Andre Drummond could be best center in the NBA ... this year

US PRESSWIRE

ESPN has high praise for second-year player who is looking like a big-time breakout candidate. DBB sizes up his competition at center to see if he could be the best in the NBA already.

H/T to Hypnowheel, who had the stories first in a FanPost.

The love that Andre Drummond receives from the Detroit Bad Boys community is well-chronicled: see herehereherehere, and here. And if there is ever a time for Kool-Aid and bold proclamations it is August.

But it looks like the national media is already taking notice before the 19-year-old seven-footer steps foot on a court for his second season.

The latest superlatives come from ESPN, who has named Drummond as one of the most promising centers in the NBA and already ranks him as the second-best center going into the season based on the WARP analytics model. And there is a little love for Greg Monroe, too.

Let's cover WARP first. WARP, of course, stands for Wins Above Replacement Player, and with John Hollinger and his PER bolting for a job with the Memphis Grizzlies, has become the go-to analytic all-in-one number over at ESPN. There are, of course, problems with any metric that tries to crystalize every contribution of a player into one number, but we will save that argument for a different day -- especially since WARP looks so kindly on Drummond.

The piece by Bradford Doolittle is from ESPN Insider, so I will only excerpt the Pistons-related items:

2. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Projected 2013-14 WARP: 10.1

Drummond was a monster in limited minutes last year and he was a monster during the Orlando Summer League. Obviously, the ATH system is highly enamored of his abilities. Much of his projected value stems from huge block and rebound rates. He's also a standout in foul-drawing and steals, which makes him 4-for-4 in the categories ATH looks at as athletic markers. Like many a raw, athletic big man before him, Drummond's weak spot is at the line, where he is forecast to hit just 37 percent of his free throws this season.

Drummond's playing time projection also is murky. I've got him as the starting center on Detroit's depth chart, with Greg Monroe moving over to the 4 and Josh Smith to the 3. If that alignment doesn't work out because of spacing problems, new coach Maurice Cheeks will have some hard decisions to make.

ATH, by the way, is an athleticism metric, in case you were wondering.

The only player to rank ahead of Drummond was Dwight Howard. Doolittle also ranked Greg Monroe the No. 6 center in the NBA, and mostly criticized his lack of a jump shot, which he will need to develop both to enhance his game and play alongside Drummond effectively.

Other center rankings were: DeMarcus Cousins, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Monroe, Al Jefferson, JaVale McGee, Marc Gasol and Chris Bosh. I think this greatly overvalues the production of Cousins and undervalues Gasol, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that reaction.

Elsewhere at ESPN, a 5-on-5 roundtable assessed the league's centers and had high marks for Drummond. Nobody called Dre the best center at the moment but two contributors, including Dan Feldman of Piston Powered, called Drummond the most promising center in the NBA, while two different writers said he will be the best center in five years.

Sample quote:

Andre Drummond. Davis is still the better player and prospect, but his positional ambiguity offers a chance for some wiggle room; I'll take it to give Drummond his due. If his skill level can catch up to his body, Detroit's impressionable man-child will be a franchise player and perennial MVP candidate. Though that seems unlikely at this point, in time Drummond will fulfill his potential as a game-changing terror.

My question is, does Drummond have a chance to be the NBA's best center this year? I say yes.

Just look at his competition. Obviously Dwight Howard is the first name that pops into your mind when thinking of NBA centers. But Howard just finished a rather disastrous year in Los Angeles and while everyone assumes that he will build off a strong finish and be healthier this season that is no guarantee. And as he enters his 10th season the possibility of re-injury or a new injury becomes more likely.

Next you could consider Marc Gasol, the reigning defensive player of the year and a guy that can more than hold his own on the offensive end. Gasol is already 28 years old and while he's always been a really good player last season was the first where you could truly consider him great. Gasol is not an especially great rebounder and he hit an inordinate amount of jump shots last season. In 2011-12, Gasol has hit 44 and 38 percent, respectively, on shots from 10-15 feet and 16-23 feet. That shot up to 49 and 47 percent last season. He is definitely a player that could take a step back next season.

Tim Duncan may have found the fountain of youth but it entails that he play limited minutes, and it is hard to argue that a 36-year-old going into their 17th season will be the most impactful player at his position in the NBA. Brook Lopez, meanwhile, might be the most skilled offensive big man in the NBA but he has to share the ball with Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Other contenders? Anthony Davis, at least this year, and Chris Bosh are really power forwards. Joakim Noah is a terror on defense but is limited offensively and connects at barely 50 percent of his shots for his career. Roy Hibbert regular-season and Roy Hibbert post-season are two different players. Which one will show up? Tyson Chandler can do a lot on defense but even he can't carry the load while playing alongside Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani. And his historically efficient offensive game might take a dip as the Knicks have lost several offensive weapons in the offseason.

Al Horford is more Greg Monroe-effective than he is Andre Drummond dominant and, like Monroe, is probably a better power forward than center. Cousins still can't shoot and takes too many shots anyway while being a poor defender.  Jonas Valanciunas has just as much, if not more, to prove as Drummond. JaVale McGee is a perennial question mark (not that you don't know what you're going to get but that you will question just about every decision he makes, even the good ones).

And Drummond could definitely dominate this season. His biggest impediments are his minutes, lack of an offensive game and his historically awful  free-throw shooting. But Chandler has proven a player can be effective as long as he can run the pick-and-roll and put back other people's misses.

A mark of 37.3 percent on free throws is a lot to overcome but it's not like he even needs to reach the league average of 67 percent for centers. If he was even able to manage the 49 percent that Howard hit for the Lakers last year all bets would be off.

Minutes, meanwhile, look to be there for the taking. Lawrence Frank is gone, he's already been set as a starter and if he can up his free-throw shooting to more respectable levels then hack-a-Dre would not be too much of a concern.

Is all of this likely to happen in one year? No, but as you go through player by player it's not as crazy a notion as it at first seems. And the table is pretty much set for Drummond to be THE dominant force at the center position for years to come. The old guard are older than 30 while Drummond sits at 19.

If we consider centers under 25 years old as Drummond's contemporaries it's hard to argue that Drummond doesn't have the brightest future or highest ceiling.

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