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Previewing the 2014-15 Pistons: Andre Drummond

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After a huge sophomore season and summer playing for Team USA, the sky is the limit for Drummond in his third NBA season.

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Andre Drummond shattered expectations in each of his first two seasons, and, as we showed earlier this summer, he's poised to do the same this year.

2013-14 Year in Review

The Pistons committed nearly $80 million for new starters last season, but the most exciting addition to the starting lineup was the one making less than $2.5 million.

After showing glimpses of what he was capable of as a rookie, plenty of excitement revolved around the idea of Drummond finally getting starter minutes. The hope was that he could maintain his per-minute production from his rookie season with the expanded playing time. But for the most part, he actually improved on them.

Drummond finished the season with 13.5 points and 13.2 rebounds per game, the latter ranking second in the league. He was only the third player to surpass 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds for a season as a 20 year old — the others being Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard.

He also managed to crack the all-time leaderboard for offensive rebounds in a season, his 440 tying Hakeem Olajuwon for the ninth-highest total in NBA history.

Whether it's because of the Pistons' record last year or because of his dominance in an area that didn't involve points, Drummond's breakout last season didn't particularly register on the national scale. He finished eighth in All-Star voting behind the likes of Roy Hibbert and Kevin Garnett.

While he dominated the Rising Stars Challenge with 30 points and 25 rebounds to win MVP honors, that was the only hardware he brought home. Incredibly, he never even won player of the week. Meanwhile, Wins Produced rated him the fourth-best player in all of basketball last season.

2014-15 Projected Production

As I wrote earlier this offseason, the sky is the limit for Drummond this season. Yeah, thanks to his age and after his exposure to Team USA, he's a popular breakout candidate. But it's his gross mismanagement from last year's coaching staff to transitioning to a coach that will use him as a featured player that will facilitate his leap to stardom.

Drummond's production last season came mostly out of his own initiative, dominating the offensive glass for scores. Taking advantage of his tremendous pick-and-roll abilities came mostly from backups Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey rather than the team's primary facilitator Brandon Jennings.

Last year, Drummond was simply an afterthought in the offense behind Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and even Rodney Stuckey. According to SportVU data he averaged 40.3 touches per game, behind the likes of Cody Zeller or Austin Rivers and compared to 56.6 per game for Smith. Yet Drummond led the league in points per halfcourt touch at .80, which was double Smith's figure.

You can bet that Stan Van Gundy is going to make sure that it's Drummond who is positioned as the team's franchise player, rather than Smith, as was the case last year. And as I've mentioned before, if Van Gundy is able to generate just four or five more shots per game, with Drummond's true shooting percentage he will be around 20 points per game. That's only one extra shot per quarter.

Drummond has established himself as one of the elite rebounders in the league, but his numbers may be in store for a small dip this season. Detroit finished in the middle of the pack for their field-goal percentage last year, so Drummond didn't necessarily have a tremendous advantage from Smith and Jennings' errant shooting on the boards. But with diminished roles out of the team's least efficient players, increased roles for its most efficient ones, and the addition of several new highly efficient players, well, the Pistons are poised to be one of the more efficient teams in the league.

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But there is the potential for a step forward defensively. Both his steal and block numbers declined last season behind the puzzling defensive strategies of Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer. As a rookie Drummond showed a tremendous knack for getting in passing lanes for steals and fast-break dunks, which seemed much less frequent last season.

While these were the most memorable, he also did a tremendous job of grabbing steals when providing weak side or pick and roll help. When attempting to hit his open man, Drummond was able to close off the passing lane.

And even during his lackluster collegiate season, Drummond was always an excellent shot blocker. While he still finished seventh in the league overall in blocked shots last season, his blocked shot rate and per-minute stats dipped significantly.

Van Gundy was able to channel Dwight Howard's rim-protecting skills into annual Defensive Player of the Year awards. He'll have another fantastic weapon to work with in Drummond. Dre's strong upper body, 7'6 wingspan, and excellent timing make him a fantastic shot-blocker.

Entering his third year in the league, he certainly has the potential to challenge the likes of Serge Ibaka and DeAndre Jordan for the league lead in blocks and land on the leaderboard in steals.

One stat that somewhat flew under the radar last season was that Drummond actually led the league in personal fouls, and that was after a slight drop in his foul rate from his rookie year. He finished with either five or six fouls in 21 games last season. A key piece of his defensive development this season will certainly be to take a step forward as a defender while also keeping himself out of foul trouble.

Perhaps the most important (and most interesting) aspect of Drummond's development this season will be as a leader. After spending the summer winning a gold medal with Team USA at the FIBA World Cup and being talked up by Van Gundy as the team's best player, he has the opportunity to make this his team.

It's a tall task for a 21 year old, but it's not unprecedented with the franchise. In fact, it's somewhat reminiscent of what was asked of a 22-year-old Isiah Thomas, who was also entering his third season in 1983 for a team that coming off six consecutive losing seasons. That team went on to win 49 games.

Drummond's personality has always been upbeat and supportive, but he will also need to incorporate an element of assertiveness this season as well to make the transition. So far this preseason he's done just that, announcing that this is his team.

But with that assertiveness can come conflict. It was this aspect that hurt Howard's transition; when attempting to be assertive, poor conflict management skills often left him coming off as petulant and self-serving. There will come a time when his leadership is challenged, and how Drummond handles that challenge will be an important first test.

One thing that helped Thomas was the presence of the veteran Bill Laimbeer. While it was Thomas' team, it was Laimbeer that set players in line. Drummond could certainly use a Laimbeer of his own to step up, especially with Smith and Jennings showing destructive tendencies in the past and Greg Monroe playing for big personal stakes after rolling the dice by playing on his qualifying offer.

It may well be that Van Gundy ends up playing the part of Laimbeer to Dre's Isiah. A big part of the reason why he came to Detroit was likely to coach the young big man, and he has the keys to the franchise. If someone wants to challenge Drummond's claim that this is his team, Van Gundy has playing time or a trade at his disposal to offer a correction in perspective.

The production for Drummond is going to be there this year, and if things go right his production should leave little room for doubt about who is the best center in the league. But it will likely be the intangible aspects of his season that determines the overall level of success for the team.

Prediction

34 minutes per game, 17 points, 61% fg, 12 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 1.5 steals