Orlando, Fla. — Just when Maurice Cheeks had apparently stopped considering changes to his starting lineup, he pulled a surprise.
The Pistons’ recent run of improved play seemed to bring about a stretch of stability, but Wednesday Cheeks announced Kyle Singler would start at shooting guard against the Orlando Magic.
The move dropped rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the second unit. Caldwell-Pope played eight minutes against the Miami Heat on Monday, and Cheeks wasn’t hinting if the move will be longterm.
The defensive-minded Caldwell-Pope had trouble guarding former Piston and current Magic guard Arron Afflalo in their previous matchups, and this is as proactive a move as Cheeks has made this season, with the Pistons a game out of the eighth and final playoff spot.
Singler is a couple inches taller than Caldwell-Pope, and perhaps provides a different challenge for Afflalo defensively.
“It’s a change for right now because we play different guys I may feel KCP is a better matchup for,” Cheeks said. “I just think I want Kyle for Afflalo because the last two times we were here they jumped out on us pretty good and a lot of it was due to Afflalo.”
Singler had 11 pointers on 3-of-5 shooting in Wednesday’s 112-98 loss to the Magic.
Cheeks said this was just one of the lineup changes he’d been thinking about in recent weeks but not the definitive one. He’s certain it’ll bother a competitive rookie like Caldwell-Pope, but isn’t concerned about him sulking because he’ll still receive playing time.
“Not really worried about it or whatever. Just learn from this,” Caldwell-Pope said.
The Pistons are still lacking in wing athletes so it doesn’t feel like a demotion for Caldwell-Pope, who’s shooting 40 percent from the field and 33 from 3-point range in a little under 25 minutes per game.
But finding a role for a player who isn’t going to come in gunning figures to be tricky. It’s not the first time he’s been taken out of a starting lineup, but he’s been primarily a starter his entire career.
“I have (been taken out). I mean, it’s gonna happen,” Caldwell-Pope said. “You gotta keep pushing, keep working to get better. Just one game at a time.”
Singler started most of last season at shooting guard when Lawrence Frank and Rodney Stuckey didn’t see eye to eye on Stuckey’s role after the Pistons started 0-7. Although he’s a natural small forward, he’s shown an aptitude for the position and his activity helps a team that isn’t very versed in moving without the ball.
“I’m indifferent. I like coming off the bench sometimes but for tonight’s game, it’s exciting, it’s something new,” Singler said. “I don’t know. I could really care less.”
Singler, listed at 6-foot-8, is averaging 8.5 points and 3.6 rebounds in 24.4 minutes. He’s shooting 34 percent from the 3-point line as a reserve, but usually comes in early when Cheeks removes Andre Drummond or Greg Monroe from the first unit.