Next Man Up
With Maggette nursing injury, opportunity knocks for Singler
For nearly three weeks, the Pistons experienced almost remarkably good fortune with regard to injuries. Across the NBA, where stars from Derrick Rose to Dirk Nowitzki are set to still miss weeks or months, the Pistons won’t generate much sympathy for the left calf muscle Corey Maggette strained in Thursday’s loss at Miami.
Maggette played just two minutes of the first quarter Thursday when he pulled up lame near mid-court and limped to the bench. His lower leg was wrapped, wires running from the leg into his waistband likely connected to an electrical stimulation device to expedite healing, as he walked gingerly to Arnie Kander’s training room after Friday’s practice.
Lawrence Frank declared him “day to day,” though it would be an upset if Maggette is back in time for Saturday’s home preseason game with Charlotte. If it’s a typical calf muscle injury, two weeks would be about as soon as Maggette could be reasonably expected to return, with some injuries of that type lingering considerably longer than that.
So the Pistons will employ the time-honored NBA edict: next man up.
“We’ll see,” Frank said. “The good thing is he went out of the arena on crutches and today there’s no crutches, so that’s positive.”
It wasn’t certain that Maggette was going to be a part of Frank’s rotation. “We were still looking at that,” Frank said, so there’s no guarantee that because Maggette could miss time someone else will move up into the rotation.
But at the very least, it creates opportunities for anyone on the roster capable of playing small forward or shooting guard – and that really means for the three perimeter rookies: Kyle Singler, Kim English and Khris Middleton.
Based on the substitution patterns employed by Frank in the two most recent preseason games, it would appear Singler is first in line to try to win minutes. And, indeed, it was Singler who was rushed into the game when Maggette limped off.
“My whole mind-set with something like that is eventually, someone’s going to go down with the amount of games we play, so we’ve just got to stay prepared and take advantage of our opportunities,” Singler said. “It’s a straightforward answer, but it’s simple. You’ve got to put in the extra work after practice and make sure you’re sharp with what you’re doing.”
Singler said that after putting in a great deal of extra work. He was the last player to leave the practice court after a unique drill conducted with assistant coach Steve Hetzel, a variation of a drill introduced last season by Dee Brown for Brandon Knight where the player cradles a basketball in the crook of one arm while dribbling with the opposite hand, then switching basketballs while driving to the basket.
“Everything is a new experience for me,” Singler said. “There’s not a lot that you can prepare for that you don’t know about. For me, guys going down, just being ready and being as prepared as you can be is all you can really ask for.”
Ahead of Singler on the depth chart at small forward as camp opened were the two most senior members of the roster, Maggette and Tayshaun Prince, the only two of 17 players in camp on the other side of 30. Maggette has been cited by several young Pistons for his willingness to impart veteran advice, Singler among them.
“Corey has been one of the most approachable people so far on the team,” he said. “Coming to the young guys with advice, questions we might have – he’s been doing a great job of being accessible to us for stuff we might need.”
Singler learns from Prince in other ways. Their games are somewhat similar in that both players seem blessed with the ability to contribute in various ways as their team requires.
Learning from Prince has “been mostly visual,” he said. “Tayshaun is a great person to study. He really thinks the game. He plays within himself. Just watching him do subtle things – it’s kind of hard to explain through words – he just does a very good job of being under control, doing what he can do at the highest level. I’ve been trying to incorporate that into my game.”
The arguments for Singler as the logical next man up come on multiple levels. For one, his four years at Duke combined with his season in the Spanish ACB league – where he spent the second half of the season with league power Real Madrid and played a major role as the team went to the league finals – has him as well prepared for the NBA as a rookie could be.
Then there’s the fact that Frank gave a long look to a backcourt of Brandon Knight and Will Bynum at Miami, suggesting he might be leaning toward a three-player backcourt rotation that also includes Rodney Stuckey.
The next clue: how Frank employs his rotation against Charlotte on Saturday night.