Summer League Checklist
Rookies, young vets have plenty at stake for 5-game Orlando schedule
ORLANDO – While most of America brushes beach sand from its toes, puts a fresh bag of ice in the cooler and secures the best fireworks vantage point, the Detroit Pistons will be quietly launching their 2013-14 NBA season in a modest Florida rec center.
Draft picks Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva will be joined by 2012-13 rookies Andre Drummond, Kyle Singler, Khris Middleton, Kim English and Slava Kravtsov as new coach Maurice Cheeks and the coaching staff he’s still assembling gather the team for an evening practice in advance of Sunday’s Orlando Summer League opener.
They’re expected to be joined by young veterans Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight for the next few days of practices, with double sessions scheduled Friday and Saturday, all while Joe Dumars and staff continue their pursuit of free agents and draft targets that could dramatically alter the roster.
Of the seven or eight players on the Summer League roster whose rights the Pistons hold and who figure to be on next season’s roster, Andre Drummond has the most certain role, regardless of what veterans are added between now and training camp. Drummond will be the starting center on opening night. He and Singler finished last season as starters and neither figures to play more than a game or two, by all indications, of the five scheduled over six days in Orlando.
For everybody else, though, Summer League is the first step toward establishing a place in the pecking order between now and the start of training camp. What the front office, coaching and training staffs see in Summer League determines a course of action for each individual for the rest of the summer.
Here’s a look at the storylines of Summer League:
Tuneup Time – For Drummond and Singler, barring the inclusion of the latter as a piece in a multiplayer trade, Summer League will be more about two young players dipping their toes back into competitive waters than honing individual skills.
The fact Drummond was able to return from his early-February back injury to start the season’s final 10 games, showing no lingering effects, makes this a stress-free Summer League for him and the organization. He spent June training in Los Angeles and returned to Auburn Hills last week.
Singler, though a second-year NBA player now, is 25 with four years at Duke and a season in Spain’s top league on his resume. It wouldn’t surprise if he follows the Monroe-Knight path and only participates in practices leading to games. Singler might not remain a starter, depending on the trade and free agency return, but the Pistons are comfortable knowing he’ll contribute in whatever role he’s ultimately assigned.
Evaluating KCP - Perhaps the most heavily scrutinized individual will be lottery pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Once the Pistons made him their pick at No. 8 last week, it’s fair to assume the focus of free agency and trade talk became small forward rather than shooting guard. But circumstances could yet dictate that the best player available to the Pistons – one who satisfies their presumed desire to land a significant scorer – is primarily a shooting guard.
That, of course, would be the biggest factor in dictating Caldwell-Pope’s role going into training camp. The Pistons won’t make any sweeping conclusions about his readiness either way coming out of Orlando, but a strong showing here would give them a little more latitude in considering other possible uses for their trade and salary cap assets.
Room for Mitchell? – Even with the expected loss of Jason Maxiell, the Pistons have more depth at power forward than anywhere. Greg Monroe will be the starter and veterans Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva give them different looks behind him.
Where does that leave second-round pick Tony Mitchell, a player who was widely expected to be a lottery pick when the college season began and is universally viewed as an elite athlete? It’s unlikely the Pistons would go into training camp banking on Mitchell to crack the rotation, but if he shows the ability to play with a consistently high motor and affect games with his athleticism – rebounding, blocking shots, running the floor and making a consistent impact beyond scoring – it could affect Dumars’ confidence in being able to deal one of the veterans at that position, perhaps, to enable larger trades.
Slava’s Opportunity – The Pistons didn’t get any real chance to work with Kravtsov last summer after signing him following the 2012 draft due to his commitments to his Ukrainian national team. He’ll suit up for them again late this summer, but his presence in Summer League allows Kravtsov the chance to factor into the big man equation.
With Monroe moving to power forward, there is a path to a spot in the rotation for Kravtsov if he can outperform the backup power forwards and stamp himself as the clear backup to Drummond, allowing Monroe to spend the preponderance of his time at the four. In limited exposure last year, the game sometimes appeared too fast for Kravtsov. But he went for such long stretches without playing that the Pistons likely would prefer to evaluate him under more favorable circumstances – starting with Summer League.
Peyton’s Place – When you’re drafted 56th, as Peyton Siva was, making the roster is only partially under your control. He’ll have to be patient, as the Pistons likely will first look to fill out the bulk of their roster before deciding what to do about a No. 3 point guard. Unless they have internally determined that moving Brandon Knight back to point guard is in their best interests, they don’t have a No. 1 or No. 2 point guard with both Jose Calderon and Will Bynum free agents.
But to the extent he can control the process, the next nine days will be huge for Siva. Rest assured, he’ll get every opportunity to prove his merits. The only other option at point guard on the Summer League roster is Iowa State’s (Michigan State transfer) Korie Lucious, who is much more a scorer than a distributor. Siva figures to log 30-plus minutes a game. If he proves adept at safeguarding the ball, running the half-court offense, getting the ball in the right hands and – perhaps most critically – being a sound yet disruptive defender, he’ll give himself a real shot at cracking the roster.
The Class of ’12 – Last year’s two second-round picks have varying degrees of weight riding on Summer League. For Khris Middleton, whose contract is guaranteed, it’s more about picking up where he left off over the final month of the season, when he showed real promise as an off-the-bench scorer with a rare mid-range touch. Playing time might become more difficult for Middleton if the Pistons land a veteran small forward, but his roster spot seems secure.
Kim English is in a more precarious position, it appears. The drafting of Caldwell-Pope and the likelihood that he’ll get a long look in Summer League probably means a lesser role over these five games for English. Again, the moves made to add perimeter veterans will go a long way in determining English’s status for the season ahead. It has been widely reported that the Pistons have until June 12 – the day the Summer League season concludes – to fully guarantee his second-year salary or release him. English might get to play some small forward, perhaps, and he’d help his cause by showing he can guard at that position, as well.