He is currently the fourth leading rebounder (12.7 per game) in the NBA this season – just narrowly behind Dwight Howard.
He is second in double-doubles with 27 (Kevin Love leads with 31) – well ahead of Howard’s 23.
He is second in field goal percentage (.597) – also ahead of Howard’s .575 percent.
He is seventh in blocked shots (1.8 per game) – slightly ahead of Howard.
He is Andre Drummond. And he is only 20 years old.
As a highly promising rookie in 2012-13, Drummond first began to be compared to Howard. While a back injury shortened his season to 60 games and helped limit him to only 10 starts, Drummond’s production in 20.7 minutes per game was stellar. Per36, his 7.9 points and 7.6 boards computed to 13.8 and 13.2 as a 19-year-old. Four months younger than Drummond when he was a rookie in 2004-05, Howard averaged 12.0 ppg and 10.0 rpg in 32.6 mpg. Per36, those averages were 13.2 and 11.1.
If we only looked at these stats, we might imagine that Drummond is well on his way to dethroning Howard as the NBA’s top center. But Howard is currently averaging 17.9 points and 1.8 assists for a Houston team with the league’s eighth best win-loss record. And with seven All-Star appearances, five rebounding titles and three Defensive Player of the Year awards on his resume, he will not give up his position willingly or quickly.
For Pistons’ fans, the Dec. 21 face-off at the Palace between Drummond and Howard was an opportunity to see how close our guy is to becoming the NBA’s top center. Based on a simple comparison of their play to date, we had good reason to expect a competitive contest. What we got instead in Houston’s 114-97 victory was a dominating performance by Howard that re-established him as "king of the hill."
The fact that the Rockets’ leading scorer James Harden was missing in action that night made the visitors more reliant on their 28-year-old veteran center. He did not disappoint them. Howard was virtually unstoppable, scoring 35 points on 13-18 shooting and grabbing 19 rebounds. Unable to withstand Howard’s strength in the post, Drummond was held to nine points and six boards, though he did register four blocks (including an early stuff of a Howard hook). It was clear to most observers that Detroit’s young phenom still has much to learn. In fact, he said as much himself after the game.
"I learned a lot playing against him," said Drummond. "It was actually my first time playing against him longer than 10 minutes, so I got a good feel for how he plays. He gave me different pointers after the game, too. So it was a learning experience for me today."
While this matchup in the middle did not live up to the high hopes of Pistons’ fans, it might help to realize that Howard experienced a similar schooling his rookie year. Facing a 32-year-old Shaquille O’Neal on December 19, 2004, Howard posted just seven points and nine boards. And O’Neal produced 27 points on 12-18 shooting.
Of course, it really is not fair to compare a second-year player still learning the game with a veteran in his tenth season. Howard has played nearly 800 games in his NBA career; Drummond is still shy of 100. Sometimes experience is the best teacher.
As a way to see how far Drummond has already come, however, it is perfectly appropriate to compare the second year play of these two centers. As my approach for this analysis, I looked at each player’s game statistics and ranked their best, middle and worst games by rebound totals. While Howard’s numbers cover a whole season, Drummond’s cover just 38 games. But I believe this is sufficient data for a valid comparison to this point.
DWIGHT HOWARD, 2005-06
*Howard had one game where he only played two minutes, so I excluded it from the three splits.
ANDRE DRUMMOND, 2013-14
By any standard, Howard had an outstanding sophomore year. As a rookie, he had been the youngest player to ever average a double-double. He had 32 double-doubles in 2004-05, and posted 60 his second season. His 12.5 rpg was second only to Kevin Garnett. And as their second leading scorer with 15.8 ppg, Howard also became a primary offensive option for Orlando.
Even without the additions of Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith, it was unlikely that Drummond would become a major weapon in Detroit’s attack in 2013-14. Nevertheless, he is the team’s fifth best scorer, hitting double figures 29 times. His 31 point outburst against Philadelphia on December 1 was the second highest total by a Piston this season (Jennings scored 33 points in Chicago on December 7 and Smith also hit 31 on December 15 versus Portland). As of yet Drummond is not as significant an offensive threat as Howard was in his second year, though he has been more efficient. And the point difference is not large. Per36, Howard averaged 15.4 ppg; Drummond is averaging 14.1 by that metric.
Rebounding is where Drummond excels, and on this part of the comparison he matches up very well. While he has played fewer minutes, Drummond’s current average of 12.7 rpg exceeds Howard’s 12.5 rpg in 2005-06. Per36, the Piston star skies to 14.0 versus Howard’s 12.2, and this rate is also tops in the NBA this season. His league-leading 5.3 offensive boards per game has made Detroit the NBA’s best team in that statistical category. The last player to average 5.3 orpg was Dennis Rodman, who hit that mark in 1997-98 for the Chicago Bulls. (By the way, the Motor City men are the only ones with three rebounders in the top 40; Greg Monroe averages 9.0 rpg and Smith averages 7.0 rpg.)
A comparison of the other stats gives Howard more assists and turnovers, with Drummond holding an edge in blocks and steals. Both players struggled at times with foul trouble, which is one reason why they each typically played less in their "worst" games.
The value I find in looking at the "worst," "middle" and "best" splits is that it helps us to see the degree of variation in a player’s production from game to game. It also makes it clear that both "bad" and "great" games are typical for most players. We see that Howard’s scoring average in his 27 "worst" games dipped less than Drummond’s has in his 13 "worst." The point spread between the "best" and "worst" scoring averages was 4.5 for Howard; it has been 6.4 for Drummond. This indicates that Howard was a more consistent scorer at this point in his NBA career. For rebounding, the spread between "best" and "worst" is very similar for both men – 8.0 for Drummond and 8.2 for Howard.
Drummond fans anxious for him to receive recognition as being one of the league’s best centers should note that Howard did not receive All-Star or All-NBA recognition until his third year in the league. He first led the league in rebounding in his fourth year and won his first Defensive Player of the Year award in his fifth season.
While no two players are alike, Howard is probably the closest comparison to Drummond among active NBA players. It’s too soon to say whether the young Piston star can ever match or surpass Howard’s scoring abilities (18.3 ppg for his career to date). But it’s not difficult to envision Drummond exceeding Howard’s 12.9 rpg career mark, or his five rebounding titles.
For now, Drummond will need to outperform Andre Jordan and Kevin Love to reach the top. His league-best 14.0 rpg by Per36 shows that this goal is within his reach. In fact, we may be witnessing the rise of the best board man since Rodman, who won the rebounding crown an NBA record seven seasons in a row from 1991-92 to 1997-98. So let’s enjoy the ride, Pistons’ fans!