Strong Early Returns

Drummond, Singler, English all shine as Pistons win opener

ORLANDO – With the standard caveats about weighing Summer League results with restraint, the Pistons left Orlando’s Amway Center after their Monday opener feeling pretty good about the future – their immediate future.

Andre Drummond, Kyle Singler and Kim English all pushed their chips to the middle of the table in their bid to be a part of Lawrence Frank’s rotation for the 2012-13 NBA season. It wasn’t merely the numbers they put up but the context: Drummond went against Enes Kanter and English against Alec Burks for most of the Pistons’ 76-73 win – Kanter and Burks were 2011 lottery picks with encouraging rookie seasons on their resumes – and Singler split his time against two NBA veterans, 2009 first-rounder DeMarre Carroll and rugged Stephen Graham, a six-year veteran.

English led all scorers with 18 points, hitting 3 of 4 from the 3-point line and attacking aggressively enough to get six free throws, too. Singler his 6 of 8 shots in scoring 14 points, showing the nose for the basket and savvy that endeared him to the Pistons a year ago as his Duke career wound down. And Drummond had eight points, five boards, four steals and two blocks, but most tellingly he helped hold the gifted Kanter to three points while helping to force him into four turnovers.

The three rookies were at the heart of Detroit’s 32-11 third-quarter domination, when the Pistons – who got punched with a 21-0 Utah ran that spanned the first and second quarters and trailed by 13 – turned a nine-point deficit into a 12-point lead.

“Coach (John Loyer) told us coming out that the first two minutes (of the third quarter) is going to dictate the game,” Singler said. “We took that and played really hard – throughout the whole game, I thought. That spurt really gave us momentum to finish the second half.”

“We took ourselves out of that game,” English said. “Utah is a good team. They had some good vets playing with them, but we weren’t getting stops, we weren’t getting rebounds. They were sending a lot of guys to the glass, so we knew if we did get rebounds we could score more easily in transition. Once we did get stops, it helped things out a lot.”

Drummond made a few big plays at both ends in the opening minute, going above traffic to snare a defensive rebound, then putting his massive, quick hands on display to strip Utah’s Henry Sims of a defensive rebound that Drummond turned into an eye-catching 16-footer off of one foot that pulled the Pistons within five points. Singler got to the line, scored on a driving layup and took a gorgeous feed from English for another easy hoop. English scored 10 points in the quarter, swishing a pair of corner triples and going perfect in four tries at the foul line.

“I thought our whole group showed a lot of resiliency coming back,” Loyer said. “It’s a game of runs. You play at this level, it takes some time to realize that. We try to break it down to two- or three-minute segments and Kim and Kyle, all the guys, showed a lot of resilience, came back and did a really nice job.”

Brandon Knight pitched in with 17 points, six assists and five rebounds and Austin Daye, after struggling through the first half, turned it up in the second to finish with 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots while playing power forward for all 29 of his minutes.

The Pistons already knew Knight could play, of course; his Summer League is as much about assuming a leadership role as it is continuing his progression as an NBA point guard.

“We’re blessed to have a point guard who’s been through the rigors of an NBA season,” English said. “Brandon really did a good job controlling the pace of the game.”

English, Singler and Drummond will have to prove themselves responsible defenders, of course, if they hope to leave an impression on Frank. Drummond’s presence was clearly felt by Utah beyond the four steals and two blocks. English drew two charges within a few minutes of the first half and Singler also drew a charge.

“That’s Lawrence Frank’s defense,” Loyer said. “Our guys know when they put on that Pistons jersey, they look at the practice plan every day – whether it’s Summer League or during the season – that first hour, hour and 45 minutes, a lot of defense. They know, in order to get on the floor, they’ve got to play defense first and they did a nice job of that.”

“First and foremost, I take pride in guarding,” said English, who helped hold the athletic Burks to 10 points – nine of them in garbage time as Utah cut into a 12-point deficit in the last three minutes. “I take pride in guarding my man and in our defensive schemes. I try to knock down open shots, but my offensive game will never deter what I do defensively.”

“He’s a good player,” Drummond said of Kanter, a player the Jazz took over Knight with the No. 3 pick in 2011. “He’s a lottery pick – the Jazz saw something in him. He’s a great player. His post game is really good and it was tough for me trying to stop him, but I played to the best of my ability, changed some of his shots and blocked some of his shots, too.”

“It’s always fun to go up against a guy that has played in the NBA and see how you fare,” Singler said. “A lot of fun out there and I thought I did pretty well.”

Singler, English and Drummond did pretty well, indeed – well enough to give the Pistons a measure of confidence they’ll make a push to be a part of their immediate future.