Word’s Out

Kyle Singler proving his value and NBA opponents taking notice

Kyle Singler
Kyle Singler
D. Clarke Evans (NBAE/Getty)
HOUSTON – Since moving into the starting lineup 11 games ago, Kyle Singler is making better than 50 percent of his 3-point shots: 22 of 43. If that comes as a surprise to you, it doesn’t to his NBA opponents.

“The word’s out – Kyle can shoot the basketball,” John Loyer said after Wednesday’s game at San Antonio, where Singler was limited to one attempt – good – by the Spurs. “You saw some of those closeouts to Kyle in the corner. They weren’t closeouts to a foot and a half away. They were closeouts right to his body.”

Singler brings a 3-point shooting touch to a Pistons starting lineup with a great need for that skill. In fact, if they had a little more 3-point punch, it would have been a little tougher for the Spurs to hold him to one attempt. But to label Singler a 3-point shooting specialist would badly undersell the totality of what he brings, which was an NBA-ready game when he arrived prior to the 2012-13 season and has added nuance ever since.

“It’s got to be a part of his game,” Loyer said of Singler’s 3-point stroke, but, “Kyle is going to give your team a lot more than that.”

It didn’t take Loyer long to grasp Singler’s ability to morph into whatever his team needed him to be. Under Lawrence Frank, Loyer was head coach of the 2012 Summer League team prior to Singler’s rookie season when he was just a few weeks removed from wrapping up a run to the Spanish ACB championship series. Eventually, Loyer told Singler to stay in street clothes – because when he was in uniform, Loyer couldn’t resist keeping him on the floor.

“Even from the very first, in Summer league last year, Kyle’s a basketball player,” Loyer said. “He earns your respect by his hard work, his dedication. He earns his teammates’ respect by the same thing – being a great teammate, just coming out and giving in every day. Kyle’s a dependable guy. When you look out there, it’s hard to take him off the floor because he can play multiple positions and he just does so much for your team at both ends of the floor.”

Singler’s natural position is small forward, but he’s played as much shooting guard over his two-year NBA career. He started at that spot for 37 games last season, taking over when Rodney Stuckey fell ill in the season’s ninth game with the Pistons 0-8 and scoring 16 points in a win. It was the first time he’d ever played the position – anywhere. When the Pistons traded Tayshaun Prince to Memphis in late January, Singler moved back to small forward and finished the season as the starter there for the final 37 games.

He began this season as Josh Smith’s backup at small forward, but not all backups are created equal. Singler played virtual starter’s minutes with Smith spending half or more of his time at power forward and Greg Monroe doing likewise at center behind Andre Drummond in addition to his role as the starter at power forward.

The adjustment for Singler as a shooting guard is spending more time chasing his man around screens than he did at small forward.

“For sure,” Singler said after what Loyer called a “very, very spirited” two-hour Friday practice at Houston’s Toyota Center, where they’ll play the Rockets on Saturday night. “It’s not necessarily my strong suit. A lot of guys are quicker than I am. I am in condition to do it, but it’s tough throughout a 48-minute ballgame to keep up with those guys and defend them as well as I think I can. It’s been tough staying healthy and not getting banged up coming off screens.”

At strength coach Arnie Kander’s direction, Singler said they’ve adapted his workout regimen – more core strength drills – to accommodate the more constant movement required to guard shooting guards. Singler said he’s devoted more time to stretching exercises, as well.

Through high school and four years at Duke, Singler started every game. He got a taste of coming off the bench in Spain, where his coach rarely fielded the same starting lineup consecutively. But going from the bench to the starting lineup wasn’t nearly the adjustment for him that learning to come off the bench was for him.

“I tried to take that role and be as focused as possible coming off the bench,” he said, “because that’s what you need to have. You’ve got to be locked into the game.”

In the 11 games since Singler replaced Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard, he’s averaging 12.7 points and 3.5 rebounds with 18 steals and shooting nearly .485 from the floor.

With practically every young player, there are two or three areas where room for growth is easily identified. Because Singler came to the NBA such a well-rounded player, there’s no obvious area of improvement ahead for him. That doesn’t mean he’s a finished product, either.

“In everything,” he says of ways he can improve. “I can still become a better shooter. I can still become a better ballhandler, playmaker. There are a lot of things, even on the defensive end, I want to improve on coming into next year and I am working on those things now. Basketball is an ever-long evolution. You’re never going to be done with improving and getting better. That’s how I look at it.”

“He’s a worker,” Loyer said. “He sees the shots he’s going to get in a game and, by golly, those are the shots he works on. For two years, every day you walk in you don’t think about him but you know what you’re going to get out of him.”

No matter what position, or whether he’s in the staring lineup or not, the Pistons get all of what Kyle Singler has to offer. And as his opponents have come to learn, that’s a lot.