Going in to last season, the two top-rated prospects for the 2012 NBA Draft were both A.D.’s – Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond. Some even thought Drummond was the better pro prospect of the two. Fast forward several months to the NBA lottery drawing, and almost every Pistons fan was hoping we’d be awarded the first pick so we could grab Davis. When we landed at nine instead, the worst fear for many of us was that Drummond might fall that far and get selected by Detroit. The reason for this turnabout had everything to do with Drummond’s disappointing year at UConn. So along with Perry Jones, he was the biggest "boom or bust" guy in the draft. I know I was hoping Drummond would get picked before our turn, because I didn’t want us to take a chance on him. I would have been perfectly okay with John Henson as Greg Monroe’s future frontcourt partner.
Well, I didn’t get my wish, so now we all have to hope that Drummond is going to prove that our worst fears about him are wrong. Because he’s still only 18 (he won’t turn 19 until August 10), it’s likely that many of the questions about his potential won’t be answered for at least 2-3 years. So I thought it would be interesting to look at how some other young big men fared at first, and see if their development can help us gauge our expectations for Drummond.
In doing so, we must acknowledge that all such comparisons are tentative at best. First of all, there is a wide disparity between the NBA players our A.D. has already been compared to –Dwight Howard, Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrew Bynum, Derrick Favors, Serge Ibaka, Greg Oden, Kwame Brown and DeAndre Jordan. Seriously – saying a big could become another Howard or Stoudemire is like saying a guard could become another Wade or Rose! Also, when I think back on the dominant NBA big men of the past, I see few similarities between their games. What did Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal have in common? All were dominant players, but in different ways.
PistonPowered’s Patrick Hayes recently made essentially this same point, saying we shouldn’t expect Andre Drummond to become another Big Ben (even though his shot blocking and free throw shooting naturally evoke comparisons!).
Still, looking at how some other NBA bigs began their careers might give us some insight into what to expect – and how soon - from our A.D. So let’s look now at some of them:
Kwame Brown: Washington picked him 1st in the 2001 NBA Draft - the first high school player chosen number one. Brown was 19 (born 3/10/82) when Michael Jordan chose him to lift the Wizards’ fortunes. He averaged 4.5 ppg and 3.5 rpg in 14.3 mpg his rookie year. By season three he was up to 10.9 ppg and 7.4 rpg in 30.3 mpg (numbers he’s never exceeded). Injuries hindered him the following year, then he was traded to the Lakers prior to the 2005 season. Brown had his ups and downs with Kobe & Co., and was sent to Memphis in 2008 as part of the Gasol brothers swap. While he hasn’t been a complete bust, he’s the prime example of a top pick who hasn’t lived up to expectations. (Darko Milicic and Hasheem Thabeet are lucky they were picked 2nd!)
Tyson Chandler: The Clippers nabbed him 2nd in 2001 (right after Kwame) but they quickly swapped him to the Bulls for the rights to Elton Brand. Another prep to pro pick, Chandler was 18 at the time (born 10/2/82). He had a decent rookie year (6.1 ppg and 4.8 rpg in 19.6 mpg) and showed further progress the next season (9.2 ppg and 6.9 rpg in 24.4 mpg). But back problems caused him to miss much of his third season, and while he was productive as a defender and rebounder the following two years, foul trouble also limited his effectiveness. In 2006 the Bulls traded Chandler to New Orleans, where he became a consistent double-double machine. After a year in basketball hell (Charlotte), he landed in Dallas where he helped them win an NBA title, and last year he was Defensive Player of the Year for the Knicks.
Amar’e Stoudemire: Phoenix selected him out of high school with the 9th pick of the 2002 NBA Draft. He was 19 at the time (he turned 20 on 11/16/82). He started 71 of 82 games for the Suns (13. 5 ppg, 8.7 rpg.) and became the first player drafted out of high school to win Rookie of the Year (besting Yao Ming and Caron Butler). While some credited Steve Nash for much of his productivity with the Suns, his 25.3 ppg first year in New York belies that judgment. For his career he’s averaged 21.6 ppg and 8.7 boards.
Dwight Howard: Orlando made him the 1st pick of the 2004 Draft. At the time he was still 18 (he turned 19 on 12/8/85). He became the first player in NBA history to come out of high school and start all 82 games of his rookie year. He’s also the youngest player to ever average a double-double ( 12 ppg and 10 rpg.). Still, he finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting to Emeka Okafor (15.1 ppg, 10.9 rpg.) and Ben Gordon (15.1 ppg). But Howard’s potential was obviously greater, as we’ve seen from the upward arc of his career (he’s averaged 18.4 ppg and 12.9 rpg.).
Andrew Bynum: The Lakers took him 10th in the 2005 NBA Draft at age 17. Born 10/27/87, he’s the youngest player to ever appear in an NBA game. Playing five minutes against Denver on Nov. 2, he grabbed two boards and blocked two shots in a 99-97 L.A. victory. For the year he blocked two shots in eight games, once scored 16 points, and grabbed six rebounds twice. For the season he appeared in 46 games, averaging 1.6 ppg and 1.7 rpg in 7.3 mpg. He shot 40% from the field (attempting no three-pointers!) and 29.6 % from the line. In 2006-07 he started 53 games (7.8 ppg and 5.9 rpg in 21.9 min.). In his third year he was averaging a double-double when he suffered a knee injury, and injuries plagued him the next few seasons. Last year was his most productive yet as a starter (18.7 ppg and 11.8 rpg). While his maturity is still questionable, Bynum enters his 8th season as one of the dominant big men of today’s NBA.
