Andre Drummond started the interview right. “We dropped the ball and it starts with me.” It went downhill from there.
Chatting with MLive, Drummond, Detroit’s de facto team leader, talked about his recent surgery on his deviated septum that will improve his breathing and help his conditioning as the the Pistons look to rebound from disappointing 2016-17 season. It’s important not to over-analyze comments coming out of an interview, but Drummond’s take on his season were simply mind-boggling, and not a good sign for those hoping for serious self reflection and improvement.
His full statement:
"We dropped the ball and it starts with me, too, as the leader of our team I needed to be better at getting my guys prepared for these games that we did lose," Drummond said Saturday, during the launch of his signature Halo Burger. "It was a tough year for all of us.
"We need to come back stronger and better than ever."
Ok. In Drummond’s mind his role in the disappointing season was that he didn’t do a good enough job of getting his teammates ready to play? That’s not taking responsibility, and it’s not showing leadership. That’s throwing your teammates under the bus.
When asked about proving he’s among the elite NBA big men, he said:
"I never left," Drummond said. "Just because I might have had an off season, that doesn't make me a terrible player. It's a lot of guys that sit behind a desk all day and just talk.
"I'm not thinking about none of that stuff," Drummond said. "I'm here to play basketball. At the end of the day, I'm here to make my teammates better and myself better. They're going to get paid to write stories and I get paid to play basketball."
Confidence is great and all, but Drummond was not an elite NBA big man this season.
Though a dominant rebounder, Drummond was below average on both offense and defense. His poor free throw shooting combined with a high-volume, ineffective post game left him as one of the least efficient centers in the league on offense. On defense, meanwhile, only two centers had a worse defensive field goal percentage.
Drummond didn’t talk about the need to address any particular shortcoming in his game. Instead he waved away criticism and deluding himself about his own skill level.
It’s concerning for the Pistons moving forward as Drummond is on max contract for the next four seasons. The front office needs to determine whether he’s worth that salary as well as being positioned as the team’s franchise player. With his current performance, the answer is a resounding “no.” But does Drummond realize what he actually needs to do in order to improve?
When asked about criticism for his leadership, defensive intensity, and poor free throw shooting, he responded:
"It's good to get away from all that nonsense and be around some kids," Drummond said. "At the end of the day, I'm not worried about what a grown man has to say about another grown man. I'm here to have some fun."
Drummond has had a pretty decent go of things with the Pistons. Through the first four seasons of his career, he’s largely gotten a free pass because of his youth, lack of expectations for the team and because there was always something more alarming to worry about (Stuckey, Rodney; Knight, Brandon; Villanueva, Charlie; Smith, Josh; Monroe, Greg). Sure, the free throw stuff probably gets annoying, but lots of great players stink at free throws.
Unfortunately, through five NBA seasons Drummond has proven he’s not a great player. In fact, in those five seasons he’s shown marginal improvement in any phase of his game.
But his offensive efficiency and defense have been an issue for three straight seasons now, and this is the first time it’s been discussed much on a wider level. For him to shrug off the first real criticism of his career as “nonsense” isn’t a particularly mature response.
Drummond also said:
"I didn't do that bad. I still was an All-Star, I still was All-NBA, I still made certain things work but this season was probably my toughest breathing year for me."
So while initially saying that responsibility for the disappointing year starts with him, Drummond defends his play based on accolades from the previous season. I. Can’t. Even.
It’s not the first time Drummond’s comments have inspired some head scratching. Earlier in the season, Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer did an in-depth profile of Drummond where he said:
“I’m not worried about blocking shots. It’s more stopping [opponents] from getting shots up,” said Drummond. “I try to make people take tough shots and get a hand in their face. Keep guys out of the paint.”
Even Tjarks called BS on Drummond’s comments, following the quote by writing “There’s a disconnect going on. For a player who says all of the right things when it comes to defense, there doesn’t seem to much of an application of them when he’s on the court.”
Coming off a 37-45 season and potentially pushing up against the luxury tax if they choose to re-sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Stan Van Gundy has indicated that they’ll be taking a long look at the team as it’s currently constructed (hat tip to DBBer sje).
"There has to be some changes, and we've got to make as a staff some good evaluations on the guys who can and are willing to make some of those changes," Van Gundy said. "Who are the guys we're going to bet on to make improvements in their game? And who are the guys we can bet on as far as their professionalism and commitment out here on a night-to-night basis?
"Because we had too many some-of-the-time guys that we couldn't count on. And if we don't think those guys can change, well then they've got to be changed."
Drummond was already the subject of trade whispers at the trade deadline this season. If the front office doesn’t see improvement in store for Drummond, those whispers will start getting louder.