Sink or Swim

Pistons rookies scramble to keep up with information overload

It might not be the approach Lawrence Frank would use were he a classroom teacher responsible for making sure every student was capable of moving on to the next grade at semester’s end. But he’s an NBA coach charged with winning games, so he teaches at a pace appropriate to achieve that end.

That means the five Pistons rookies are basically in sink-or-swim mode.

“What we’ve said is it’s going to take you extra time to figure it out,” Frank said. “You can’t retard the progress of the group because you have so many new guys.”

Frank is dealing from a position of relative strength, unlike a year ago when he was introducing concepts foreign to every player on his team as a first-year coach – and doing it without the benefit of anything resembling a real training camp or preseason in the harried post-lockout days.

“It’s one thing last year, where you had everyone learning at the same stage. Now you’ve got a core group that knows,” he said. “And the other group? Hey, that’s what life’s all about. You can’t compare yourself to a guy who’s been here. Just compare yourself to you the day before. We start the race at different stages.”

Each of the five rookies – 2012 draftees Andre Drummond, Khris Middleton and Kim English; 2011 pick Kyle Singler, who spent last season playing professionally in Spain; and Slava Kravtsov, new to the NBA but with several seasons as a pro in his native Ukraine – has shown flashes of the ability that made them attractive to the Pistons in the first place. But they’re all in the thinking-not-reacting mode as they deal with the daily onslaught of information.

Singler, for instance, was accustomed to always playing passing lanes at Duke, where Mike Krzyzewski has long practiced a pressure defense based on the philosophy that his talented teams could take advantage of the likelihood that the opposition didn’t have five quality ballhandlers and could be forced into a rash of turnovers. That doesn’t work very well at the NBA level, where overplaying defenses usually get carved up in odd-numbered chances the other way.

“There’s definitely an adjustment there,” Singler said. “I do need to get rid of some old habits, good habits I developed at Duke, but the defensively philosophy in the NBA is totally different. I still have my habits, so I need to learn to pick up new ones and adjust that way.”

The rookies at least can take solace in knowing they’re not in it alone.

“It’s easier knowing that guys are going through the same things you’re going through,” Singler said. “It’s nice having other guys on the team in different positions and different situations, too, going through it for the first time.”

The young players have met with Frank before practices start to get defensive tutorials. Now that two-a-days have concluded they’ll get plenty of post-practice work with their assistant coaches, as well. Frank understands the process. As long as the rookies put in the time and show an openness to coaching, he’s in their corner.

“It’s very natural,” he said of the learning curve. “It will be like this for a little bit. When you’re a rookie, on all teams, there’s just so much thinking going on. A lot of times, it’s paralysis by analysis. Each guy has had their moments, but it’s hard because you keep on introducing new things. But all those guys have had some really good moments and over the course of time it becomes more instinctive and more natural.”