WASHINGTON – Vernon Macklin has passed every public test put in front him.
In the NBA, he’s averaging 11.8 points on 55 percent shooting and 7.8 rebounds per 36 minutes.
In the D-League, he’s averaging 16.6 points on 53 percent shooting and 17.2 rebounds per game.
Of course, it’s difficult to know what those numbers mean. Mackling has played just 79 NBA minutes, and his D-League performances have come against, well, D-League competition.
But when the rookie returns to the Pistons, he should receive a rotation spot for one major reason: His contract expires after the season, and Detroit should getter a better idea of what it has in Macklin before he hits free agency.
Unsurprisingly, Lawrence Frank disagrees.
“No, I never – contract’s set aside,” Frank said. “Pay no mind to that.
“He just has to continue to work. We have good guys in front of him, and sometimes it’s just a matter of the other guys maybe playing a little bit ahead of him. At some point, he’ll get an opportunity. He just has to be ready when his number’s called.”
There’s no right answer here, just my opinion. I understand why Frank hasn’t played Macklin more. Macklin hasn’t shown he’s better than Greg Monroe, Jason Maxiell, Jonas Jerebko or Ben Wallace. Frank has seen Macklin in practice, so unlike I do, he has much more information to evaluate.
But in this season that surely won’t end in the playoffs, the Pistons owe it to themselves to determine whether they should re-sign Macklin. If that means not basing the rotation completely on merit – less than ideal solution, so be it.
This is based one major caveat: Macklin has consistently shown a good attitude. As far as I can see – which again, isn’t nearly nearly as wide a view as Frank’s view – Macklin has. Walker Russell, a D-Leaguer before the Pistons called him up this season, has played with others sent down from NBA teams. In general, those players with NBA rights usually don’t bring the same attitude as those who don’t.
“When you don’t have it, I think you may be a little more hungry,” Russell said. “But he showed that a guy with it, with his contract, a guaranteed contract, that you can still go down there and be hungry and have a purpose. Like I said, he went down there and showed how to be a professional.”
Russell and Macklin spoke Sunday.
“He was happy,” Russell said. “He said, ‘I’m glad I went down here and experienced it.’ It was an eye-opener for him, so I think it humbled him now a little bit, too.”
“So far, he’s handling it like the best pro that I know, especially that got sent down.”
Many have paid attention to Macklin developing his specific facets of his game in Fort Wayne, but getting sent down might have a broader impact on his ability to play in the NBA.
“I told him it’s a good thing to go down there, get some run, get some bump, get into some basketball shape,” Russell said, “because practice isn’t playing in a game.”
“The more he got into shape, the more you see the numbers producing.”
Maybe improving his conditioning will be enough to push Macklin into the Pistons’ rotation. If he’s close, any edge could make a difference.
“Sometimes it’s not about, can you play or not?” Russell said. “It’s a numbers game. He just got caught up in a numbers game. But I think, definitely, Vernon can be a presence in the NBA, obviously in the D-League.”
Unfortunately, that D-League definitiveness doesn’t mean much. Only the NBA uncertainty does.
Ideally, Macklin returns from Fort Wayne playing so well, Frank can’t keep him off the floor. But if that doesn’t happen, Detroit is in a bind.
There’s no easy way for Frank to tell Monroe, Maxiell, Jerebko and/or Wallace their minutes have been cut to get Macklin playing time and maintain credibility that he’ll base playing time on merit. But there’s also no easy way to evaluate Macklin if he doesn’t see more NBA minutes.
Unless the Pistons are already certain they plan to re-sign Macklin and confident they can keep him at the price they’re willing to pay, I’d rather err on the sign of giving the apparently hard-working rookie with a positive attitude regular minutes.