I think it’s safe to say that most of us have been pleasantly surprised by how well Andre Drummond has performed for the Pistons in the preseason. He’s brought dunks, blocks and rebounds – many of them highlight caliber plays. Many fans are eager to see Drummond start alongside Greg Monroe ASAP. While the two have only been paired with each other in games for a few minutes, the results have left all of us hungry to see more.
If Coach Frank keeps with the starting rotation that we’ve consistently seen in preseason, then Monroe will continue to play at center alonside power forward Jason Maxiell. While it seems clear that Drummond has won the job of backing up Monroe, that responsibility will limit him to perhaps 15 or fewer minutes per game. But if he continues to be as productive as he was in preseason, Frank will have to get him on the floor more often. I expect we will eventually see him subbing for Maxiell in order to increase his court time and pave the way for a future Bull-Moose starting frontline. They could become a match-up nightmare for other teams once Monroe adapts to the power forward spot and Drummond develops into a capable starting center. While some of us are anxious for this transition to start right away, and others think it may take some time, I think all of us hope it will be in place by season’s end.
Ever since we drafted him, there has been a lot of talk on this site about what we can expect from Drummond this year. My own early expectation was that a reasonable hope would be for him to perform at a DeAndre Jordan level. Jordan was picked 35th in the 2008 Draft by the Clippers, after a freshman campaign in which he averaged 8 points and 6 boards in 20 minutes. Like Drummond, prior to the draft he was lauded as a great athlete with "high bust potential." As a rookie Jordan averaged 4.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in 14.5 minutes.
Now if Drummond only plays as Monroe’s backup, Jordan’s minutes are about right. Even if his playing time is that limited, I now expect Drummond to be more productive. But my hope is that he will end up playing at least 24 minutes per game by halfway through the season. Certainly Drummond will have his ups and downs as a 19 year old rookie, but playing through them will help him develop into a solid pro.
When it comes to his potential, Drummond was compared to a number of current NBA players a year ago. One of the most optimistic of these comparisons was to Dwight Howard. Howard entered the league directly out of high school in 2004, turning 19 that December (making him effectively just 4 months younger than Drummond, who turned 19 in August). While he had the added benefit of playing a year of college ball at Connecticut, most observers were disappointed by Drummond’s inconsistent play.
Inconsistency is often seen in young players. Many grow out of it, but some take longer to mature than others, and some never do become dependable pros. With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to look at how consistently Howard played as a rookie in Orlando. Perhaps this will provide us with a measuring rod for judging Drummond’s productivity this season. So let’s look at Howard’s stats and see if they give us any clues about what to expect from our rookie big man.
Dwight Howard is the first player in NBA history to come out of high school and start all 82 games of his rookie year. He is also the youngest player to ever average a double-double (12 points and 10 rebounds). Those two facts alone make him a remarkable NBA star. So the purpose of this comparison is not to imply that Drummond can be just as good as or better than Howard. Rather, my goal is simply to give us a standard for evaluating Drummond’s production in 2012-13.
To assess how consistently Howard played for the Magic in 2004-05, I separated out his 16 best performances from his 16 worst ones. Here is how those games compare with his overall stats:
16 Worst___30.0____36.8____66.1_____ 6.4____0.5____1.6____0.9____1.2____2.6____ 6.4
So what do these stats tell us about Howard’s rookie year? Clearly he had some outstanding games. His "16 Best" averages of 19 points and 14 boards compare very favorably to his career averages of 18 & 13. Howard’s "16 Worst" production is not nearly as good, of course. But I think it shows us what some typical low points look like for a young talent. And after a player becomes a star, those bad games early in their career are often forgotten.
As yet we don’t have enough of a sample-size to accurately judge Drummond. He averaged 9 points and 5.9 rebounds in 16.5 minutes of preseason play. If we doubled his playing time to 33 minutes, those numbers would rise to 18 & 12! But that was preseason, which seldom gives us a clear picture of what will happen when the real games begin. And production seldom doubles with playing time.
I think we can expect Drummond to have some great games where his athleticism allows him to excell – especially against inferior talent. But we should also expect to see him have some poor outings where his inexperience causes him to struggle – especially when matched against premier talent. Since Drummond probably will not start for the Pistons any time soon, it’s unlikely that he will average over 32 minutes per game as did Howard. However, if Drummond averages 24 minutes on the court, a stat line of 8 points and 7 boards would equal what Howard produced as a rookie.
Recently there was some discussion on this site about Drummond’s prospects for being the Rookie of the Year. I think it’s likely that he would have to start soon and perform exceptionally well to receive serious consideration for this award. Howard’s experience is also worth noting in this regard, for he finished third behind Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon. So while it’s nice to win ROY, it is often a poor measure of who will have the best NBA career.