Duke forward Kyle Singler makes sense as an upside pick for the Detroit Pistons


The Pistons had to draft Kyle Singler. Detroit’s personnel this season forced the Pistons’ hand.

Rodney Stuckey’s insubordination, Richard Hamilton’s tirades, Tayshaun Prince’s insults, Charlie Villanueva’s retweets, Chris Wilcox’s long snoozes, Austin Daye’s tardiness and John Kuester’s stubbornness made them draft Singler.

Their boycott and their laugher made them draft Singler.

Their loss of identity made them draft Singler.

Without question, the Pistons reached for Singler at No. 33. They took exactly the type of player who should typically go lower. That’s what happens when you draft for need and why I usually advocate drafting the best player available.

But the Pistons’ had a huge need that outweighed any other factors, and I’m not talking about the need for a backup small forward.

Detroit needed a tough, hard-working, high-character player. Anything more directly related to basketball is secondary.

I think intangibles like attitude, desire and work ethic are important. But I don’t think drafting a player solely because he appeared to exhibit those attributes while playing for a college team that won often makes a lot of sense. Talent and upside matter – at least usually.

In this rare case, the Pistons had to take someone like Singler. In many ways, it’s sad they were ever in that position. But Joe Dumars let the Pistons’ troubles spiral out of control, and desperate times call for desperate measures.

Here’s the good news: Singler has a ton of upside. More on that later.

To understand why the Pistons drafted Singler, and why it makes at least some sense, you need to understand how Dumars initially built the Pistons into winners.

From the lottery to 50 wins and back

When Dumars took over the team in 2000, his first major project was clearing the roster of cumbersome contracts and creating flexibility. Then, he used that flexibility to do what any general manager overseeing a rebuilding team would do. He acquired a bunch of old players.

Alright, nobody else would follow that plan, but it worked for Dumars, whose Pistons won 32 games his first season.

In 2001-02, essentially the first year the roster bore Dumars’ stamp, Detroit started Clifford Robinson (35) and Michael Curry (33). Jon Barry (32), Corliss Williamson (28), Zeljko Rebraca (29) and Dana Barros (34) played prominent roles. Even their young players – Ben Wallace (27), Chucky Atkins (27) and Jerry Stackhouse (27) – weren’t that young. In fact, weighted for minutes played, the Pistons’ were the NBA’s fourth-oldest team that year.

That group of veterans – low on upside and raw talent, high on know-how and hustle – won 50 games. They played the right way and established a culture that lasted into the latter stages of the decade.

Having such an ingrained identity allowed Dumars to integrate players who might not have exhibited such desirable qualities in different environments. He signed Chauncey Billups and traded for Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace. Those three obviously blossomed in one way or another in Detroit, but if they had joined a more turbulent situation, maybe they wouldn’t have reached such high peaks.

Establishing a culture first allowed Dumars to add talent with a minimal risk of discontent and inefficiency. He didn’t need to find guys who would play hard and tough no matter what. He needed to find guys capable of playing hard and tough in the right environment, and that means could pick from a much larger pool.

He tried to repeat the process recently. I believe, on the right team, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye would be much better players. I believe they’d be more accountable. By all accounts, they’re good guys and hard-workers (especially Gordon and Daye on the latter). None of the three – and I don’t mean to single them out, but I see them as having the most upside to improve their approach – was predestined to head down this path.

But by the time they came to Detroit, the culture Dumars worked to established had disintegrated. Subpar defense, softness and complaining were the norm. That’s the system Gordon, Villanueva and Daye bought into, and they’ve perpetuated the culture of losing.

The environment here is been toxic. The Pistons can’t risk exposing more young players before rectifying the problem.

Kyle Singler’s upside

Kyle Singler is a 23-year-old unathletic forward whose game is based on out-thinking and out-hustling his opponent. He’s the prototypical no-upside pick.

But upside is precisely why the Pistons drafted him.

The Pistons need more thinkers and hustlers. They need grit and toughness and determination. They need players who will re-establish a winning culture.

Once they have that, they can take chances on more-talented players – players like Tyler Honeycutt, Jeremy Tyler and Jordan Williams, all of whom were available at 33.

Singler’s upside isn’t in himself, but in what he can help the Pistons add. His main hurdle will be showing he’s capable of getting on the court. To help the Pistons, Singler doesn’t need to wow.

By nature, coaches don’t always give minutes to the best player. They’ll often pick the player they trust most. Most coaches would love Singler’s hard work and hustle.

But there’s a catch: that type of stuff will only get players so far. At a certain point, they must show ability to play basketball. We’ll certainly dig into Singler’s on-court ability in another post.

The question with Singler isn’t whether he’s good. It’s, is he good enough?

His bar is low, but the Pistons’ upside is high.