Pistons center Andre Drummond is a 37 percent free-throw shooter. (Clarence Tabb, Jr. / Detroit News)
Auburn Hills — If you had to pick a free-throw shooter for your life out of the bunch at the Pistons practice facility, Chauncey Billups would be top of mind.
Perhaps the man sitting to the side of the action, Joe Dumars, a pretty good shooter in his day, would be a good bet. But when Maurice Cheeks called for a free-throw shooter at the end of Wednesday’s practice, where a miss would result in running wind sprints, Billups deflected Josh Smith’s call to take the leg-saving or draining shot.
Billups said, “Andre, take it.”
As in Andre Drummond, a 37 percent free-throw shooter. He didn’t look afraid stepping to the stripe, as his teammates stood on the baseline, directly in Drummond’s line of sight.
And this wasn’t the playful rookie hazing Cheeks gave Gigi Datome just seconds before, telling him to take his free throw at the opposite end, causing Datome to jog full-court and setting up before Cheeks told him to come back and take his in front of teammates.
Datome, a dead-eye shooter overseas, missed his free throw. Drummond made his, to Billups’ delight. Cheeks already has said he’s going to play Drummond and not limit him, as he was brought along slowly last season, so making crucial free throws will become a more frequent occurrence, especially if this team improves the way they expect.
“That’s right, he’s got to get used to pressure,” Billups said, grinning. “If you’re playing in fourth quarters, they’re gonna be hacking. Everybody knows I’ll make it, Gigi, these guys. We gotta get him ready.”
With the exhibition season beginning in less than a week at The Palace, Cheeks said he’s going to ramp up the scrimmages in the next few days to foster an atmosphere of competition, considering the depth.
“We need to play more 5-on-5 basketball,” Cheeks said. “We need to play, that was pretty evident today. We need to play together to get more familiar in an up-and-down setting.”
While many can surmise the frontcourt will be Smith, Drummond and Greg Monroe, the backcourt doesn’t have that kind of clarity. Cheeks will use the preseason to figure out who’ll be the starting shooting guard.
It could be Billups, Rodney Stuckey or rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who has impressed with his activity and ability to defend so far. Will Bynum and Brandon Jennings are quietly having an intense competition at point guard.
“Different guys can play in that set and we’ll see how this plays out. I think that’s what preseason games are for,” said Cheeks, referring to shooting guard.
As for the playing rotation itself, all Cheeks would say is he won’t use the entire roster once everything is set.
“Twelve would be a lot. I don’t want to write anything in stone but not 12,” Cheeks said. “Could be nine or 10.”
In recent years, players had issues with the way they found out about being out of the rotation, most notably with former coach John Kuester. No such problems will arise this time.
“Will they find out before you? Yes,” Cheeks said. “I think that’s a disservice to them. They’ll know before the season started, where the rotation is. It’s a long season. A lot of players go down or not play well. If you have a deep team, put somebody in there. But whoever you set on, you give them an opportunity to play first.”
Whoever happens to be on the outside looking in, Cheeks expects professionalism and readiness.
“It’s up to him. I’ll talk to him as much as possible and hopefully those guys get the work they need in case someone goes down,” Cheeks said. “I’ve seen it over the years, some guys take advantage, some don’t. There’s no real way to keep a guy engaged.”
Gigi Datome is coming off the European Championships where he played 11 games from Sept 4-21 for Italy, so he’s not coming into camp with the freshest of legs — on top of getting acclimated to new teammates and a new culture.
“The best players in the world are here. It’s quicker, faster and more physical,” Datome said. “It’s good, I have to get used to this as quick as possible.”