Rookies on a Roll

Drummond steals the show again in solid debuts for English, Middleton

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

– The Pistons put their 2012 draft class on the floor en masse late in Saturday’s first half of their 108-91 loss to Milwaukee and Joe Dumars might have been tempted to dole out raises for his entire scouting staff by halftime. Andre Drummond, Khris Middleton and Kim English all acquitted themselves well, Drummond especially. The 7-footer, taken No. 9, fouled out with 19 points, 10 rebounds, two blocked shots and two assists. He put up 10 points, six boards and two blocks in his 13-minute stint in the first half, using his strength and athleticism to overwhelm a long and experienced Milwaukee frontcourt. English knocked down his first two shots, both 3-pointers, and finished with nine points, seven rebounds and an assist. Middleton also made his first shot, a triple, giving the Pistons the perimeter punch they’d hoped for when taking them in the second round, and he wound up with 11 points to go with four boards and three assists.

BLUE COLLAR – Corey Maggette and Jonas Jerebko drew the start at the forward spots for Tayshaun Prince and Jason Maxiell, who got the night off. They combined to give the Pistons 25 points and a different look than the Prince-Maxiell forward combo. Maggette was outstanding in the third quarter, scoring 10 of his 14 points in a 10-minute stint. Jerebko had 11 points and likely solidified his spot in the rotation at either forward spot.

RED FLAG – On a team that could use perimeter shooting, Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye need to provide that if they’re to emerge with a foothold in the rotation among a four-way battle for minutes at power forward with Jason Maxiell and Jonas Jerebko. But Daye was 2 of 11 in his preseason debut on Friday night and Villanueva – after missing his first five shots in Saturday’s loss on the heels of a 3 of 12 showing in the opener – is now 4 of 21. The Pistons know what they’ll get from Maxiell and Jerebko, even if they don’t have the scoring potential of Villanueva and Daye, who played the last eight minutes Saturday and hit 1 of 3 for two points. With several players capable of playing multiple positions, Lawrence Frank might start considering other possibilities if his two stretch fours don’t start providing perimeter punch. It didn’t help Villanueva that, given the start in the third quarter, Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova scored 16 points in the first eight minutes.

MILWAUKEE – The Pistons, prepared to be patient with Andre Drummond, have very deliberately attempted to not overinflate expectations for a kid who turned 19 in August. Now they just need to get Andre Drummond to cooperate.

In two extended preseason stints, Drummond has provided enough glimpses of the spectacular that it might be as hard to keep him out of the lineup as it will be to tamp down those expectations.

In 25 minutes, Drummond put up 19 points, 10 rebounds, two blocked shots and two assists, teaming with fellow 2012 draft picks Khris Middleton and Kim English to provide the highlights for the Pistons on a night there weren’t many beyond them. The 108-91 loss featured a 40-point third quarter by Milwaukee, which expanded a nine-point halftime lead to 28 before the rookies led a comeback that chopped 15 points off their deficit.

Drummond had 12 points and seven boards in his preseason debut before putting in just a cameo in Friday’s loss at Toronto. Two often dazzling performances in two extended appearances bode well for the NBA readiness of a player many anticipated would be wracked by inconsistency.

“I can’t do it without the help of my teammates,” Drummond said. “Really, it all starts on the defensive end. We got started well on the defensive end. Once you get going on the defensive end, everybody gets going. That got me in the flow of the game.”

“All these things are building blocks,” Lawrence Frank said of Drummond’s back-to-back eyebrow raisers. “They’re all positives. We kind of regroup and evaluate where we’re at to see where it all fits, but those are two very positive performances. Those are building blocks for him.”

Frank deliberately inserted all three rookies simultaneously in both halves, he said, in the first appearances for both English and Middleton.

“Just the chemistry and to see them working with different guys,” Frank said. “They acquitted themselves pretty well. Andre, Jonas (Jerebko), Khris and Kim – those guys, they stood out to me amongst our group.”

The Pistons picked Middleton and English in the second round and hoped that they, along with 2011 second-rounder Kyle Singler, would give them a jolt of size, athleticism and shooting along their perimeter. Both flashed all-around games against the Bucks on a night Singler, after an impressive showing of his own on Friday, sat one out as Corey Maggette and Middleton split small forward minutes.

English knocked down two triples in a nine-point, seven-rebound night. Middleton hit three triples and finished with 11 points, five boards, three assists and two steals.

“It was good to get out there in an NBA game,” Middleton said. “Once you get out there, you’re just playing basketball. After the first minute running up and down, I realized that and let myself know it’s just a regular basketball game. I’m just doing everything the coaches have asked me to do – going out there to defend, rebound, just play solid defense and guard the ball. They tell me everything else is going to fall in line if I do that.”

“It felt good, just to get out there, but that’s secondary,” English said. “Once the first play starts, you’re just trying to win. We fell short. We didn’t do a good enough job executing and we didn’t bring enough energy to get it done, so that hurts. It’s just preseason to some people, but it felt like Game 7 to me, Khris and Andre.”

The rookies’ outings were all the more impressive given the opposition. English went against longtime veteran Marquis Daniels and the dynamic Monta Ellis, keeping Ellis in front of him admirably. Middleton spent much of his night against savvy vet Mike Dunleavy. Drummond was up against defensive stalwart Samuel Dalembert.

“I definitely learned,” said English, who showed his moxie by taking a charge from Dalembert and later hit a pretty runner. “I’m learning every day, every shootaround, every practice, every game I don’t play. I’m just soaking everything in and learning. It’s a different game. It’s a different experience.”

Drummond’s fellow rookies were left slack-jawed, as was the Bradley Center crowd, by a ferocious dunk Drummond threw down late in the second quarter. After blocking a Tobias Harris shot on the other end to fuel a fast break, Drummond finished off a pass from English that drew an audible gasp from Milwaukee fans.

“He’s a beast,” Middleton said. “He’s physically gifted. He’s on the glass consistently. He’s always working on his game, so he’s just going to continue to improve.”

Drummond was put at ease, he said, by playing with his fellow rookies.

“Hearing those two guys’ names called the same time mine was called, I just had a big smile on my face,” he said. “We already had a great chemistry from being together in Summer League, so we already know where we’re going to be on the floor. You could already see that. We all played as hard as we could. The connection between me and Kim, he saw me running. He knows I can take off from anywhere. He gave it to me at the right time and I just took flight.”

It was a pretty smooth takeoff for the 2012 draft class all the way around.