• Russell Schmidt

The Rise of Andre Drummond

*Photo via ESPN

At 5-3 the Detroit Pistons have had one of the more pleasantly surprising starts to the 2015-16 NBA season. The Pistons have managed to have a strong start despite missing point guard Brandon Jennings (on schedule to return around Christmas from his torn left Achilles) and shooting guard Jodie Meeks (will miss about 3 months after injuring his right foot in the second game of the year). The main reason for the Pistons hot start is center Andre Drummond. Drummond has been putting up gaudy numbers through the first eight games of the season, catching the league by storm. While Drummond certainly looks much improved, his rise to stardom shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

Drummond was taken with the 9th pick in the 2012 draft after just one season at the University of Connecticut. Going into the draft Drummond was looked at as an unpolished center with enormous potential. Drummond clearly had the physique to become a dominant force in the paint, but there wasn’t as much game film on him as other top prospects to prove that he was indeed NBA ready. In addition Drummond was part of an incredibly disappointing UConn Huskies team in his lone collegiate season. Despite coming off a national title and being loaded with future NBA talent (Drummond, Jeremy Lamb, DeAndre Daniels, Alex Oriakhi, Ryan Boatright, and Shabazz Napier) the Huskies finished just 20-14 and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. These factors allowed Drummond to fall into the Pistons laps with the 9th selection of the draft. Drummond had a nice rookie season receiving 2nd team NBA All-Rookie honors.

Drummond proved to be a dominant force in his second and third NBA seasons. In both 2013-14 and 2014-15 Drummond finished first in the NBA in total offensive rebounds, second in RPG, and in the top 10 in BPG. Drummond also proved to be incredibly durable, suiting up in 163 out of 164 games during this span. Despite Drummond’s impressive stats, it was evident that the Pistons roster was holding him back from doing even more. In his first three seasons Drummond was forced to share the court with fellow center Greg Monroe. Monroe and Drummond were both young and rising stars at the center position in need of playing time. Unfortunately the two simply didn’t work well together on the floor. Drummond’s presence forced Monroe to move from his natural center position to power forward. With the change in today’s game, Monroe is too slow-footed to guard many of the “small-ball” power forwards. Asking Monroe to defend beyond the arc was clearly not a good formula for success. On the other end of the floor Monroe and Drummond clogged the paint, resulting in little room for either of them to operate in the post.

*Photo via USA Today

Stan Van Gundy, now in his 2nd season as Detroit’s head coach and president of basketball operations, realized the problem. By letting Monroe leave in free agency to sign with the Milwaukee Bucks--a division rival--it was clear that the Pistons were building around Drummond for the long haul. Van Gundy brought in Aaron Baynes to back up Drummond and surrounded Drummond with players that will only help his growth. Point Guard Reggie Jackson has formed a deadly pick and roll duo with Drummond. Forwards Stanley Johnson, Marcus Morris, and Ersan Ilyasova were brought in to provide three-point shooting and provide spacing. The Pistons shooting and spacing will only improve with the eventual returns of Jennings and Meeks. Drummond finally has the paint all to himself, making it more difficult for teams to double down low on him when posting up, and allowing him to amass even more rebounds. Through eight games Drummond is leading the league in rebounding by a mile. Drummond is averaging an absurd 19.3 RPG thus far! The next highest total is 12.6 RPG (DeAndre Jordan). Drummond has also taken a larger role on offense, increasing his scoring from last season’s 13.8 PPG to 18.8 PPG. Drummond has even had three 20-20 games (20+ points and 20+ rebounds) in the season’s early going.

The only glaring weakness in Drummond’s game is his pitiful foul shooting. Drummond is currently shooting 40% from the free throw line. However, at just 22 years old, he has plenty of time to improve on his free throws and other aspects of his game. Even if Drummond remains a bad free-throw shooter, he should still have a great career. After all poor foul shooting didn’t stop centers like Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Shaquille O’Neal, and Dwight Howard from becoming the best centers in the league in their respective primes. It is obviously very early, but Drummond looks like he can already book tickets to Toronto for this year’s All-Star game. Following this season Drummond will be a restricted free agent. He is a lock to receive a max contract offer and should remain the face of the Pistons franchise and a perennial All-Star for the foreseeable future.

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