Up to Speed

Pistons rookies adjusting to NBA tempo, training camp legs

Two years might seem a lifetime ago given the distance Greg Monroe has traveled, but he remembers well the feeling of being a half-step behind every play in the awkward early days of training camp.

The Pistons have added Kyle Singler, Khris Middleton and Kim English to their perimeter over the past two drafts – picking up healthy doses of size, athleticism and perimeter shooting in the process – and they’ve seen plenty from the three rookies in the days leading to camp to be confident in their futures. But the combination of heavy legs after the first week of camp and adjusting to the pace of NBA basketball was evident in their wayward jump shots at Saturday’s open scrimmage at Oakland University.

“It’s training camp,” Monroe said afterward. “Everybody is a little bit fatigued after a whole week of training camp, a few two-a-days, so we have to fight through it. Every team in the league goes through this – some legs not here. A lot of those shots you see today, they’re going to fall for us, so we’re not worried about it. Now we’re going to start to get back to being fully prepared and get our bodies back right to start these preseason games.”

The Pistons logged 90 minutes of practice before the doors to OU’s O-rena were opened to the public, too, and then played four six-minute quarters with assistant coaches handling a rotating group of players split into two teams and Lawrence Frank observing along with Joe Dumars and members of his front office.

English had a strong day, the jump shots aside, flashing the defensive grit the Pistons loved about him as a four-year player at Missouri, but finding a way to contribute on offense, too, by consistently presenting himself as a target on the wing in transition.

“You have to learn your role,” English said. “Your role in Summer League, if you’re a pretty talented player .. the level of talent is different now. I have an expert at my position in Rodney Stuckey, Corey Maggette. So it’s just been a new learning curve, but it’s been very productive. I learned a lot this past week. Great week.”

Singler has played exclusively at small forward this week in camp, he said. Maggette has played behind both Tayshaun Prince at small forward and Stuckey at shooting guard. Middleton played at small forward in the scrimmage. There might be room in the rotation for one of the perimeter rookies, so Maggette’s ability to swing between positions gives Lawrence Frank the luxury of using whichever rookie stands out.

“They’re each very different,” Frank said. “They’re all trying to do well, but it’s a lot of stuff being thrown at them. It’s not like we’ve gone especially fast, but you’ve got a core group of guys who have a good feel, so they’re just playing at a different speed and able to react a little bit quicker. Plus, your role is different. You come out of college and you’re the primary scorer and now you’ve got to understand what your role is. Intellectually, it’s very easy to figure out; it’s the concept on the court, how that applies. Plus, you’re going against bigger and stronger guys in many cases and it’s adjusting to that. All those guys have the right talent and right spirit and trying to do the proper things.”

“It’s definitely quicker,” Singler said. “Just the skill level is so much higher and the knowledge of the game is much greater. Just trying to learn at a quicker pace has been an adjustment. Being here in the summer, playing pickup, you don’t get a feel for the structure that we have in practices. It’s a completely different game. It’s a lot quicker pace. The reads you need to make are quicker, but the structure and the things coach wants are demanding and specific.”

The rookie who stood out Saturday was Slava Kravtsov. He was every bit as advertised: long and athletic and very much a defensive presence. He spent a good chunk of the scrimmage guarding Greg Monroe and showed solid footwork and the ability to hold his position. Monroe dipped his shoulder once and got a half-step on Kravtsov going right to left, but Kravtsov cleanly swatted Monroe’s shot from behind. Will Bynum gave a head feint to beat the defense to the paint, but Kravtsov came from the weak side to pin Bynum’s shot.

“He’s had a couple of days like this before,” Frank said. “His length was definitely a factor. He had a good day.”

Andre Drummond had some nice moments, too, showing quick hands in the post and covering a lot of ground in the middle.

“Those guys have had a good week,” Monroe said of the two big men. “They’ve been playing real well. They still have some stuff to learn, but they’ve been getting it down.”