Following each practice and review of what the videotape reveals, Frank ranks the players on his roster, top to bottom. Over time, patterns emerge. That’s begun to happen, he said after Monday’s practice, and while he wouldn’t give any hints to the form taking shape, the evidence should start to trickle out this week in the way players are used Tuesday against Orlando and Thursday at Miami.
“You’ll get a little more normalcy,” he said of his substitution patterns now compared to how he will use players in the regular season. “For tomorrow, you may see some different combinations so I can evaluate what they look like. But each game, you get closer and closer. Maybe not tomorrow, but starting maybe past that is look at what a first-half rotation would look like and to build it so by (preseason games) seven and eight, then you can look at what a real rotation would look like. There’s still a lot of competition and things are always fluid.”
It would be an upset if the starting lineup for the Oct. 31 opener with Houston is anything other than Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe, Jason Maxiell and Tayshaun Prince. But the playing group behind them, perhaps as many as six additional players, is largely up in the air, though it would appear that Jonas Jerebko and Corey Maggette are pretty safe bets to be first in line off the bench.
It would have surprised or disappointed few insiders if Andre Drummond had proven too raw to push for a rotation spot before his two notable outings last week. But he’s put himself squarely in consideration for what appears to be one significant frontcourt spot outside of the Monroe-Maxiell-Jerebko core.
“He’s performed well in the games,” Frank said. “The challenge is every day. The two games that he got significant minutes, he’s definitely had an impact. Those are huge positives. Then it’s to build on those to make sure those are habits that are every single day. You might not produce every single day to where you have 19 points, 10 rebounds and a couple of blocks, but (it’s) the intent. The great thing about Andre is he’s a great, great young man. Just continue to build on those things – they’re big bright spots.”
Drummond isn’t the only rookie threatening to push for playing time. Kyle Singler made his bid with a nine-point, three-rebound, two-steal outing in 24 minutes at Toronto on Friday, and Kim English and Khris Middleton got their turn in Milwaukee on Saturday. They combined for five 3-pointers and 20 points and showed well in other areas, as well.
“I was impressed,” Frank said. “I really liked their energy and their effort. The good thing about those guys is throw them in the game and I expect good things to happen. I think it creates great competition in that whether there’s foul trouble or someone just not playing to the level they need to play at, you have no reservations about putting those guys in the game.”
Singler and English gave clear signs in Summer League that they would at least challenge for playing time, but Middleton’s improvement from his showing in Orlando has been dramatic.
“He’s much healthier,” Frank said. “He’s gotten much stronger. The work he’s putting in and the pace he’s playing at – still has to improve – but is significantly at a higher rate than it was coming in. And it’s reality – he realized it’s much harder at this level. There are very few, if any, times he’s not the first guy in the gym. I really like his makeup. You reap what you sow. He’s put a lot into it. He’s made a lot of progress.”
Enough that what already was a complicated rotation puzzle for Frank to piece together has gotten that much tougher.