In or Out

Bynum, Singler all but lock up rotation spots with strong starts

Will Bynum
Will Bynum
Nathaniel S. Butler (NBAE/Getty)

The Pistons, nearly halfway through the preseason and just 17 days away from the season opener, are beginning to see the outline of their likely playing rotation come into focus.

There are a few certainties that won’t be much affected by the final five preseason games. Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings are virtual locks to be in the starting lineup Oct. 30 when Washington opens the regular season at The Palace. Chauncey Billups will play a significant role, either as the starter next to Jennings or coming off the bench at either guard spot.

Rodney Stuckey likely would have been the starter next to Jennings, based on Cheeks’ praise for him as the team’s best defender, before breaking his thumb last week. He had surgery on Friday to repair a broken distal phalanx – in layman’s terms, the tip of his thumb – and the Pistons announced he’ll wear a splint and be evaluated in two weeks. If all goes well, there’s a fair chance Stuckey could be back in time for the regular-season opener.

Beyond that, here are three players who have solidified their status in the first two weeks of training camp:

1. Will Bynum – Yeah, it helped his odds of being in Maurice Cheeks’ rotation when Stuckey suffered his freak accident. But Cheeks sure made it sound like Bynum was already pretty safe on Friday when he was asked whether Bynum’s big game Thursday night against Miami – when he had to play all but 93 seconds due to the unavailability of Stuckey, Billups and Jennings and responded with 28 points and six assists – solidified his chances to avoid being the No. 5 guard in a four-man rotation.

“It probably wasn’t him, anyway,” Cheeks said.

Cheeks said he wasn’t aware Bynum had that type of explosive scoring ability in him.

“I’ve seen him do some things before,” he said, “but I didn’t know he could actually move a scoreboard like he did. I’ve never really seen him do like that. That was pretty phenomenal.”

Told that Bynum held the franchise record for points in a quarter (26), Cheeks said, “He does? That’s saying a lot considering the guys up there on those banners.”

Bynum came back with 11 assists and just one of the Pistons’ 28 turnover in 26 minutes in Saturday’s win at Brooklyn. He’s safe.

2. Kyle Singler – Whether the Stuckey injury means Singler spends more time at shooting guard than small forward is one thing. The bigger thing is that Singler in two weeks has won over Cheeks, just as Joe Dumars told him he would over the summer.

Singler brings two things in quantity that coaches adore: He plays hard and he plays smart. There is a consistency of effort and fulfilling assignments that endears Singler to coaches.

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

3. Jonas Jerebko – He didn’t play in the preseason opener against Maccabi Haifa, which wasn’t indicative of Jerebko being in danger of slipping out of the rotation. The reality is that he’s probably knocking heads with Charlie Villanueva – assuming everyone on the roster is available – for a role as the backup power forward, a role complicated by the fact that Greg Monroe will start there but Josh Smith is also going to play somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes a game at that spot.

That probably means around 12 to 15 minutes a night for one of Jerebko or Villanueva. Jerebko has greater positional versatility, though, so he could also be in the mix at small forward if Cheeks chooses to use Singler at shooting guard. He had another solid outing against Brooklyn, active with six points, three boards, a steal, a blocked shot and an assist in 20 minutes.

And that brings us to three players who’ll need to use the final five preseason games to stake their claims:

1. Charlie Villanueva – Over his first two games, Villanueva was 0 of 8 from the 3-point line. Villanueva is a better rebounder and post scorer than widely believed, but there’s no question his NBA currency is his 3-point shot. When the Pistons were at their best last season, it came with Villanueva bombing away while Bynum and Drummond created pick-and-roll havoc.

But as Cheeks said on Friday, Villanueva’s subpar shooting “probably is a product of training camp (fatigue), but if you’re a shooter, you’ve got to make shots. I suspect at some point Charlie will make some shots. Bottom line, if you’re a shooter, you’ve got to make shots.”

Villanueva rallied at Brooklyn, knocking down 2 of 4 from distance. This week’s games at Chicago, Cleveland and Orlando will be big for him.

2. Gigi Datome – The Pistons signed Datome out of Italy for his 3-point shooting, first and foremost. And they saw flashes of that early in training camp. But first a sore foot, lingering from his heavy EuroBasket schedule that kept Datome from arriving in Detroit until the eve of training camp, and now a hamstring strain have kept him out of the mix for a full week.

Cheeks has no history with Datome, so to earn his trust and the confidence of his teammates he’ll need to earn minutes in practice.

“There are times where guys in practice make you take a look at them and make you think about giving them more minutes,” Cheeks said. “Maybe he’s a guy like that and maybe not. His opportunity can come, but he’s a little set back because of his injury right now.”

Datome says he’s getting closer. At Saturday morning’s shootaround in Brooklyn, he put on a dazzling shooting display in a competitive drill with teammates.

“The way I see him shooting the ball, I’m hoping he’s getting closer,” Cheeks said. “We could use him out there shooting the ball.”

3. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – It speaks volumes about the rookie’s ability to contribute across the board that he didn’t shoot himself out of consideration by going 3 of 20 in his first two preseason games, including 1 of 16 from the 3-point arc through three games. He now has 19 rebounds, four steals and two spectacular blocked shots.

“His game is not built (just) on making shots,” Cheeks said. “His game is built on playing hard, playing defense. He had been making that shot (in training camp). Fortunately for him, the way he plays, he plays both ends of the floor. Unfortunately, he’s missed some shots, but fortunately, he plays some defense.”