Pistons Mailbag - Thursday, November 15, 2012
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Jens (Cologne, Germany): Finally, the well-deserved first win of the season. What surprised me was the fact that Brandon Knight seemed to be a much better fit with Kyle Singler as a backcourt mate than with Stuckey. So might there be an opportunity to bring Stuckey off the bench as a strong sixth man?
Langlois: It’s a one-game sample size, Jens. As encouraging as it was, it would go against Lawrence Frank’s nature – and the nature of just about every coach – to let it overwhelm his decision making. If Stuckey is healthy and ready to go on Friday against Orlando, my hunch would be that he’ll again be the starter. Frank has expressed his view that Singler matches up against some shooting guards but not necessarily with quicker ones. Could Stuckey be an effective sixth man? Sure. And if Frank ultimately determines that’s best for the team, he wouldn’t hesitate to make that move. I think he’ll want to see much clearer evidence than a one-game sample size, though.
Ben (Grosse Pointe, Mich.): I love the grit and toughness Singler plays with. Is it possible he becomes the starter at small forward sooner rather than later? I love Prince, but some nights it just seems that being a veteran and having been on championship teams, he just doesn’t seem into the rebuilding as much as he led us to believe, thus affecting his play.
Langlois: Tayshaun Prince isn’t going to be easily dislodged, Ben. Even in Singler’s sparkling debut at Philly – 40 minutes, 16 points – Prince was really good with 15 points, five rebounds and six assists. Is it possible that Singler starts at shooting guard and Rodney Stuckey comes off the bench? Too soon to make sweeping conclusions. But Singler has given every indication he’s capable of handling big minutes and playing at least two positions. (He’s about 6-foot-8½. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pistons use him some at power forward eventually, especially late in games when teams are more likely to go small and Singler’s versatility at both ends would be invaluable.) When Prince and Singler are in the game together, the Pistons have two forwards they can use to funnel the offense through. They go about it a little differently, Singler more apt to make a quick decision – pass, dribble or shoot – and Prince more inclined to make the defense show its hand and then attack the weakness, but both fill the role effectively. When Stuckey returns from illness, it might take Frank a while to figure out how best to use Prince, Stuckey, Singler and Corey Maggette. But it sure looks like Singler is already safely part of the young nucleus that includes Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Andre Drummond and Jonas Jerebko. Behind the scenes, the Pistons are feeling good about their three other rookies, too.
Matt (Onekama, Mich.): To say Frank has been literal with his implementation plan of Andre Drummond is an understatement, to the chagrin of many Pistons fans, but I understand the reasoning behind it. My question is why hasn’t this been the case with another youngster on the team, Brandon Knight? Why was Brandon automatically appointed the starting point guard this season. I would ask if this team would be better off if Knight was brought along at the Drummond level and Rodney Stuckey was still the starting point guard?
Langlois: Players develop at their own pace. Point guard is a difficult position to master at the NBA level, where the concentration and sophistication of pick-and-roll plays has made the game infinitely more complex for that position than ever before. Knight certainly is still learning the nuances of the position, but as a basketball player he arrived to the NBA a more mature product than Drummond. In a story I did on Drummond for the summer edition of our magazine, Courtside Quarterly, Drummond’s uncle – who was also his AAU coach – told me that until he was about a freshman in high school Drummond was a role player and a pretty average one, at that. And that isn’t that many years ago, in his case. Though he was a highly recruited prep, it was largely based on the same things that made him intriguing to the NBA – a rare combination of size and athleticism. Joe Dumars and Lawrence Frank made it clear on draft night that Drummond would take some time. Frankly, I think he’s probably exceeded their private expectations already and they’ll certainly keep expanding his role as he proves capable of playing longer stretches and establishes some consistency. Knight was identified as one of the top 10 players in his class when he was in middle school by the folks who do that sort of thing. He played a critical role in leading Kentucky to the Final Four as a freshman. His assists are up this year as he’s consciously focused on getting teammates more involved. Your question came in before Wednesday’s win at Philadelphia, Matt, but Knight was outstanding at both ends in the season’s first win. He had seven assists and seven rebounds in the first half and 11 points in the second half. Right now, the top three guards are Knight, Stuckey and Will Bynum, with Kyle Singler swinging back to guard more and more and even starting in Philadelphia on Wednesday when Stuckey took ill.
