Changing on the Fly

As Singler slides into Prince’s spot, Frank tweaks Pistons playbook

Kyle Singler has shifted to the small forward spot in the starting lineup previously occupied by Tayshaun Prince.
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Tayshaun Prince was a coach’s security blanket, the guy the Pistons knew could handle guarding the NBA’s array of elite wing scorers without requiring constant double-team help and the player whose number would be called in tight games when open shots become harder to find.

Kyle Singler has assumed Prince’s decade-long spot as the team’s starting small forward and, beyond that, he’s exhibiting many of the traits that made Prince such a valuable part of the equation before last week’s three-team trade that netted Toronto point guard Jose Calderon for the Pistons.

In two recent games, last Friday’s win over Cleveland and Sunday’s crushing one-point loss to the Lakers, it was Singler who led the Pistons in minutes played with 37 and 40. Singler spent much of the Laker game guarding Kobe Bryant after Rodney Stuckey picked up two quick fouls, then Monday his defensive versatility led Lawrence Frank to cross-match and use Singler to guard Carmelo Anthony, who opened at power forward.

“I thought he did a phenomenal job against Kobe,” Frank said before Monday’s game at Madison Square Garden. “Especially the last 19 minutes of the game. When you have these special players, like tonight with Carmelo, you have to embrace it, because it’s going to be tough and you’ve got to have great resolve. But I thought his play, he deserved to play the minutes that he received.”

It was during Summer League play last July when Frank’s assistant John Loyer, who served as head coach, noted after Singler played the entire second half of one game that, “It’s tough to take Kyle off the floor.” Frank is finding the same thing these days for Singler’s ability – not unlike Prince – to give the Pistons a little bit of anything they need on a given night.

The major difference between Singler and Prince at this point is that the Pistons call no plays designed to set up Singler for scoring chances. Even when he scored 20 points to match Brandon Knight’s team-high total in the Cleveland win, the Pistons didn’t run any plays for Singler.

The Pistons would rarely go for long without calling something designed to get the ball to Prince.

“We would use Tay as a pick-and-roll player up top and then as a right-block postup player and then, occasionally, we’d run him off screens for him to get tight curls to his left hand,” Frank said. “Tay would get his number called.”

Singler always seems to find plenty of scoring chances, though, because of his non-stop motor and his nose for open spaces and the basketball. He’s also a boon to the transition game simply because few will run the floor as consistently hard as Singler.

“Transition, loose balls,” Frank said. “If you have five guys on the floor and you’ve got to call their number, there’s no way. Even the best teams sacrifice. Look at Miami. Those guys’ shot attempts, they’re down because they’re moving it. They’re going to call two guys’ numbers and (Chris) Bosh as the third. Our team, you’ve just got to be able to play off of each other.”

With Calderon being thrown into the starting lineup six hours after his visa status was resolved on Monday, the Pistons will be evolving offensively over the season’s final 33 games. With four guards capable of penetrating the paint – Calderon, Knight, Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum – Frank will be tweaking his playbook and juggling lineups to strike the right balance.

“We want to be able to attack you from both sides,” Frank said. “We want to get out and run more. Kyle is a very good runner. We should be able to get some more transition opportunities. Greg (Monroe) will still be a focal point for us in the post and bringing him off movement so he can get a run into it.”

The notable differences in the offense without Prince and with the elements the playmaking Calderon and Singler bring will be, “more multiple pick and rolls, because now you’ve got two guys and you’ll see more baseline screen actions to take advantage of Kyle’s cuttling, Rodney’s cutting and Jose’s passing,” Frank said.

“When we move Brandon off the ball to take advantage of his shooting, that will be a little bit different because we’re really not a catch-and-shoot team in terms of baseline screening actions. But with our personnel tweaks and adding shooting in different ways and Rodney’s such a good cutter that it can create lanes for him to attack the basket and get him a head of steam. I think that will be another dynamic we’ll explore.”