Position Puzzles

Moving parts could mean extra opportunity for 4 Piston power forwards

Late in Monday’s Pistons scrimmage to wrap up practice, Greg Monroe checked out and Austin Daye replaced him. No, Daye isn’t making the radical switch to center. Jason Maxiell slid over to guard Slava Kravtsov. That’s one way to thin out the crowd at power forward, where Daye is jostling with Maxiell, Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva.

That’s four players for two spots, all of whom have been NBA rotation regulars at some point in their careers.

“We’re going to continue to evaluate,” Frank said. “You’ve got to see. I don’t want to be in a game with a lineup that we haven’t worked on. We’re only nine practices in, but we have a long list of combinations we want to look at. We have some interchangeable parts and we’ll continue to evaluate guys at different positions.”

Instead of looking at power forward and center as isolated positions, it’s probably more insightful to look at the seven players on the depth chart at the two spots. There is probably room for four, perhaps five, to be in the rotation. It’s like a football offensive line. How many times have you heard coaches say they’ll put their five best linemen on the field, whether that means playing a natural tackle at guard or vice versa?

Same thing here. Ideally, the Pistons would benefit from having one of their two rookie 7-footers, Slava Kravtsov or Andre Drummond, claim the center spot behind Greg Monroe to give them the size they otherwise lack up front. But what they might gain at one end with Kravtsov or Drummond, they would lose at the other, perhaps, by not utilizing the scoring abilities of Daye or Villanueva.

“We have a lot of competition,” Frank said. “Each guy brings different skill sets to the table.”

The Pistons will play three preseason games in four days, starting with Wednesday’s Palace opener against Toronto, and Frank’s plan is to give every player in camp a chance to play extended minutes at some point over the eight-game preseason schedule.

“You want to give different guys a legitimate chance at it,” he said. “ ‘This is your game.’ The other guy, ‘Hey, be ready, but you may not play.’ Let them know ahead of time so we can evaluate where guys are at against other competition. That’s just part of the equation. You have what goes on here every day. That counts equally.”

Daye has gained needed weight and strength, up to 218 pounds, and Villanueva came to camp in the best shape of his career, shedding weight through the combination of a boxing workout he adopted over the summer with the sauna-based regimen Arnie Kander designed for him as he recuperated from last season’s ankle injury.

Maxiell and Jerebko won their rotation positions last season by being more reliable defenders and rebounders and they’ve given no indication anything has changed. But Daye and Villanueva have three weeks to make their move and try to separate themselves in the eyes of the coaching staff.

“I think I’m playing pretty well,” Daye said after Monday’s practice. “I need to rebound a little better, but offensively I’m taking my time and being patient. The game is coming to me pretty well.”

Daye has impressed Pistons coaches with a newfound focus since coming to Auburn Hills from his usual Las Vegas off-season training base. Though he’s long seen himself a natural small forward, he’s embraced the opportunity to compete at power forward, redoubling his efforts to gain strength.

“Last year was last year; this is a new year,” he said. “The team’s different. My mentality is different. The coaches have been pretty positive with me. It’s been good so far.”

“He’s been very, very focused,” Frank said. “That’s the No. 1 thing that stands out. He’s determined. He’s changed some of his habits, his mentality. I see an improvement there, improved confidence, the ability whether good play or bad play, move on. He’s trying to do all the right things and I like what we’ve seen.”

Villanueva has drawn praise from teammates and coaches for a strong camp, too. Over the next three weeks, the four power forwards won’t just be competing with each other, though, they’ll also be measured against the attributes the two rookie 7-footers provide. It’s a pretty complex puzzle Frank has to put together before October comes to a close.