Vance (Detroit): Seeing that we are in need of a point guard, do you think there is any way we could pry Andre Miller away from Denver? If not, do you agree the Pistons should put the ball in Stuckey’s hands more to facilitate the offense?
Langlois: Miller, for a guy who’s been around as long as he has and been as productive as he’s been, is one of the most consistently underappreciated players in the league. In a world where contracts didn’t matter, he would be an ideal veteran backcourt presence to add to the mix. But he’s 36 with two more years on his contract. For a franchise that’s pointing toward having significant cap space next off-season, the appeal might not be there. As for Stuckey, I think it’s important that he get the ball in the most advantageous positions to score. For him, that usually means in transition. The Pistons simply haven’t had as many chances to run as they would like because of their defensive lapses. In the half-court offense, Frank likes to get him the ball when he’s on the move and usually from left to right so he can get to his right hand. He doesn’t necessarily have to be playing point guard for that to happen, of course. As for your general premise, I don’t see any indication the Pistons aren’t solidly behind Brandon Knight, 20, as their point guard, now and moving forward. Bynum is a pending free agent, though, so adding another one at some point before the 2013-14 season is likely.
Matt (Geneva, Switzerland): Why haven’t we seen Kravtsov dressed more than once and at least given some garbage time? He looked good in the bits we saw in preseason and it would allow more Monroe-Drummond time with Kravtsov and Maxiell together. It also would mean Jerebko could go back to his true position at small forward.
Langlois: He’s the No. 5 big man in a rotation that has room for four, Matt. Simple as that right now. And with Corey Maggette missing the first eight games, Lawrence Frank has generally opted to go with the extra wing player, Khris Middleton, rather than a fifth big man, on the active list. But I spoke with a member of the coaching staff about Kravtsov just this week and he said they’re really pleased with his attitude and his development. The feeling all along with Kravtsov was that there would be an adjustment period for him, and probably a bigger one than many European players experience because he had never played outside of Ukraine. Players coming from France, Italy or Spain – more westernized European countries, where English is a common second language – usually make the transition more easily. The staff is really pleased with Kravtsov’s work ethic and the way he’s fit in with his teammates, though. He’ll likely get his shot at some point this season. Next season, with Jason Maxiell’s status uncertain as a pending free agent, could be the opening for Kravtsov into the rotation with Greg Monroe becoming more of a full-time power forward and Drummond and Kravtsov splitting the center spot.
Tony (Roseville, Mich.): The Clippers need big man depth and Lamar Odom with his expiring contract looks done as an impact player. What are your thoughts on a Villanueva for Odom deal and not worry about using the amnesty clause?
Langlois: Probably not a deal the Clippers would want to do with Villanueva not cracking the rotation, Tony. That’s just a guess, but their motivation for doing the deal would be immediate help. Villanueva’s preseason shooting slump probably dimmed interest in dealing for him because of the extra year beyond this season on his contract. Now, if he gets a shot at playing time and scores the way he has and can, then there will be a market for his services. There aren’t a whole lot of guys his size with the varied scoring skills Charlie V can offer – and one thing playoff teams are always chasing is another scorer off the bench. He just has to give some indication his scoring touch hasn’t gone away.
John (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.): I knew the Pistons would struggle on offense without good perimeter shooters to balance their dribble-drive attack. But how do you account for the regression on defense and the high number of turnovers? It wasn’t a short camp this year. I know Ben Wallace did a lot, but there aren’t that many new players in the rotation and Singler is a good defender.
