First Timers

One of the qualities that endeared both Kyle Singler and Kim English to the Pistons over the course of their four-year college careers was the sheer competitive drive. So it won’t surprise anyone at 6 Championship Drive that the season-opening loss to Houston cast a pall on their otherwise successful debuts.

But their performances as primary backups to Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey were among the bright spots of the 105-96 defeat. English scored eight points in 14 minutes with three assists. Singler scored 10 points in 16 minutes with a couple of rebounds and a blocked shot.

“I’m so in tune to the game plan and executing that the spectacle kind of got lost,” English said after Thursday’s practice and just before the rookies headed out on their first extended NBA road trip, a 10-day journey that will take them to six Western Conference cities. “It was a great night other than the loss. That was a big blemish for the fans and us. We played a solid game until that last 12 minutes, so it hurts.”

“It was a great experience,” Singler said. “I really enjoyed it. Even though we lost, we played well enough to win. Made some mistakes toward the end of the game, but I personally had a great experience and it was fun to be out there.”

English lamented some late mistakes – a foul he felt he shouldn’t have taken, a turnover, a blocked shot.

“Those are the things that really stick out to me,” he said.

When I told English that after Asik’s blocked shot, I turned to the person next to me and said, “That’s two points in the Big 12,” he nodded. “Absolutely.

“It never crossed my mind (that Asik would block his shot). When I made the move, he was on the left block and I was – quick – layup. I stopped looking. I thought it was in. Space closes so fast out there. It’s nothing like you can imagine, how fast space closes. You have to be efficient in everything you do.”

Singler made a defensive gaffe in the second half that allowed James Harden to make a wide-open 3-pointer that prompted a Lawrence Frank timeout as Frank looked at Singler and pointed to his temple with his index finger: “Think!”

Singler’s sin wasn’t in leaving a shooter to help the next defender – Jonas Jerebko, in this case – it was in the shooter he left.

“Jonas closed out on (Chandler) Parsons; he got beat middle,” Frank said. “Kyle’s reaction was to help. With Harden, we step up – meaning we try to take that away – but it was a knee-jerk reaction. He wasn’t the only one who made that mistake. I thought Kyle was very productive in his minutes.”

Singler winced a little when I brought the play up to him.

“There were definitely plays where I screwed up on the defensive end,” he said. “Over time, just through repetition, I think I’ll get it quick. I’m the type of guy that can pick up on things pretty fast. I think it’ll take me a few games to get it, but eventually it’s something that I’ll get.”

English was the first player Frank summoned from his bench, which he said was done mostly to bring back Stuckey when other starters, like Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe, needed to be taken out. That way, Frank limits the amount of time rookies like English, Singler and Andre Drummond have to be on the floor en masse without more of a veteran presence.

English didn’t know he’d be first off the bench, but he says he prides himself on being ready for whatever happens – starting, coming off the bench or not playing at all.

“I’m just watching the game,” he said. “I was in the last seat of the bench, next to some fans. It kind of echoes down the bench, whoever’s name he calls. I got up, ran and just tried to give a spark. I jump sometimes when he says other people’s names – Kyle or Khris (Middleton), I’m ready.”

English showed his mettle in the third quarter. One possession after missing a 3-pointer, he yielded one to James Harden that pulled Houston to within two. On the very next possession, English got caught deep on the left wing with the shot clock winding down and no clear passing options. Harden dared the rookie to shoot by backing down to cut off the passing lane to Monroe.

“I’m new to the league,” English said. “He didn’t know me. He doesn’t know if I’m a driver. He expected me not to be able to shoot it.”

English was fresh into the game when he missed the first one and says he didn’t want to take that shot. He felt just a little more into the game after two more trips, though, and didn’t let the first miss – or Harden’s make over him – scare him off of letting it fly from 27 feet.

“I didn’t want to shoot (the first shot) that early,” he said. “Then I got warm. Again, it was supposed to be an entry post to Greg and he was backing off. I had to shoot it. After that, he didn’t back off me any more.”

“I thought Kim had several good moments,” Frank said. “In the first half, he was very good. For the most part, he limited defensive mistakes. Kim has confidence. It’s just a matter of making sure he stays within his strength zone and he does the things he works on.”

English said the reality that he was in the NBA struck him the night before the game, when he was watching “SportsCenter” and they began discussing the Eastern Conference.

“I’m like, ‘Wow, we’re in the East. I’m in the East,’ ” he said. “It’s here. Every camp you ever went to growing up, there would be a guy saying, ‘None of you will go to the NBA.’

“I was so caught up in the moment, I didn’t really get a chance to relish it. I didn’t want to. My first NBA win is going to feel a lot better than my first NBA game.”

Spoken like the competitor the Pistons knew they were getting in both Kim English and Kyle Singler.