For a former second-round pick, Kyle Singler will have some added weight on his shoulders. And we're not just talking about the strength he has built since being drafted by the Pistons in 2011 out of Duke University.
Singler, a 6'8" forward who had a fantastic four-year career with the Blue Devils, went to play in Spain last season as he waited for the NBA Lockout to end. When it finally did, he chose to stay in Spain rather than sign right away with the Pistons and come to Detroit.
Instead, he chose to sign with Real Madrid for the rest of the season. It was a move that has already paid big dividends, both for Singler and the Pistons. Singler received valuable playing time for one of the best non-NBA teams in the world, while the Pistons had the chance to focus their efforts on developing their other top young players - Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Jonas Jerebko.
While in Spain, Singler placed emphasis on building upper-body strength and giving himself a chance to play both forward positions at the professional level while maintaining his offensive abilities to shoot and drive the ball. Real Madrid was so impressed with his effort that Singler often found himself on the floor at the end of close games.
Because Singler surprised so many observers with his play last season, the Pistons weren't sure they would be able to convince him to join them for the upcoming 2012-13 NBA season. Fortunately, both sides quickly came to terms on a deal, and Singler is now officially under contract.
Singler is one of five rookies on the current Pistons roster, joining this year's three draft picks - Andre Drummond, Khris Middleton and Kim English - as well as Slava Kravtsov, a Ukrainian center the Pistons signed last month. Though lottery-pick Drummond is the biggest name of the group, Singler will perhaps carry the highest short-term expectations of the Pistons' rookies.
Detroit heads into the upcoming season without a fully-projected starting five. Monroe will likely continue as the Pistons' starting center, with Knight and Rodney Stuckey maintaining the starting spots in the backcourt. Tayshaun Prince surely will remain at small forward, and Jason Maxiell could keep starting at power forward as he did a season ago.
Singler, however, will have plenty of opportunities to challenge for minutes at both forward spots. The Pistons' ultimate plan is to move Monroe to power forward and make Drummond the starting center, but Drummond is unlikely to be ready to start from Day One. Maxiell, though he played well as a starter last year, is better suited in a reserve role and will already be challenged for playing time by both Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva, who hopes to rebound from an injury-plagued campaign.
Though the roster is forward-heavy, Singler and the Pistons believe he is ready for a big role right away. It will surprise little if Singler winds up playing 25-30 minutes a night this season. He'll likely begin the year as a backup, but it's feasible that Singler could challenge for the starting power forward spot. It's also possible that Detroit could opt to trade the aging Prince, opening the starting small forward spot for either Singler, Jerebko or Corey Maggette, who was acquired via trade prior to the 2012 NBA Draft last June.
Regardless of what his role will be, Singler is undoubtedly a valuable asset to this young Pistons team. Despite his rookie status, Singler will be counted on to provide both production and leadership. After spending four years at Duke and last year with Real Madrid, Singler's certainly ready for the challenge.
Steve St-Pierre covers the Pistons for In Play! Magazine. Check it out online at inplaymagazine.com.