Opportunity Knocks

Middleton, Kravtsov get their shot as Frank continues to search

Khris Middleton and Slava Kravtsov were first off the bench over the weekend.
B. Sevald/Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
When the Pistons had a full 15-man roster and no injury concerns, Lawrence Frank designated Slava Kravtsov and Khris Middleton inactive more than anyone with 60 combined games. Kim English has seen another five in street clothes.

In Saturday’s loss to Indiana, those three were the first ones off Frank’s bench.

The trade of Tayshaun Prince and injuries to Andre Drummond and Brandon Knight have turned the rotation on its ear. The result: a first real chance for the three rookies to make an impression on the coaching staff and front office.

“It’s very hard within the course of a game to play everyone, but as we continue to go further, as I told you before, we’ll continue to look at different combinations,” Frank said. “Things that aren’t working, then we’ve got to continue to go in another direction. At some point in the season, everyone will get their turn. And, literally, at this point, there’s no one who can say, ‘I haven’t gotten an opportunity.’ Now what we have to do is see what’s in the best interest of helping us win and grow and get better.”

Kravtsov has taken Drummond’s spot as Greg Monroe’s backup, though Frank initially went on a game-by-game basis – sometimes bypassing Kravtsov against teams that didn’t always play with two traditional big men. After a string of productive games, topped by Friday’s double-double in which Kravtsov set career highs virtually across the board, he might have run out of steam in the fourth game in five nights on Saturday. In 14 minutes, Kravtsov didn’t score or grab a rebound.

But he played well in Wednesday’s win at Charlotte and followed up with 14 points, despite missing eight free throws, and 10 rebounds against the Pacers on Friday.

“He’s still learning,” Frank said. “He hasn’t played much here, all the little different nuances. So you’re going to have to live with some of the mistakes, but his effort has been good.”

Kravtsov runs like few 7-footers. He gets off the floor quickly and his power is revealed in the way the basket support rocks on every Kravtsov dunk. In limited time, he’s showing signs of developing a similar ability to finish at the rim on lob passes off of pick-and-roll plays to Drummond.

“His ability to run the floor, he brings energy, does things hard, good screener,” Frank said. “He’s already picked up in terms of screening and rolling and Will does a good job in terms of waiting until the last possible second to put it there for him.”

Middleton over the weekend moved into the top backup spot behind fellow rookie Kyle Singler at small forward. Middleton’s defensive work against Paul George on Friday caught Frank’s eye and he did a solid job against Pacers scoring star Danny Granger upon his return from injury on Saturday.

Like Kravtsov, Middleton put up career bests in Friday’s game when he more than doubled his previous high in minutes played with almost 24. The ball didn’t go in for him – Middleton shot 1 of 7 – but his ability to get shots off in various manners was on display and the fact he knocked down 7 of 9 free throws further underscores his offensive potential.

“You saw (Friday) night how he did a very good job on Paul George,” Frank said. “He’s going to still have to work on his pick-and-roll defense. Especially when you’re struggling to score, he’s got range plus he can create a little bit off the dribble. You can run him off baseline screens.

“You have to give him an opportunity and see where it’s at. Khris has had some good moments. He’s worked hard throughout. We’ll continue to evaluate. Everyone’s in the mix. No one is ever dismissed out of it. You’re a game away from being back in the mix.”