Eager and Ready
A few weeks into it, though, Rodney Stuckey’s illness opened a door to the starting lineup that Kyle Singler charged through. Kim English and Khris Middleton, from off the radar screen, have been loudly applauding.
“I’m elated,” English said the other day when I asked his reaction to Singler’s elevation to the starting lineup. “We work out together. I’m thrilled to see him take this opportunity and run with it and have a great rookie year. I’m excited.”
“Kyle’s doing a terrific job,” Middleton agreed. “He’s doing a lot of great things. I’m just glad he’s getting his chance and I know my chance will come soon.”
While Singler now does some conditioning tuneup work with Arnie Kander or engage in ballhandling or shooting drills after practices, English and Middleton do their heavy lifting before and after practices, playing in two-on-two or three-on-three games with other players who currently fall outside of Lawrence Frank’s playing rotation.
It’s a way to keep sharp on all fronts – physical conditioning, competitive edge and in maintaining instincts for the game. When the Pistons are in a stretch like they are now – four games in five nights, six in nine – practice time is precious and the young players see it as their time to catch the coaching staff’s eye.
“Practices are my games,” English said. “Whenever we get to go live in practice, that’s my game. I take that serious.”
Like scores of rookies before them, English and Middleton are adjusting to sitting on the bench for entire games for the first time in their lives.
“It’s a little bit different,” Middleton said. “But you prepare like you’re going to be playing the next day, stay positive, enjoy the moment, enjoy being around your teammates. You still try to learn and take things from it.”
“It’s a process,” English said. “I’m still learning my body, this league, teams’ tendencies, my team’s tendencies, my strengths, my weaknesses. I’m learning and trying to stay in tune so when my name is called, I’ll be ready.”
English has gotten a taste of being in the rotation. In the season opener on Oct. 31, he was the first player Frank waved into the game, asked to give Rodney Stuckey a brief stretch on the bench in the first quarter so Stuckey could come back at point guard for Brandon Knight. English has played 92 minutes in 10 games, Middleton – who is inactive most nights, along with fellow rookie Slava Kravtsov – 12 minutes over three games.
“It’s great,” Middleton said of his place in the NBA. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do. It would be better if I was playing, but I’m not. But at the same time, I’m just trying to get better every day and learn from these vets out there and take it one day at a time.”
“I’m just so focused on trying to stay ready,” English said. “I don’t have time to think about what’s not. I prepare every game like I’m going to be the first one off the bench. You never know. I’ve just got to try to stay ready.”
English and Singler had similar experiences in Summer League, Singler the starting small forward, English the starter at shooting guard. Middleton didn’t make quite the splash there that his two perimeter teammates did, but came on strong once back in Auburn Hills at the practice facility after work with Kander sped his recovery from a knee injury incurred last season at Texas A&M. The Pistons remain optimistic about the future for both players.
“Summer League’s different than training camp, training camp’s different than preseason, preseason’s different than the regular season,” English said. “They all take their own differences. Kyle and I are different players – he’s 6-8, 220. His impact on the game is different than mine. But I’m just trying to stay ready and, hopefully, when my name is called I’ll be ready.”
“We love playing the game,” Middleton said. “That’s why we’re here. That’s our job. We just want to come out and play every day.”