Singler’s place in the starting lineup was supposed to last one game, or however long it took Rodney Stuckey to shake the flu bug. It would have, by all accounts, if Stuckey – after watching Singler’s immense contributions as the Pistons notched their first win to snap an eight-game skid at Philadelphia on Nov. 14 – hadn’t volunteered to come off the bench.
It seemed reasonable to assume, at that point, that shooting guard would turn into a job-sharing assignment for Singler and Stuckey, the pair roughly splitting minutes. It might even have turned out that Singler would become a token starter, in the manner of the rotating cast of shooting guards San Antonio has employed over the years to allow Gregg Popovich to continue bringing Manu Ginobili off the bench for 30-plus minutes a night.
Fat chance, that.
Since becoming the starter seven games and less than two weeks ago, the Duke rookie has played more minutes than anyone on the team this side of Greg Monroe and Tayshaun Prince. The Pistons are 4-3 with Singler in the starting lineup, and while some of that is the byproduct of the schedule becoming slightly kinder after its sadistic, road-heavy opening, some of it is purely this: Everything about Kyle Singler contributes to winning basketball games.
Lawrence Frank has been asked nearly daily since Singler’s ascension about what makes him tick. Here’s a typical answer: “Regardless of who you’re playing with, he’s very effective. He’s a very easy guy to support because he just does his job. There’s not a thirstiness about him. Defensively, he competes his tail off. He tries to follow the game plan. Offensively, he stays within his limitations. He plays to his strength. Off the ball, he’s a very active cutter. He just makes things easy. They just flow when he’s on the floor.”
Which explains why he’s on the floor so much, 31 minutes a night in his seven starts. Frank is learning what Pistons assistant coach John Loyer came to discover during Summer League play, when Loyer served as head coach. “It’s tough to take Kyle out of the game,” he said. Pistons assistant general manager George David heard the same refrain from Singler’s coaches at Duke and with Real Madrid, where he spent last season instead of enduring the uncertainty of an NBA lockout.
Singler is averaging 12 points, along with nearly four rebounds and two assists, on just eight shot attempts a game as a starter, shooting 57 percent overall and an even 50 percent from the 3-point line despite the fact plays aren’t run for him.
Of all the things the Pistons expected Singler to be, a knock-down shooter wasn’t necessarily one of them. That’s opened the eyes of Brandon Knight, who co-starred in Monday’s 108-101 win over Portland along with Singler, who matched his career best with 16 points and set new highs in rebounds (10), assists (five) and steals (two).
“How well he shoots the basketball,” Knight said when asked what’s surprised him about Singler’s transition to the NBA. “He’s very efficient. Something else he does really well, he runs the floor as hard as anybody I’ve ever played with. He opens up a lot of stuff, not only for himself but for the rest of us when we’re in transition.”
Maybe the most amazing aspect of the way Singler has eased his way into prominence is the fact that his success – and the team success that’s accompanied his expanded role – has come while he’s playing out of position.
“We drafted him as a three-four, four-three,” Frank said, “and now he’s playing the two.”
Primarily a small forward who has the size – Singler checked in at 6-foot-8½ at the 2011 NBA draft combine – to swing to power forward, Singler’s greatest challenge in playing shooting guard comes with checking quicker players at the position. But his hustle and instincts have allowed him to battle through any mistmatches, real or perceived.
Knight marveled at those qualities about him after the win over Portland.
“That’s one guy that really plays off instincts,” he said. “A lot of guys think the game through a lot, but he just goes out and plays, plays hard. I think that’s one thing that definitely helps our team, having a guy that just comes in, plays agenda-free basketball and just plays as hard as he possibly can, really has his heart in the right place as far as getting our team a win.”
At the forefront of the Pistons’ future, the first names on the marquee belong to their three most recent No. 1 picks: Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Andre Drummond. If all three players reach their full potential – and on all three fronts, the evidence is nothing but encouraging – then the rest of the roster puzzle will be about finding the right complementary players to surround them.
So far, Kyle Singler is filling the Pistons with confidence that as complementary players go, he has superstar potential.