Summer Review: Kyle Singler

Despite influx of talent, Pistons still see prominent role for Singler

Kyle Singler rose in the depth chart to start last season's final 74 games, and could do the same in 2013-14.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
In a summer when the Pistons made waves, no one created a bigger splash than Josh Smith. Joe Dumars met with the nine-year veteran at the first opportunity when the door to free agency swung open on July 1 and less than a week later the two sides came to a contract agreement.

With Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond already established as frontcourt starters, the pitch to Smith was obvious. He’s penciled in as Detroit’s starter at small forward, where his length, athleticism and defensive prowess should give the Pistons consistent matchup advantages.

On the surface, that would appear to limit the opportunities for Kyle Singler, who moved into the Pistons’ starting lineup in the season’s ninth game as a rookie and never left. The Pistons won that night, after a nightmarish 0-8 start, and no one regarded it as mere coincidence. Singler played in all 82 games, averaging 8.8 points and 4.0 rebounds in 28 minutes and shooting a respectable 35 percent from the 3-point line.

The depth chart argued against Singler playing a significant role during his rookie season, too. He came to training camp as the No. 3 small forward, behind the two longest-tenured NBA players on the roster, Tayshaun Prince and Corey Maggette, and had never played shooting guard in his life until starting when Rodney Stuckey couldn’t go in the season’s ninth game. He stayed at shooting guard from November until the late-January trade that sent Prince to Memphis, when Singler slid in to replace the last holdover from the 2004 championship Pistons at small forward.

Singler racked up enough experience and cleared enough hurdles as a rookie that the Pistons didn’t ask him to participate in Summer League games in Orlando this time around. They did, however, ask him to join other young veterans Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight in joining the Summer League roster in Orlando for five practices before the game schedule opened and Singler impressed them with the distance he’s covered over the past year.

“What I saw in Kyle was his confidence,” Pistons assistant general manager George David said. “His confidence and his maturity in how he approached the game in practices. In his first year, what he depended on was his effort, his ability to play hard all the time and impact the game in that way. Kyle is a smart player to begin with. His instincts were, more times than not, the right instincts in his first year. What’s changed in his second year is he wasn’t relying on instincts any more; he was relying on what he knew to be the right play and his confidence in just making the right play. There was no guessing.”

Smith figures to play at least as much power forward as small forward next season, switching sides whenever either Greg Monroe or Andre Drummond goes to the bench. So there is still a major role to be had for someone else at small forward. With last month’s trade that sent Khris Middleton to Milwaukee as part of the package that returned point guard Brandon Jennings, Singler will be in a battle with Italian free agent Luigi Datome as the first small forward off the bench.

Datome comes with the reputation as a superb perimeter shooter – he was MVP of Italy’s top league and carried his team, Virtus Roma, to the league championship series – and that’s a quality that could earn him major minutes in a league that more than ever values 3-point shooting.

But Singler’s versatility and reliability endear him to coaches.

“I think he definitely will have a significant role,” David said. “There’s always a place for a guy who brings what Kyle Singler does. As far as his role with this specific team, that plays itself out as it does every year. But in terms of what Kyle brings to the table, there’s a need for that will all 30 NBA teams.”

As Singler displayed when he adjusted so seamlessly while being suddenly dropped into the lineup at an unfamiliar position last season, one of his greatest strengths is to figure out quickly how he fits in any lineup configuration. With the talent level upgraded around him, that trait could make him even more valuable.

“From day one, I said this is a guy who is a very responsible player,” David said. “You can play through him. He makes good decisions, takes good shots, turns down bad shots and is just a very reliable player who on the defensive end plays hard all the time. You don’t ask more from somebody or less from somebody based on what’s around them. You hope he can continue to do that, but do it better. That’s what we saw from him in practices at Summer League. Another year under his belt, the maturity of experience, he got better at what he was already good at.”