Langlois: Great question with no simple answer, John. I think their difficulty rebounding the ball – in the first five games, they were outrebounded by 12 per game, though they’ve been good since, and great with a plus-19 in Wednesday’s win at Philly – plays a big role. The Pistons remained last in the league in defensive rebounding percentage going into Wednesday’s game and you simply cannot give NBA teams repeated multiple scoring chances without paying. It’s more than coincidence that on the night they were plus-19 on the glass, they held Philly to under 30 percent shooting. Stopping dribble penetration has been another issue. Those things aren’t dependent as much on familiarity as they are on execution. The turnaround for the Pistons, as Frank has repeatedly insisted, has to start on the defensive end.
Nick (Los Angeles): I’m frustrated with the start of the season like all die-hard fans. I don’t understand the logic of keeping Maxiell as a starter. Eight points and five rebounds a game is hardly a quality starter. Drummond should start.
Langlois: Drummond is playing a role and a more significant one than I imagined he would be a month ago. Lawrence Frank has been clear on this and I’ve certainly weighed in on it a number of times, as well. The right move is to give Drummond a little bit at a time, and then a little bit more, and as he takes baby steps – proving he can handle a regular rotation spot, cutting down on mental mistakes – then you let the line out a little bit longer on him over time. Maxiell was really good – eight points, 12 boards, three blocks, three assists – as the Pistons dominated at Philly for their first win on Wednesday night. I don’t see him being moved aside anytime soon if he keeps that up.
John (Hexham, England): In a recent article you said Monroe not having mastered center yet is one of the reasons for keeping Drummond from starting and the two playing together more frequently. But if Drummond is our future center, backed by Kravtsov, why does Monroe have to master center? Of course, he needs to know how to play it and he now has two years of experience, but mastering it could easily take another two or three years.
Langlois: It was Lawrence Frank who said it; I just reported it, John. And what he meant was that it wouldn’t be in the best interests of the team right now to yank Monroe out of a position where he has a certain comfort level and make him start from scratch at power forward. Better to ease him into that transition, not only for his sake, but for Drummond’s and the team’s, as well.
Omar (Beirut, Lebanon): What do you see as Kim English’s role? He seems to be able to shoot a very high 3-point percentage but doesn’t shoot that many. Can we expect to see more of English and will the Pistons try to get him more open looks to take advantage of his 3-point shooting?
Langlois: With Corey Maggette back now, it might be a while before English gets a shot to crack the rotation, Omar. Kyle Singler’s early-season play had elevated him to No. 1 among bench wing players and he solidified his status with his solid starting debut at Philadelphia for Rodney Stuckey, out with an illness. But the Pistons really like everything about English and believe strongly that he has a bright NBA future. A big part of the appeal with English is his 3-point stroke and the confidence he has in his ability to knock it down.
Scott (Ann Arbor, Mich.): As a lifelong Pistons fan, I’m a little concerned that if the Pistons don’t show any progress, our most talented players will want to sign with a glamour market. I’d like to be able to watch the Pistons compete, maybe not for a title but for respectability. How many more losing seasons do you expect the Pistons to have before they can enter the postseason?
Langlois: It was my view coming into the season that the Pistons would have a shot at a playoff berth but would need something to happen ahead of them. There appeared to be eight teams with strong cases to be made: Boston, New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia from the tough Atlantic Division; Miami and Atlanta from the Southeast; and Indiana and Chicago from the Midwest. But I said even then that there will be twists and turns. Philly could be vulnerable with Andrew Bynum out another month or so. Indiana is struggling and without Danny Granger for an extended period. The 1-8 start reduces the Pistons’ margin for error, of course, but they’ll have plenty of opportunities to make up ground as the schedule starts to even out for them. So don’t write off this season – it will be fascinating to watch the progress of the young guys, if nothing else captivates you – but next season could be their breakthrough year. Brandon Knight will have his first full season as a starting point guard under his belt, Andre Drummond will be that much farther along and the Pistons will likely have added a significant veteran or two with the cap space they figure to have next summer.