Noses to the Grindstone

Joe D: ‘What’s taken place this summer has been encouraging’

If the accounting department notices a spike in the Pistons’ utility bills this summer, it’s not because Joe Dumars and his basketball staff are cranking up the air conditioning to combat the heat. It’s because the place has been overrun with basketball players who’ve kept the lights burning virtually since the regular season ended in late April.

“What’s taken place this summer has been encouraging,” Joe Dumars said late last week as another wave of players – Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe, Charlie Villanueva, Andre Drummond, Kim English and Khris Middleton – had wrapped up workouts with Arnie Kander and his strength and conditioning staff and a handful of Lawrence Frank’s assistant coaches.

“We have young guys who are in the gym every day. They’re putting in really major work on their games. When you have a team of young guys the way we do right now, player development becomes extremely important. We’re seeing the transformation of a young team. The middle of August, your gym is full. That’s what happens with young guys. It’s not about resting your body because you made a long playoff run, it’s about developing your game and taking it to the next level. To do that, you have to put in a lot of hours and a lot of work to get there. That’s what we’re seeing right now.”

Nobody has been more diligent or more present at the practice facility all off-season than Stuckey. A series of nagging injuries – foot, groin, hamstring, all on the same side of his body, likely brought about because Stuckey had virtually no training camp while negotiating as a free agent – dampened what otherwise was the best of his five NBA seasons.

Frank’s approach to the game brought out the best in Stuckey. Stuckey loved that Frank gave the team a long leash offensively as long as they defended to his expectations. When the Pistons get defensive stops, Frank doesn’t send in a play call from the sideline, expecting his guards to attack before the defense is matched up properly.

“Everything about Stuckey this summer has been very good,” Dumars said. “From his work ethic to his approach to his consistency to his spirit, everything has been really good with Stuck. Stuck is a 26-year-old kid who figured out this summer the amount of work, the pace, the effort you have to put into it. He’s done what he needed to do this summer.

“In terms of putting in the work and the amount of time, I don’t think you could put him second to anybody. He’s put in the work like no other summer I’ve seen from him. History tells you that if you put that kind of work in, you’ll see the rewards of it. That’s what we sell to these young guys: The amount of work you put into it is what you’ll get out of it. That’s where you get your confidence, the amount of work you’ve put in. You know you’ve paid the price.”

Stuckey wasn’t amount a group of veterans that included Greg Monroe, Charlie Villanueva and Jason Maxiell that went to Orlando to take part in the practices that led to Summer League play. Stuckey went to Europe that week to visit Jonas Jerebko. For those who attended – and for the four Pistons rookies plus Brandon Knight and Austin Daye who played in games, as well – Dumars felt the entire Summer League experience this year will pay dividends.

“I thought it was great – it was excellent,” he said. “It was great on several different levels. It’s great for the veteran guys to come, in the middle of summer, and go through a kind of mini-training camp. That says a lot about the guys who came down. Those guys came down and they all showed up in really good shape in the middle of their summer. Those were some tough, long practices.

“For the incoming young guys, it’s invaluable to have veteran guys in your first NBA practice. The benefit for the young guys was tremendous, as well. And I thought it was great for the coaches to have the mix of players to coach. You had veteran guys who understand what you’re trying to do and understand your system. You’re not just there trying to teach the guys who’ve never heard what you have to say.”

It’s about to get even busier around the practice facility, too. Kyle Singler is due shortly after giving his body a much-needed break following his extended Spanish season followed by his stint in Orlando. Stuckey has been exhorting players since late last season to get to Auburn Hills so as many teammates as possible are in the gym for much of September leading to the early October opening of camp.

Frank will notice a night-and-day difference when he opens his second training camp with the Pistons compared to his first. He hadn’t coached a single player that came to the 2011 Pistons camp and he had one week before the first preseason game to install foreign offensive and defensive systems with completely new terminology. He’ll also notice, no doubt, a group of players whose summer work in Auburn Hills and elsewhere has made them better prepared to execute those systems successfully.