coming in from another country. Where is his comfort level? So far, he really fits in. He’s going out in the evening with guys for dinner. He and Jonas have bonded already, but other guys, too, are taking him, trying to help and support him. It’s all been good. Everybody really likes him.

    “I don’t know how they keep their stats in Europe, but he does a lot of things to keep the ball alive. That might not count as a rebound in Europe, but watching him today, he tipped two or three balls out. And he wasn’t just tipping. A lot of guys tip it, but he’s high enough in the air when he tips, he actually tips it to his guy. That’s a whole different level. I would think a lot of the things he does will not be on a stat sheet but they create game-winning situations.”

  • Kyle Singler – “He’s a thinker. He’s solid. He’s efficient. High basketball IQ. And athletic – extremely athletic. Athletic in his cuts. He’s an efficient athlete. That’s very, very different from a guy who can jump out of the gym and can do it all the time. He’s got incredible horizontal speed, so he’s quick, very smooth. He’s not the guy who bounds up and down the court and you’re like, ‘Wow, look at that guy run,’ but he’s so level with his energy. You watch him, pretty much all the time, he’s doing athletic cuts at game speed. That’s what we need.

    “He doesn’t say a whole lot, but he gets his message across, like Ben Wallace. His message is clear. He’s very similar. He does it in a different way, but by him making efficient cuts, game-speed cuts, plays, that’s all you want from a guy. He makes a cut that gives Brandon Knight more options, because now his guy has to come in a little bit more. It’s synergy. He’s going to create an incredible flow of synergy for this team.

    “He’s efficient in the weight room. Everything he does has purpose. Bright guy. Four years at Duke did not hurt him and then his one year of professional ball in Spain. One of the first conversations we had was about Frisbee. He told me he loves to watch the orbit. I thought, ‘You’re a thinker.’ ”

  • Khris Middleton – “He came in off the knee injury he had during his college season and I could see he had some issues with balance, but he’s gotten stronger. His flexibility for basketball has gotten better off the one side, the balance. The good part is I don’t even remember if it was left or right. That’s a great thing, because I’m not seeing it. I try not to remember what body side and then see if I can see it. I give him the credit. I can point something out, but if you don’t inhabit it and don’t want to put the time or effort in … but every day, he’s in the same locations, doing the things he knows he needs. None of this has been too much work for him.

    “Today, he goes up in our scrimmage and dunks – incredible. I’m like, ‘I didn’t know you had all of that.’ That was an impressive dunk. Everybody can see his basketball skill – a very high level of skill. Now his body is changing. He’s getting stronger. He’s gotten tighter with his handles. We never assume guys have NBA ballhandling skills, because it’s a different level. Guys are bigger, stronger, they push you – you’ve got to be able to pull back with the ball. You have to have more.”

  • Greg Monroe – “Greg told me what he wanted to do this summer after the season. He said, ‘I want to get back to grass roots’ and I said, ‘Love it, love it, love it.’ If I tell you to do it and you go there and you’re like, ‘This is hard work and it’s killing my back,’ it’s tough. When it’s your commitment, it’s different. Flipping tires like he did is not easy when you’re big and tall and getting to the ground to flip those things over. If you’re committed to it, amazing, you’ll get deeper in your stance because you chose to do it. That, followed by track, following by (working at the team’s facility), it’s intense. This was a summer of his creation. That’s leadership.

    “Credit (assistant coach) Roy (Rogers). Roy has done so much incredible work with him on consistent ballhandling things. The BK7 (the Kander contraption designed and named for Brandon Knight to enhance his ballhandling ability), that’s a great fundamental drill, but you have to put it into action on the court. Roy has a tremendous progression of drills with him where you can see him getting better at different things between heavy balls, light balls, different spin moves, really mastering it, not missing a beat on anything. They run and then do post moves, so conditioning based on basketball skill work at the same time. It’s not easy, but he’s getting really good at it. I credit Greg and Roy for all that intense work.”

  • Austin Daye – “His weight goal for this season was 218 and he’s right around the corner from it, maybe a pound or two away. He’s had a great summer. (Trainer) Joe (Abunassar) did a really nice job with him. Here’s what I like about Austin beyond his basketball skill, which we all know, and he’s stronger, which is great. But what I like more than anything is the no-nonsense approach. He’s committed. He comes in here, he’s like, ‘I don’t want to hear any I’m tired or any of that. We’re going to put in our work.’ Russia (where Daye played a year ago during the lockout) is gone. That was a tough thing, but he learned from it. That’s him stepping into his leadership: no excuses.

    “We know how talented he is, we know how gifted he is. He could be a special player if he stays mentally focused and committed and I can’t say anything but good things. At this point, everything has been going great.”

  • Andre Drummond – “Wow. Just wow. I call him Usain Drummond. He isn’t Usain Bolt yet. His mother is Jamaican and he’s becoming a runner. I’m watching this kid run like a gazelle. The guy passed his conditioning test with flying colors. He’s sprinting his tail off. He’s jumping out of the gym. Once again, no nonsense, does his work. Love the kid’s energy, love his smile, love his passion. Everything you tell him, he takes to heart, which means a lot.

    “He’s learning about his body, he’s learning about taking care of himself at another level, an NBA level, about nutrition, hydration, honoring how we warm up, how we perform, how we recover.

    “He’s a game changer. I saw him block a shot, he was above the square. Not many people can do that with his body size and structure and with that mass, to be able to sprint the way he runs and show the way he shows and get off the ground as quickly as he does. I’m so excited just to watch the athletic upgrade we’ve created.”

  • Kim English – “Add him to the list. Impressive. The guy tweaks his ankle the other day with a game-winning play, comes back the next day and says, ‘I’ve got to come back stronger today.’ I said, ‘Show me the ankle.’ He said, ‘No chance. A little tweaked ankle? I’ve got to get back out there and do my thing?’ Played his tail off. Committed. He’s in every day, thinking about things. ‘Hey, I thought about yesterday’s workout. Here’s what I want to get better at today.’

    “He’s a guy that if you teach him things, he thinks about it and turns it into his own thing. You tell him, he won’t just take it. He’ll think about it and come back the next day and tell you, ‘I thought about what you said and it makes sense’ or ‘I thought about it and this part didn’t make sense.’ That’s great. That’s how we get better.

    “He’s at about 201 right now. That’s a great weight. I think he was around 190, 191 when he came in. He’s put on strength throughout his body. He’s a battler. Ten pounds, that’s very significant for a guy that’s pretty lean to begin with. It’s good weight. There is no bad weight. He’s got no body fat.”

  • Corey Maggette – “Physically, he’s doing very well. His body has held up. To me, he is the ultimate in professionalism. When I look at the clock, I can tell you what Corey is doing. It’s quarter to three: He just got home, he’s off his feet, he’s with his family.

    “What he’s going to do to help these young guys out by his mentoring – never mind what he can do physically on the court still – but his mentoring. These young guys, it’s ‘Watch what I do, follow my lead, go out to dinner.’ Chauncey Billups did that, show them the way, teach them. He’s an incredible leader. He’ll do little things like go into the sauna and bring the young guys with him. Twenty minutes later, the young guys come out, ‘Wow, I learned about the NBA, I learned about life.’ That’s what you want – leadership, a guy who has a good heart, who’s trustworthy, a guy who puts his time in. It’s hard to do if you don’t put the time in yourself, and he does that.”