Andre Drummond has been excellent through the first half of his rookie year. But he’s not getting the playing time many feel he deserves. Critics of keeping Drummond on the bench point to his high efficiency and his defensive dominance on the block. If you stretch his production to 36 minutes, he’s giving you a double-double, almost three blocks and 1.7 steals a night while shooting a ridiculous 61 percent from the floor. He’s also sporting the best PER on the team: 22.9. But the reasons behind the Pistons’ decision to bring him along slowly aren’t as preposterous as some feel.
The Detroit Pistons aren’t as bad as many thought entering the 2012-13 campaign. As of this writing, they’re 10th in the East, and just 4.5 games behind Boston for the eighth playoff spot. Since starting the season 7-21, they’ve won 10 of their last 17 games. After starting the season by losing their first eight games, that’s a nice turnaround.
In the last three years, Joe Dumars has drafted a solid core with Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Jonas Jerebko and Kyle Singler to team with title holdover Tayshaun Prince (flailing right elbow still included). True, the Pistons have been stuck in late lottery pick territory in the last few years, but Dumars has done a pretty good job identifying talent from that perch. There’s one guy, though, that could make them not just a playoff team, but culturally relevant again on the NBA landscape: Andre Drummond.
The Pistons drafted Drummond and got a freak athlete whose ceiling is more like a sun roof, and who could become a dominant low post player with yearly All-Star selections. He might also be the piece that catapults the Pistons back into the Eastern Conference elite. Tom Haberstroh of ESPN did a double take the first time he saw Drummond in person, but for all of Drummond’s athletic marvels, he’s still just a kid. Meanwhile, people expect him to be something more and to play the minutes expected from a top 10 lottery pick. Lawrence Frank has kept Andre Drummond’s minutes hovering around the 20-minute mark for the majority of the season, and it has a lot of Pistons fans upset.
It’s not just the fans, either. Bradford Doolittle of Basketball Prospectus recently wrote about Detroit expanding his role, and Dan Feldman of Pistons Powered and The Detroit Free Press believes he’s the Pistons’ best player. Like, the best, not just when you expand his numbers over 36 minutes. Better than Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey (okay, he’s better than Stuckey). But we’re talking about a half a season of work where Drummond has played under 20 minutes a game against opposing second teams. Yes, he’s been impressive, and incredibly efficient, but we’re forgetting a few things, which should be accounted for when analyzing Lawrence Frank and Joe Dumars’ decision making with their stud rookie.
Drummond’s been known to loaf on the court and take possessions off. Going into the draft, this was the primary reason he fell all the way to No. 9. He has a body that’s as impressive as anyone that’s come out in the last 10 years, and he’s so damn athletic, the first time you watch him steal the ball and go all the way to the bucket with it (outracing guards in the process), it’s hard not to stare wide eyed at your television screen and wonder whether he’s the NBA’s version of Jevon Kearse: the freak. But he’s also young, and that will play a role in his maturation, which is why his (supposed) flinty work ethic scared some teams off.
We forget how young some of the NBA’s rookies are even with the age restriction in place. For every Damian Lillard, who possesses the poise of a veteran and the ability to legally order an alcoholic beverage off the court, there’s an Andre Drummond, who won’t turn 20 until this August. That’s a teenager out there disguised as a man. The NBA isn’t just a man’s league in size and ability – it’s also a man’s league in terms of basketball IQ. Yes, some agile athletes have been able to overcome their paucity of basic basketball fundamentals and thrive — somewhat — in the NBA, but for the most part you need the size and the smarts if you really want to be something special.
And that’s precisely what Detroit wants with Andre Drummond. They want a game-changer, and that’s not likely to happen if he’s playing 30 minutes a night while getting torn up on the block by the league’s best big men. Any teenager is at a fragile crossroads, psychologically, when they’re on the edge of adulthood, and that’s where Drummond is currently standing, albeit a good foot taller and 100 pounds heavier than mere mortals. He’s a fully grown man in every regard except the most important one: in his head. That’s coming.
Here’s what Lawrence Frank said about Drumond from Haberstroh’s above piece:
“I’ll tell you what, (Drummond) went from a guy who didn’t understand screening at all, to now becoming arguably our best screener. You see the progress made and you love his effort, his spirit, his makeup. If he continues to maintain that type of approach, then he has really good things in front of him.”