Greg Oden: Portland picked him 1st in 2007 out of Ohio State. He was 19 at the time (born 1/22/88), had led the Buckeyes to the NCAA Finals, and had posted averages of 15.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 3.3 bpg as a freshman. He missed all of the 2007-08 season due to knee surgery, but had a promising beginning to his NBA career the next year (8.9 ppg and 7 rpg in 21.5 mpg), though injuries limited him to 61 games. The 2009-10 campaign began well (through 21 games he averaged 11.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg and 2.3 bpg), when an injury to his left knee ended his season. Oden hasn’t played since, and will sit out the upcoming season as he continues to rehab his knees.
Serge Ibaka: Seattle (soon to become OKC) selected him 24th in the 2008 NBA Draft when he was 18 (born 9/11/89), but didn’t sign him until July of 2009. He averaged 6.3 ppg and 5.4 rpg in 18.1 mpg as a rookie. Last season (his third) his averages were 9.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg and 3.7 bpg in 27.2 mpg and, and he finished 2nd to Tyson Chandler in voting for Defensive Player of the Year. Fun fact: his full name is Serge Jonas Ibaka Ngobila!
DeAndre Jordan: The Clippers took him 35th in the 2008 Draft out of Texas A&M when he was 19 (born 7/21/88). As a freshman for the Aggies he averaged 7.9 ppg and 6 rpg in 20 mpg, and shot 43.7% from the charity stripe. While he was lauded as a great athelete prior to the draft, he was also viewed as having "high bust potential." As a rookie he averaged 4.3 ppg and 4.5 rpg in 14.5 mpg. He’s steadily elevated his game – last season (his fourth) he posted 7.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg and 2 bpg in 27.2 mpg. He even raised his FT % to 52.5!
Derrick Favors: New Jersey grabbed him 3rd in 2010 after one year at Georgia Tech, where he posted 12.4 ppg and 8.4 rpg as a freshman. Favors was still 18 when drafted (born 7/15/91). He was sent to Utah in the Deron Williams trade in February of 2011. As a rookie he averaged 6.8 ppg and 5.3 rpg. Last year his numbers ticked up to 8.8 ppg and 6.5 rpg in 21.3 mpg, and his production was trending upward as the season concluded. Favors averaged nearly a double- double in the playoffs against San Antonio.
Greg Monroe: Our Pistons picked him 7th in 2010 out of Georgetown when he was 20 (born 6/4/90). His college freshman year numbers were very modest (12.7 ppg and 6.5 rpg in 30.9 mpg). While Monroe had a fine sophomore year for the Hoyas (16.1 ppg and 9.6 rpg), his dedication and "motor" were considered questionable entering the draft. But he posted a strong rookie year for Detroit (9.4 ppg and 7.5 rpg) and followed it up with even better production last season (15.4 ppg and 9.6 rpg).
What conclusions can we reach from comparing Andre Drummond to these pro players? Obviously we can’t be sure about how well or how quickly he will develop. But from looking at these previous big men who were drafted out of high school or after a year of college (only Monroe played two years), clearly it’s rare for them to become instant stars. The more typical career path is gradual improvement over time. While our A.D. could be a bust, we should note that both Monroe and Jordan entered the NBA with similar doubts about their ability to excell.
While we might be disappointed if Drummond doesn’t end up being any more productive as a pro than later draft picks like Ibaka or Jordan, I think it’s wise to temper our expectations. (Also, both of them would be picked higher if the 2008 Draft was redone.) Drummond probably won’t be an instant all-star, and he may never become one. Tyson Chandler has shown us again how valuable a guy is who focuses on defense and rebounding, and largely confines his scoring to lobs and putbacks. Ben Wallace’s game was similar, and we all know what a difference he made for the great Pistons’ teams of the previous decade. History also shows us how difficult it is for one team to accommodate two offensive-oriented bigs. One key to the success of the Spurs after they drafted Tim Duncan was that David Robinson focused his efforts more on defense. The Lakers struggle to find enough post touches for both Bynum and Gasol.
So assuming that Monroe continues to expand his offensive game, we have little need for Drummond to become an offensive force like Stoudemire, Howard or Bynum. (And yes, I do realize that it’s questionable to even hold such expectations of him.) Offensively, if he confines his game to lobs, putbacks, finding open spots near the basket when someone is doubled, and running the floor, that would be a perfect complement to Monroe’s game. Defense is where we clearly need Drummond to focus his attention, and that is also his strength. What he did best for the Huskies was block shots (2.7 bpg) without getting in foul trouble (2.2 fpg).
The biggest concern in my mind is that Drummond was not a very good rebounder at UConn (he averaged 7.6 rpg in 28.4 mpg). However, as college freshmen, Monroe’s 6.5 rpg and Jordan’s 6 rpg weren’t very impressive, either. Since then they’ve both improved their rebounding, so it’s certainly possible for Drummond to do so.
In conclusion, "guarded optimism" is my attitude toward Andre Drummond. My hope is that our A.D. will work hard to become the best player he can be, and in that way contribute to making our Pistons an outstanding team once more.