If Greg Monroe is the most under-appreciated big man in the Eastern Conference (he is), then Andre Drummond is the most intriguing (and arguably the most productive). And this isn't Detroit homerism. Grantland recently pegged him as the most likely center to have a "breakout All-Star" kind of season. Spoiler alert: that already happened last season, as we'll discuss below.
As a result, expectations for Dre (and Greg) are soaring. In fact, I would argue the Pistons will go as far as this duo can carry them. At a mere 43 years old combined, Greg and Dre already have a chance to become the most potent PF/C combo in the East, and if both improve this season as they could, they won't be too far away from being one of the best in the league.
2012-2013 Year in Review
It may be impossible to overstate how brilliant Andre Drummond's rookie season was. Superlatives fail, so I won't try. After what he described in his own words as "[not] the best" season at UConn -- he was right, it wasn't -- Dre put together what would have been the most productive rookie performance in the league if not for the freak back injury. He shattered everyone's expectations; even his biggest supporters didn't expect anything like what he accomplished until he had a couple seasons under his belt.
The only way I can think of to get across just how good Dre was is to put his numbers in context -- both in terms of his contemporary peers, and historically -- focusing on per minute and pace adjust stats to account for Dre's somewhat limited minutes.
So, here we go.
From the perspective of box score statistics (pace adjusted, per minute flavor), Andre Drummond was one of the best centers in the entire NBA, not just among rookies. Wins Produced is an advanced box score stat that estimates a player's contributions to wins using the box score. Per minute, Wins Produced has Dre as the most productive center in the league. Not most productive rookie center, most productive center, period.
Win Shares also uses the box score to estimate a player's share of his team's wins. From this perspective, Dre was the 12th most productive center in the league (he jumps into the top 10 if you eliminate players with fewer than 800 minutes played).
From the perspective of individual box score stats, it's easy to see why the all-in-one metrics rate him so highly. Among centers who played more than 500 minutes, he was in the top eight in terms of total rebound percentage, second in terms of steal percentage, fifth in terms of block percentage, and sixth in effective field goal percentage.
Finally, from the perspective of differential between Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating, Andre Drummond was an eye-popping +15, tied for tops on the team with we-hardly-knew-you Jose Calderon.
For the visual folks, there's this:
In the context of history - which I know is always a dangerous comparison -- Drummond still shines. Strictly for fun, here's Drummond's rookie season compared to rookie seasons of other recent greats at the position (I've also included Ben Wallace's 03-04 season just because):
There's still more to say, but there simply isn't enough space. Via mysynergysports.com, Dre is already a fantastic post up defender, allowing opponents to convert under 40% of their post-up shots; he's already very adept in the pick-and-roll (as is Greg Monroe, which ought to give opponents fits all season); and, he is among the best in the NBA at finishing on offense as the pick-and-roll man -- being able to do this helps.
Dre's rookie season was historically good, and it's not being talked about outside of Pistons circles because he got hurt, plain and simple.
2013-2014 Projected Production
By NBA standards, Andre Drummond's rookie season is a very small sample. The dispassionate, objective analyzer in me is quick to say this ... because it's true. For context, s a rookie, Greg Monroe played nearly 1,000 more minutes, and many of us will be able to remember how different Greg's second 1,000 minutes looked from his first. So, Dumars' take-it-slow, wait-and-see approach to locking up Monroe and Drummond to max deals -- who gets four years? who gets five? -- as soon as possible has at least some merit. Evaluating for one more full season is a smart move from this perspective.
However, the Pistons (and NBA) fanatic in me says that Dre is the real deal. You can't teach tall, you can't teach quick, you can't teach hops, you can't teach instincts, and to some extent, you can't teach attitude. Dre excels on all these fronts, and he turns all of those skills into results that create wins -- blocks, dunks, rebounds, steals. Coupled with Dre's strong close to last season, it feels impossible that Dre won't be the dominant player he looks like he already is.
And ultimately, in spite of Detroit's roster challenges, the small sample size, and so on, I think Andre Drummond is the player we think he is, and if he stays healthy, he will establish himself in the national conversation as one of the top centers in the game at just 20 years old.
I expect Dre to overcome roster challenges, because he's just that good. It might take some time to figure it out if the team struggles to figure it out early, but I think he will. What we can't know is his health. If last season's back injury proves to be a fluke and not a pattern, Dre will be a deserving All Star, and the Pistons will find themselves in the playoff hunt, and potentially fighting for home court advantage in the first round. And because the preseason is the time for hope, I'll forgo the alternative.
30 mpg, 12.5 points, 12 boards, 2 blocks, 1.5 steals, 60 FG%.