Communication the Key

Kravtsov’s shot to make a mark in NBA centers on ability to talk defense

Slava Kravtsov’s shot to make a mark in NBA centers on ability to talk defense
Slava Kravtsov’s shot to make a mark in NBA centers on his ability to talk defense
Dan Lippitt (NBAE/Getty)
If a point guard is the equivalent of a quarterback when his team is on offense, then a center’s responsibilities translate with equal appropriateness to those of a middle linebacker. A center must serve as the eyes for perimeter defenders unaware of what’s happening behind them, must help teammates get in the proper position as he anticipates the action of the play unfolding.

One critical component of the smothering defensive ability of the Goin’ to Work Pistons was the communication skills of Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace, not only intelligent individual defenders but players able and willing to vocalize their observations.

And that quality might be the key to Slava Kravtsov carving out a career in the NBA. Gifted with a rare combination of size and athleticism to be a premier shot-blocker and intimidating defensive presence, Kravtsov’s ability to force his way into a more prominent role with the Pistons depends on his abilities to learn the nuances of NBA post defense and to communicate the proper defensive calls as part of a big man’s responsibilities.

“I felt right from the beginning that even though he speaks English, transferring all of the calls and everything out on the floor – particularly in pick-and-roll coverages where he has to give commands to the guards as to which side it’s coming up on, using our terminology and not just calling out ‘pick, pick, pick.’ It’s transferring that and doing it soon enough that has probably been the biggest challenge,” said Brian Hill, still filling in for Lawrence Frank while he tends to his wife Susan, dealing with a health concern.

“Talking with other coaches who have had foreign players, and especially centers, they’ve said they’ve gone through the exact same thing with those guys. They’ve got to get it down. It takes a while for them to process it and spit it out and give the right command.”

Hill said Kravtsov played more instinctively with the Ukrainian national team, for which Hill served as an assistant coach under Mike Fratello the past two summers. Hill didn’t initiate the Pistons’ interest in Kravtsov, but once Joe Dumars and assistant GM George David became intrigued, Hill’s positive recommendation helped convince the front office he was worth a look.

“I think it’s a lot easier, especially when you’ve played with the same guys for a number of years, and it’s a different game as far as the defensive schemes and the terminology and everything else,” Hill said. “He’s definitely more instinctive when he’s playing in the Ukraine.”

The Pistons will have a decision to make on Kravtsov at the end of the season. They have a team option to bring him back for 2013-14. Kravtsov is again committed to his national team as it participates in Eurobasket competition in August. If Kravtsov is coming back, it might help him prepare for a bigger role next season if he gets to spend more time than he did last summer at the team’s practice facility, when he didn’t get the opportunity to work with coaches until completion of his Eurobasket commitment just a few weeks before the start of training camp.

“That can never hurt,” Hill said. “That would help him as far as his skill development. At the defensive end of it, I don’t know how much it would help because there’s no opportunity, other than Summer League, to play five on five. It would definitely help from a skill-development standpoint, though.”

Over the season’s final 15 games, or at least as long as Andre Drummond remains out with his back injury, it appears Kravtsov’s playing time will be a matter of the lineups the Pistons face.

“Matchups have a lot to do with it,” Hill said. “With the Clippers game, for example, when they were playing smaller lineups with Grant Hill or Matt Barnes at four, it’s difficult to have him out on the floor. It’s pretty much based on matchups and then he’s got to know what we’re doing both offensively and defensively. That’s a huge part of it, also. He’s got to be on the same page as everybody else with our game plans.”