When the Pistons wrapped up business the night of the 2011 draft, it was well documented that they never anticipated coming away with Brandon Knight with the No. 8 pick. At worst, Knight was expected to be off the board at No. 5, going to Toronto, if he didn’t get taken first by Utah, choosing third.
Less reported was the fact they were equally delighted to land Kyle Singler with the third pick in the second round, the second of the two No. 2 picks they received from Toronto in the 2007 trade that shipped Carlos Delfino to the Raptors.
The Pistons didn’t think Singler would get past the Chicago Bulls, who went into the draft holding two late first-rounders. But Chicago traded one away, to Miami, and with the other the Bulls took another small forward, Marquette’s Jimmy Butler. They also suspected that Oklahoma City, picking 24th, was a possibility to grab Singler, but the Thunder instead went for Boston College point guard Reggie Jackson.
In Singler, the Pistons saw a polished player and a known quantity. As a McDonald’s All-American, they’d seen him since his days as a highly recruited star out of Medford, Ore., then scouted him at least a handful of times in each of his four seasons and 148 career games at Duke.
But not even the Pistons could have projected Singler would command such a prominent role so soon – at least, they couldn’t have projected it on draft night 2011. After watching him play in Spain, though …
“I’m not going to say I’m surprised,” Joe Dumars said. “When I saw him play in Spain, I could tell he had gotten bigger, he had gotten stronger, and I could tell that he had learned how to be a professional. By the time I saw him in Madrid last year, he was a pro. I think that’s why his transition has been so smooth. We feel he walked into the door a pro, understood how to handle his business.”
Singler emerged among the three perimeter rookies who cracked the 15-man roster – 2012 No. 2 picks Khris Middleton and Kim English the others – as the front-runner for a rotation spot in training camp. English also began the season in Lawrence Frank’s rotation, but Singler had the more prominent role and did nothing in the first few weeks to see it diminished. And when Rodney Stuckey came down with a stomach virus in the season’s ninth game, Frank moved Singler – who’d never played shooting guard at any level – into the starting lineup alongside Brandon Knight in the Pistons’ backcourt. The Pistons drafted Singler anticipating he would spend his career at small forward, with the size – Singler checked in at 6-foot-8 ½ at the 2011 Chicago draft combine – to perhaps play power forward part-time.
“We knew he was versatile and could play the perimeter,” Dumars said, “but you don’t know that until you start watching a guy in training camp and preseason and then you realize – you know what? This kid can guard two guards.”
Two things the Pistons saw in Singler that others might have overlooked: more athleticism than appears at first blush and a deep competitive instinct.
“The No. 1 thing with me for Kyle is I just really like the way he’s wired as a person,” Dumars said. “He gives it to you every single day. When I say ‘give it to you,’ I just mean 100 percent effort, whether it be shootaround, practice, games, whatever. He’s 100 percent in.
“A part of the way he’s wired is that I think he only knows one way on the court. He’s never going to cheat the game. He’s an intense competitor. He’s as competitive as any guy we have on the team. We really feel good about having him as a Piston. He represents everything we want out of a young player.”
The Pistons got their first glimpse of Singler’s athleticism in a Summer League practice, when he exploded for a transition dunk in traffic – a play that raised the eyebrows of even the veterans there, including Greg Monroe, Jason Maxiell and Charlie Villanueva.
“First of all, Kyle is a full 6-8. He’s gotten stronger,” Dumars said. “The position he’s playing now, he’s out there guarding two guards – starting NBA two guards – every night. A couple of things about that – I feel pretty comfortable talking about NBA two guards – is you better have some toughness with you and you better be wired right in order to compete every single night and you better have a certain level of athleticism to just deal physically with what goes on out there. He has all three of those. That’s part of why his transition has been what it’s been.”
It might yet turn out that Singler’s best long-term position is small forward, but that will play itself out. The Pistons are just thrilled to have him under contract for two more seasons – and, they hope, many more beyond that.