The 3 You Don’t See

Joe D banks Kravtsov, Middleton, English for Pistons future

(Editor's note: Last in a series of stories with Joe Dumars and his perspective on the Pistons.)

Kyle Singler starts and Andre Drummond’s role grows more prominent by the week. Khris Middleton, Kim English and Slava Kravtsov are the three you don’t see. But Joe Dumars sees them every day in practice. And what he sees gives him confidence that Pistons fans will get their chance to see for themselves someday.

It’s highly unusual for an NBA team to carry five rookies, but the Pistons look at Singler and Kravtsov as unusual cases – Singler for the four-year Duke career followed by a year of professional seasoning in Spain, Kravtsov for his vast pro experience in his native Ukraine.

Until Greg Monroe becomes more of a full-time power forward than a center, though, there really isn’t room for both Drummond and Kravtsov in the rotation. Next season will provide an opportunity for the Pistons to make that switch, but if it happens sooner for any reason Joe D would feel at ease with Kravtsov’s readiness.

“I absolutely still really like him,” Dumars said. “It’s just a matter of his learning curve. He’s going through the transition of being a European basketball player learning the NBA game, which is a different game. But he has an NBA skill set that you really can’t teach. You can’t teach 7 feet and you can’t teach a guy to be an instinctive shot blocker and rim protector and those are the things he does.

“He plays above the rim, athletic as heck, can really block shots. We love having him here as an option. If we get into a situation where we have to activate and play him, he’s shown he can be effective for us.”

Middleton and English, fresh off promising three-game stints in the D-League, were players the Pistons targeted going into the second round last June. But they didn’t really expect to land both. In fact, they felt the likeliest course was to possibly take one with the 39th pick and then trade the 44th pick away to bank a future asset.

“We had several phone calls from teams trying to trade back to 44 or trade up to get a second-round pick,” Dumars said. “We had contingency plans to move the pick. Once we drafted Middleton, we looked at the board and said, ‘We’re going to get a good player at 44. Forty-three goes off and we’re like, ‘Yeah, we’re taking Kim English.’ We would have moved the pick, but we weren’t going to pass on Kim English at 44.”

Dumars was struck in the predraft process and even more so in the days that followed by English’s character. The day after the draft, Dumars was floored when English volunteered to him that he would make it his responsibility to help mentor Drummond, then 18.

“He’s all business,” Dumars grinned. “He’s all ears. He’s all in. He never cheats anything, whether it be a pickup game, one on ones after practice, practice, shootaround, games – you know you’re going to get maximum effort from him and super-high character off the floor, as well. He fits.

“We like both of those kids. We’re in a situation now where we have vets in front of them. But, long term, we like both of those kids.”

English had the more impressive run in Orlando during Summer League, but the Pistons understood that Middleton, coming off knee surgery during his junior season at Texas A&M, still wasn’t 100 percent. They saw a changed player in workouts at the team’s practice facility in the weeks between Summer League and training camp.

“He really caught our eye in September,” Dumars said. “It became more and more clear, as September rolled around and we got closer to training camp. We really like his skill set. We like his size, his length, his skill set and his approach. He can really score the basketball. He has an NBA skill set that’s not easy to find. We think he has great upside. We really like him a lot.”