When Andre Drummond slipped down to the ninth pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the reason was simple: he failed to live up to expectations during his freshman season at the University of Connecticut. His college resume suggested that he was a project with high bust potential. A reasonable projection was that his ceiling might be similar to that of DeAndre Jordan, a 2008 pick who had shown steady progress in four years with the Clippers.
Drummond easily exceeded expectations his rookie year, winning the backup center spot behind Greg Monroe in training camp. He might have entered the starting lineup in February of 2013 if not for a back injury that caused him to miss 22 games. Still, in about 21 minutes per game, he averaged 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks – numbers Jordan did not reach until his fourth season. The past two years Drummond has established himself as the league’s best offensive rebounder, and per 36, he has topped rebounding leader Jordan both years.
The Pistons have made it clear that they believe Drummond is deserving of a post-rookie maximum contract. In their mind the question is not if he will become an elite-level player, but when. So let’s look at why they have reached this conclusion.
2014-15 Year in Review
Like practically the entire team, Drummond struggled at the beginning of last season. Van Gundy made a concerted effort at the start to give him more touches in the post, and the early results were not good. Since one of either Greg Monroe or Josh Smith was often on the floor with him, he was not getting optimal space to operate, either. Through the first 17 games he shot .448 and averaged two turnovers. While his numbers enjoyed a resurgence in December, Drummond was less of an offensive factor during the 12-4 run that ensued when Smith was waived. Prior to the All-Star Break he averaged 12.6 ppg (.500 shooting) and 12.8 rpg. For a man who had shot .618 prior to last season, this decline in shooting efficiency was alarming.
After the Break, Drummond’s averages jumped to 16.1 points (.536 shooting) and 14.7 rebounds, as he was featured more prominently and effectively in the pick and roll with new point guard Reggie Jackson. If not for that break-out performance during the final third of the season, it would've been more difficult to stomach the Pistons letting Monroe go to Milwaukee this summer.
2015-16 Projected Production
It’s no secret that the Pistons based their new player acquisitions on their fit with an offense based upon the Drummond-Jackson pick and roll. Except on those occasions when Van Gundy chooses to play Aron Baynes at power forward to match up with beefier foes, he can pick proven three-point threats Ersan Ilyasova, Marcus Morris or Anthony Tolliver to help space the floor. This lineup should also make it easier for Drummond to post up when he wants to launch the baby hook shot that he has worked on assiduously.
If preseason is an accurate gauge for his offensive role this season, we can expect a significantly larger one for Drummond. He has averaged 15.5 points (.532 shooting) and 12 boards in about 29 minutes, taking 13.6 shots per game. Per36, that rate of production would equal about 19 points and 15 rebounds.
While it seems likely that Drummond will be a featured part of Detroit’s offensive attack, it’s on defense that he has the potential to make the biggest impact. According to Van Gundy:
"Where we need him to really take a step this year is at the defensive end of the floor. He’s already one of the elite rebounders in the league – very capable of being the best rebounder in the league.
"His defense has got to improve and be more consistent. If he does that, if he brings great energy and intensity on a nightly basis, he’s one of the rare guys in this league that can dominate the game regardless of what happens on the offensive end of the floor. He can make an impact on virtually every play in the game if he brings that kind of energy and intensity."
Barring a virtually unprecedented drop in productivity, Drummond will sign a max deal next summer with the Pistons. The fact that he has chosen to delay signing until 2016 to give the organization more financial flexibility is a tribute to his commitment to the team. Since he is still only 22 years old, fans should expect some hiccups along the way as he matures. But no one should be surprised if he quickly garners attention this fall as a worthy candidate for his first selection as an Eastern Conference All-Star.
80 games, 33 minutes per game, 17 points per game, 14.5 rebounds per game, 2 blocks per game, 54% field goal shooting.