Rookie Class

Big summers ahead for Pistons rookies Singler, Middleton, English

Between the 7-foot extremes of Andre Drummond, taken in the lottery, and Slava Kravtsov, signed as an undrafted free agent, came the three other Pistons rookies on last season’s roster: second-round picks Kyle Singler, Khris Middleton and Kim English.

English was the first player off the bench in the season opener when Lawrence Frank was still auditioning for a more manageable rotation. Singler moved into the starting lineup when Rodney Stuckey came up ill in the ninth game with the Pistons still winless and never left. Middleton came from the back end of the bench to finish the season as Singler’s backup at small forward.

The window can open and close on second-round picks in a flash, but all three of Singler, Middleton and English go into a critical off-season in the plans for 2013-14 as it stands now. There are certain factors out of their control, including what happens in the June draft, July free agency and a summer-long trade market enhanced for the Pistons by the cap space they’ll have at their disposal.

But what Singler, Middleton and English can control, Arnie Kander will be at their side to enable them to maximize their odds of carving out a more permanent niche.

Before sending the three rookies out of town after the April 17 season finale, Kander said English told him, “This will be the summer of my life.”

“I told him it will be,” Kander said. “He’ll do anything you ask him to do. He’s another one of that group, like Kyle and Khris, that is committed. They’re hard workers.”

Here’s Kander’s rundown of the summer ahead for each player:

  • Kyle Singler – Feedback on Singler is remarkably similar from all who cross his path: front-office executives, assistant coaches and support staff alike.

    “What I love about the kid is his consistency,” Kander said. “The effort, every day. All his prep work is similar. He’s very body conscious. If something is a little bit sore, he’s not letting it go. You talk about a guy locked in. You would never know: good game, bad game, in-between game.”

    Because Singler came to the Pistons in early July, just a few weeks after his season in Spain that had begun with practices the previous September finally ended, Kander told him he didn’t want to see him for at least a month after the finale. The Pistons strength and conditioning coach doesn’t agree with the commonly held view that Singler hit the “rookie wall,” merely that he was adapting as all rookies must to a game different not only to what he’d played at Duke for four seasons but to the Spanish pro version, too.

    Singler’s strength is that he has no real weaknesses. He shoots with range, handles the ball, defends, plays with intensity, shows up every night and has a high basketball IQ. As such, Kander sees Singler’s game improving incrementally across the board rather than taking big leaps in any particular area.

    “You’re going to see improvements in all aspects,” he said. “He’s got a great shot, but the endurance in his shot, where maybe you don’t see him fatigue a bit as the game progresses, because it’s a very different game in the NBA, then you add on all the travel and everything else. So part of summer conditioning is just building up all of that, to sustain even in a game itself for a longer duration of time.

    Kander has given Singler, as he does with all players, goals to reach during his weight-training drills while he’s away from the basketball court, confident that Singler will attack the program with typical diligence.

    “He played in a pro situation (in Spain) at a very high level, came out of Duke at a very high level and it wasn’t like he missed a beat,” Kander said. “Eighty-two games, played every game, didn’t miss a practice. He’s just a really high-intensity performance guy. You don’t ever see him too high, too low. He’s just an incredible teammate and a fun guy to work with.”

  • Khris Middleton – Building more strength will be the overriding goal for Middleton over the off-season. He made great strides in that area last summer, coming to the Pistons off of a knee injury suffered during his third and final season at Texas A&M. Middleton over the season’s final month showed to all glimpses of innate scoring ability that led the Pistons to draft him 39th last June.

    “His knee is now good,” Kander said. “When he got everything right with his leg, he had options. He didn’t just have one leg to go to.”

    Diligence served Middleton well over the course of the season, helping him build enough strength to hold his own when his chance came.

    “He’s in the weight room every day,” Kander said. “He’s consistently working on his body. Young players have to do something every day. There has to be constant stimulation in their bodies to bring their bodies to a certain level. And I saw it every day with him.”

    What Kander saw as Middleton’s rookie season unfolded was a player who grew increasingly comfortable defensively and confident in his ability to score in the variety of ways he did in college as his body improved. Kander expects a similar leap in year two.

    “Basketball is like a 3-inch game, literally, so if you can create 3 to 4 inches of space – which isn’t a huge difference in the weight room – that’s huge,” Kander said. “When we see him start to play 15, 20 minutes and you see, he’s not so weak, he’s getting his shot off pretty consistently, he’s stopping people. You continue to get more muscle endurance. You build up a volume, but it takes a little bit of time to do that.”

  • Kim English – English isn’t an explosive athlete, which explained how the Pistons were able to get him with the 44th pick last June, but Kander will spend the summer working with English to gain strength and enable him to maximize his physical attributes.

    “He knows he’s got to get a little bit stronger for the NBA,” Kander said. “He’s got to be better in his lateral movement, wider hips, get to spots quicker than the opposition.”

    One quality in English that Kander quickly came to see and plans to use to the team’s betterment is his thirst to be a winner.

    “Competitive as can be – one of the most competitive guys we have on this team,” Kander said. “Doesn’t want to lose at anything. I’m going to take full advantage. It’s an easy thing, because it’s there. I don’t have to teach it. I don’t have to train it. He pushes other guys.”

    Kander will focus again, as he did last summer, on improving English’s ballhandling to, among other things, help put himself in position to use his calling card – his perimeter shot.

    “He got a lot better at it last summer, but the hard part is when you’re not playing a lot. Dribbling is a skill and especially at game speed. It’s part of the equation, but as he gets more in game situations, you’ll start to see the connection to him working on his ballhandling.”

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