First Impressions

Maggette, Kravtsov among those who make early moves for Pistons

Nearly a week and eight practices into training camp, with the preseason opener just three days away, impressions that lead to decisions are being made – but those decisions are still at least a few weeks away. The traditional definition of training camp is that which takes place leading to the preseason opener, but for practical purposes – and, more importantly, to Lawrence Frank’s way of thinking – training camp is really everything that leads to the first regular-season game, 24 days away.

Let’s take a look at the five storylines worth watching I set forth on the eve of training camp and see what we’ve learned in the past week – based on Saturday’s open scrimmage, two glimpses of scrimmaging Frank opened to reporters last week and interpreting the comments of Frank and others over that time.

Will Lawrence Frank tinker with his starting lineup?

He’s 100 percent sincere when he says all jobs are open, but there has been little said or seen in the first week to give the impression that the Oct. 31 starting lineup won’t be Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell, Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey.

Maxiell’s job would appear to be the most tenuous given Prince’s steady presence and the reality that Monroe, Knight and Stuckey are the core of the franchise’s future along with 19-year-old Andre Drummond.

But Maxiell had a strong summer and is in terrific shape. The reliable 15-foot jump shot he’s added in the past few seasons complements his physical presence and assignment-sure reliability.

When Monroe showed up Friday with a criss-crossing series of thin bandage strips above his right eyebrow and discoloration around the eye, he answered my question of what happened with a question of his own: “Guess who did it?”

Maxiell, of course.

Who takes the lead in the race behind Tayshaun Prince at small forward?

Corey Maggette, for now. Much will depend on the veteran’s health, of course, after enduring a series of injuries, including knee and Achilles tendon, last year in Charlotte, costing him half of his season.

But Maggette did everything through the two-a-days of the first week and says he feels fine physically. Frank relishes the aggressive scoring mentality Maggette brings to the court, a trait that also manifests itself in the competitive edge he brings to practices.

“This guy goes and gets it,” Frank said. “He is after it. He is an attacker. He’s relentless with it.”

The Pistons remain convinced Kyle Singler is ready to step into an NBA rotation if the situation calls for it, but Maggette’s presence means they don’t have to force it. Singler, like the majority of rookies, is adjusting to the tempo and talent level. He struggled with his shot in Saturday’s open practice, though Singler is the type of player who can be a factor even when he isn’t scoring.

Can Austin Daye or Charlie Villanueva force their way into the rotation?

Too soon to say. The good news is that both Daye and Villanueva are showing worthy of playing. Villanueva might have the early edge. The bad news for them is that their obvious path to playing time is blocked by Maxiell and Jonas Jerebko.

Jerebko has been terrific so far. Now two years removed from his Achilles tendon tear and coming off a confidence-building stint with his Swedish national team, Jerebko continues to become a more consistent shooter and versatile scorer without sacrificing any of the traits that first earned him an NBA role: hustle, fearlenessness, sound defense.

Yet for a team that sometimes struggles for half-court offense, the outside shooting range and pure shotmaking skill both Villanueva and Daye bring are tempting options. Frank might look for ways to use three of his four power forwards.

Can either Andre Drummond or Slava Kravtsov win the backup job to Greg Monroe?

Based on Saturday’s open practice, Kravtsov appears to have the inside track to be Monroe’s backup and part of the playing rotation.

There is still no guarantee either player will be part of the playing group. Frank could use Maxiell to back up Monroe – though undersized, Maxiell has held his own guarding every big man from Dwight Howard on down over the years – an option that becomes easier to incorporate if Villanueva or Daye force their way into the rotation.

But Kravtsov exhibited strong one-on-one post defensive skills against Monroe and superb shot-blocking instincts in Saturday’s practice. His size and athleticism are elements the Pistons haven’t had since Rasheed Wallace’s heyday. The fact he looks as NBA-ready and comfortable as he does less than a week since transitioning to the NBA and a country whose first language is new to him speaks well for his ability to adapt and progress.

Drummond continues to learn and grow, as well. Monroe, asked of Kravtsov’s day Saturday, was quick to point out that Drummond has had a very good first week of practice, as well. Kravtsov’s edge is experience and being more sure of his defensive responsibilities, perhaps.

Can Kim English or Khris Middleton give the Pistons quality minutes behind Rodney Stuckey?

Too soon to tell. English appears to be more NBA ready than Middleton at this point. Even when his outside shot didn’t fall in Saturday’s practice, English found ways to contribute. He will always give the Pistons the chance to score easy points in transition by never failing to sprint back and fill a wing. And he’ll always give an honest effort defensively.

Middleton struggled in Summer League, played really well in pickup games before camp opened after getting his bearings, and is again dealing with the faster tempo and information overload common to rookies in the early going. When he turns the corner again, his gifts as a pure scorer will thrust him back into the equation.

Maggette played at both shooting guard and small forward during the first week of camp and during Saturday’s practice. If he can handle 25 minutes a night, Frank could tweak his rotation so that Maggette serves as the primary backup to both Prince and Stuckey. More likely, one of English/Middleton or Singler finds his way into the rotation in at least a spot role.

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