Singular Singler

Pistons Kyle Singler quickly earns the trust of first-year coach Cheeks

Kyle Singler
Kyle Singler
When Kyle Singler checks into games this season, he’ll almost always be playing with two of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe or Josh Smith up front. Brandon Jennings, Chauncey Billups and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are on board since Singler’s rookie season ended.

It doesn’t take Singler’s Duke bachelor’s degree to acknowledge the talent around him is up dramatically over last year, which Singler split between starting at shooting guard and small forward.

The Pistons believe Singler will be a better player in year two, in part because of the unexpectedly heavy work load he won as a rookie but even more because they see in Singler a player who performs better when he’s surrounded by talented players.

“In watching Kyle as a college player and even before that, Kyle’s game always rose to the level of talent of the players around him,” Pistons assistant general manager George David said. “The better the team around Kyle, I think his game rose to that and I see the same thing with him as an NBA player.”

“When you’re playing with better talent, you have to raise your level of basketball,” Singler said. “When you’re raising your level of basketball, other guys will have to do the same thing. It’s pretty contagious. It’s a good thing. Last year, it wasn’t like what we have now. I think it’s pretty easy to wrap your head around that. I’m just out there competing and playing hard and trying to help the guys out there.”

With Rodney Stuckey undergoing surgery today for a broken right thumb that is likely to sideline him for weeks, Singler drew the start at shooting guard for Thursday’s preseason game with Miami. The Pistons could get by without Singler at shooting guard even in Stuckey’s absence, especially if rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope earns the trust of his teammates and coaching staff over the final six preseason games.

But rest assured that Singler is going to play somewhere, somehow.

“Kyle’s going to be on the floor,” Cheeks said. “We know that. He’s going to be on the floor.”

Cheeks sees in Singler the qualities of an ex-76ers teammate, Bobby Jones, who was the ultimate “glue guy” in an era before the term had entered basketball’s lexicon – players who have a knack for grasping what the team needs based on the talent surrounding them, players willing to sublimate parts of their game for the greater good. Those 76ers traded one of the game’s most ridiculously talented players, George McInnis, to get Jones from Denver in the same year Cheeks arrived because they felt he’d fit better opposite Julius Erving than McGinnis had.

“Bobby Jones was a no-nonsense guy, just came in and played, got eight to 10 points, was always a defensive stopper, always guarded the best three man, sometimes four man, and just always knew what you were going to get,” Cheeks said. “He has those same qualities as Bobby – and Bobby was pretty good.”

In order for Singler to become a serious candidate for minutes at shooting guard, though, Cheeks will need some assurance he has enough quality minutes available behind Josh Smith at small forward. That could be 30 minutes a night, given that Smith will spend half of his time, probably, at power forward when Greg Monroe slides to center while Andre Drummond sits. Singler at shooting guard, in all probability, can only happen if Gigi Datome proves capable of earning time behind Smith, though Jonas Jerebko could also slide over if Charlie Villanueva cracks the rotation at power forward. Datome, though, has missed the first two preseason games with a hamstring injury.

“There are times where guys in practice make you take a look at them and make you think about giving them more minutes and maybe he’s a guy like that and maybe not,” Cheeks said of Datome. When you’re on the active roster, you always have a chance to play. His opportunity can come, but he’s a little set back because of his injury right now.”

So Singler, who played in all 82 games as a rookie, figures prominently in Cheeks’ plans, at whatever position they ask of him. He even dabbled at point guard against Miami, a first for him, he said afterwards.

“I just try to rely on my strengths as much as possible,” Singler said. “Sometimes it’s just playing the game. One of my strengths is just knowing how to play the game. We have guys here who play well with each other. Whenever you have that chemistry – we’re going to have to improve it throughout the whole year – but whenever you have guys who can play the game and are unselfish, it makes the game that much better.”

Cheeks is showing early on that he’s not hidebound by positional pigeon-holing, willing to put five basketball players on the court and trusting they’ll figure it out. In Singler, he’s especially worry free.

“I just know wherever I put him, he’s going to give me what he’s got,” Cheeks said to a group of reporters. “Kyle is the kind of guy who’ll play no matter who’s around him. If he had four of you guys out there. I don’t know if we’d win many games, but he’d play hard and he’d give you what he’s got and you’re just never disappointed, particularly in his effort.”