With Andre Drummond out 4-6 weeks, the Pistons have found themselves strapped in the backup center department. With the "next man up" motto ringing in the Pistons locker room, Lawrence Frank has gone to his other rookie center Slava Kravtsov for significant minutes in two of the Pistons' Drummond-less games. While Slava hasn't been given the 20-minute leash that Drummond was accustomed to, the Ukrainian rookie has provided the Pistons with a nearly equal level of efficiency.
In the second game with Drummond sidelined, against the Brooklyn Nets, Slava played 11 minutes as Greg Monroe and Jason Maxiell found themselves in foul trouble. Asked to handle the Nets' Brook Lopez, Slava looked a little shaky while committing three fouls in an attempt to contain Lopez. Still, Slava did what he had to do in order to minimize the damage of the mismatch. Offensively it was a different story. Taking advantage of a half-hearted effort on Lopez's part, Slava went 2-4 from the field and snagged two offensive rebounds in his short time on the floor.
Following the Nets game, Slava played only four minutes total in games against the San Antonio, Milwaukee and New Orleans. But against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night, Slava was called on for another big-minute outing.
In 14 minutes on the floor, Slava was 2-2 from the field with a blocked shot. More to the liking of Frank, Slava's defense was much improved from his previous outings. On the floor for the first minutes of the fourth quarter, Slava was part of a five-minute stand that saw the Pistons hold the Wizards scoreless on nine straight possessions. Slava played some impressive post defense during that span, and even showed an ability to switch on a pick-and-roll against Washington's Bradley Beal.
"Slava, his paint protection, he was great. (He) played great post defense." Lawrence Frank said about Slava's defensive effort. "I thought his energy, his effort, I loved his confidence in there, his approach. I felt really good with him in the game. Just his post defense, his ability to hold his ground. We saw it against Brook Lopez and Brooklyn, against those bigger stronger guys…He was very, very good in both halves."
Slava then put on his best Andre Drummond impersonation, throwing down an alley-oop lob off out of a pick-and-roll with Will Bynum. Setting screens for a slashing Will Bynum, creating space in the lane, Slava was a presence on the floor that the Washington defense couldn't rest on. With Slava on the floor in the fourth quarter, the Pistons jumped out to an 11-0 run.
"Slava's great, he's been working hard everyday," Will Bynum said after the game. "I've been talking to him in Ukrainian language about the lob (pass), trying to get him to be the new Andre Drummond while he's out…He's (Slava) catching on, the more and more he plays, he'll get better and better."
The Pistons players have seen flashes of Slava's ability in practice, but the Ukrainian’s play on Wednesday must have had an "out of nowhere" feel for some. With Andre Drummond out, hopefully Slava's play will continue and eventually go from being "out of nowhere" to a new, expected norm. As the Pistons were going to need a backup center next year anyways, it's comforting to know that they'll likely be able to promote Slava in-house.