All Over Orlando
2nd unit sparks blowout win as Pistons get sneak peek of future
Lawrence Frank gets closer to determining a starting lineup and a rotation with each passing game, but only by increments and only because he’s running out of evaluation opportunities. On a night his starters played unevenly as the preseason hit the mid-point, Detroit’s second unit was the group that allowed separation between them and the undermanned Orlando Magic.
“They changed the game,” Lawrence Frank said of a unit that consisted of Andre Drummond in the middle, flanked by Jonas Jerebko and Kyle Singler with Corey Maggette and Will Bynum in the backcourt. “When they came in as a unit it was 20-18 Orlando. By the time those guys came out, it was 42-28. It started on the defensive end. I think we held ’em to 14 points, 33 percent shooting. We turned it over one time and shot 70 percent during the whole second quarter.”
Orlando is taking a big step backward this year, the new Magic management team that includes ex-Pistons executive Scott Perry as assistant GM opting for a total rebuild in the trade that made Dwight Howard a Los Angeles Laker. But even by their revised expectations, these weren’t the Magic who’ll line up come the regular season. Out for Orlando on Tuesday were presumed starters Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu plus 3-point shooter J.J. Redick.
What no doubt will be the takeaway of the night for Pistons fans came in about a five-minute stretch late in the third quarter when Frank summoned Drummond from the bench and sent him on for Jason Maxiell, pairing him with Greg Monroe for the first time. Drummond said later he thought Frank was joking and asked if he was really checking in for Monroe.
With Drummond and Monroe on the floor, the Pistons quickly stretched their 21-point lead to 29. A Drummond steal led to a Drummond layup. Getting the ball under the basket on the next possession, Drummond missed but commanded so much attention it allowed Monroe an easy cleanup for two points off the miss. On the very next possession, Monroe – at power forward – set a high screen for Rodney Stuckey, who fed Monroe the ball above the foul line. Spotting Drummond roaming free, Monroe used his size to fire an unobstructed lob pass that Drummond easily converted into a dunk.
Small sample size, but the results were … um, encouraging.
“You just kind of wanted to see how it works,” said Frank, understandably guarded about a brief slice of time in a preseason game against an undermanned opponent. “Going into the game, that was kind of how we scripted it and it just worked out.”
It was a pairing Frank hadn’t used before, even in practice. The only time Drummond and Monroe have played as teammates, Monroe said, came in August at Tim Grgurich’s camp in Las Vegas for young NBA players.
“Never – that was the first time,” he said. “I don’t think there was one time.”
And his impressions?
“It went pretty fast, but I think it was some good minutes, some quick experience to see how we are together.”
Monroe doesn’t know when or if Frank will decide to make them a more regular tandem, let alone start them together, but he suspects it won’t be the last time they play side by side.
“I think after tonight, Coach – I don’t know what he’s thinking – I think he might just try to play with it a little bit more in the preseason and see how it goes.”
Drummond finished with nine points, three rebounds, four blocks and a steal in 17 minutes. Monroe had 15 points, draining three jump shots on consecutive possessions from 14, 20 and 21 feet – precisely the type of shot a power forward would be asked to drain. He worked tirelessly on his offense over the summer, including post work and perimeter shooting, for whatever way this turns out.
“Those were shots in a place I’m very comfortable shooting,” he said. “They were good shots, open shots. They’re shots I know I can make.”
But Monroe came to the Pistons with a reputation as an uncanny passer for a big man, and that’s been showcased in flashes from the low post in his first two seasons. Moving him to the high post would open up his passing opportunities even more. Of the lob pass for Drummond’s dunk, he said, “That’s a simple play. He was wide open. If we play together, we might get a little chemistry and make a few more plays like that.”
Drummond wasn’t the only rookie to show well. Singler had nine points on 3 of 4 shooting in 15 minutes and continued to make subtle plays that lead to positive results. Kim English, Khris Middleton and Slava Kravtsov played the last 8:22 scored and all contributed: English seven points in eight minutes, making 3 of 5 shots; Middleton five points on 2 of 3; Kravtsov five rebounds.
Jerebko and Maggette appear to have rotation spots all but locked up. Filling out the rotation won’t be so easy for Frank. The good news is right now it looks like the various options all have strong cases to be made.