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The Kool-Aid Stand: Andre Drummond will be in the running for NBA MVP this season

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Let the Kool-Aid pour all over your body.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

If there was EVER a time for two-time All-Star Andre Drummond to catapult and entrench himself into the upper echelon of NBA players, the 2018-19 season is the precise time to get started.

Andre’s never been on a better team than he is now, and he’s certainly never been as good of a basketball player as he is now. Andre recently turned 25 and is coming off a season in which he set career highs in free throw percentage, rebounds, assists and minutes played per game. Is this a sign of even better things to come for the big man?

In the last three years or so that I’ve been writing in these parts, I’ve been a pretty big Drummond supporter. I’m one of those fans who see enormous potential in the guy. I, however, do not hold back from criticizing the guy’s play on the basketball court. I’ve wondered about his focus at times. I’ve questioned his will to compete. I’ve stressed his perceived limitations and argued that they will greatly hold him back in the modern NBA game. There have been more than a couple of times that I’ve been too harsh on Andre.

Some NBA players are easy targets for criticism because of their star status — as they’ve reached a certain level and grand things are expected of them. Other NBA players are also worth criticizing when necessary, but you can’t get too mad or disappointed at them because, after all, they are not stars and never will be. Drummond is one of the NBA players who doesn’t fall under either of those categories. He’s not a star yet, but he very well could and should be a star. He has shown too much and has teased for too long.

Andre needs to be held to a much higher standard.

Drummond is one of the players that should be criticized (morning, afternoon and evening) when he doesn’t play up to expectations — because, in the end, great things are expected of him as the face of the franchise and as a player who has displayed the ability throughout his career to put up obscene rebounding and offensive efficiency numbers. Furthermore, it’s also not a far-fetched fact that Drummond has the ability to be a sound, dependable defensive player — a defensive anchor, if you will.

Last season, after the Pistons beat the Boston Celtics on the road and improved to 13-6 on the young season, I called the Pistons a juggernaut and wrote this about Andre Drummond (he notched 26 points, 22 rebounds, six assists and four steals for the game).

Andre was a monster for the entire game. You guys can look up his stats for the game. As you read this you all probably know them anyway. It doesn’t really matter.

Andre played like a first team all-NBA player against Boston and all you had to do was watch the game to figure it out. No need for any box score breakdowns. It was perhaps Andre’s finest couple of hours on a basketball court. It was greatness in so many facets of the game. It’s kind of all been building up to this for Andre and for this Pistons team. Andre was just locked in. Andre is a man now, people. And, okay, maybe I’ll admit it. Andre Drummond’s potential is limitless.

Would you call that being a carried away fan? Certainly! But it was fun and that moment gave me hope.

Alas, Detroit went on to lose seven of their next eight games after that Boston win. But like I said, there was real hope at that moment!

Only Drummond knows how this all plays out

Does Andre Drummond want to be a great player instead of just a very good player? I don’t know. You don’t know. Probably only very few people know the answer to that — and obviously Andre is one of those people who knows.

Even if Andre truly wants to be one of the all-time greats, he may not get there despite his most pure and stringent efforts. And that’s totally OK. But the Andre Drummond that exists right now has certainly not reached his full potential. I would venture to say he’s not even gotten close to it. And Andre knows that.

*****

What’s a Kool-Aid Stand post without some visual dessert of Andre Drummond’s potential on a basketball court?

This clip illustrates Andre moving with quickness, agility and grace toward the cup, and in the end finishes with a touch that we have witnessed many times before — but just don’t see on a consistent enough basis.

Andre does everything right in this sequence. He gets low and leverages his strength via his backside as he gets deep, comfortable position in the paint and then makes his move as soon as he catches the ball. His foot work is crisp. That soft hook shot and coordination that seems to come and go from game to game (and even quarter to quarter sometimes) is so appealing and exact in this one. This is Andre’s hook shot at its very best.

On defense, Andre has guard-like defensive ability and instincts. When he’s engaged, he’s dangerous all over the court.

We knew from quite early on that Andre would be some kind of athlete — remember ‘rookie season Andre’ and his strips of Dwyane Wade?

To say that Drummond has it in him to be an excellent defensive player, — one that is consistently more solid and dependable than what we’ve normally seen from him over his first six seasons — wouldn’t be an insane statement at all. Last season at home against the Utah Jazz, Andre blocked six shots and corralled 24 rebounds in a hard fought loss. There was a whole lot to like about his performance.

There was also not a whole lot to like. I won’t show you Andre’s goof-ups (there were many) against Utah — as this is supposed to be a Kool-Aid Stand post. The fact is that Andre’s highs are so high and his lows are so low, that there would seem to be a defining point to come in Andre’s defensive development in which he will either turn the corner and stabilize — meaning he will be a more consistent force without all of the highs and lows — or he will continue on as a fringe star that you can’t build a winning team around. Andre’s defensive performance will be the most key variable for success going forward in his career.

It’s just not just the sexy defensive stuff like blocks and steals. It’s the little things like moving your feet (with no futile reaching!), being aware of space and knowing the personnel on the other side. Hey! You know what? This is a clip from a preseason game! How about that intensity. Practice hard, play hard, yeah?

Marc Gasol, Andre Drummond and ... three-pointers?

I’m not going to compare Andre to three-time All-Star and 2013 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol.

OK, maybe I will just a little bit. There are some similarities between the two. Both are, in their own ways, explosive and agile for being such extremely large humans that play a lot of minutes during a basketball game. Both have improved big facets of their game throughout their respective careers. Gasol (33 years old and entering his 11th NBA season) is obviously more skilled and refined in most areas at this point. He’s not quite the shifty or bouncy athlete that Drummond is, but he’s hardly a sloth, either. Gasol is a heady, tricky player who has been blessed with a strong team around him most of his NBA career.

And as some of you probably have realized, Marc has added a good but not great three point shot to his game over the past two seasons, shooting a total of 588 threes (whereas he shot a total of just 66 threes during his first eight seasons, hitting barely any). He shot a shade under 39-percent in 2016-17 and shot 34-percent last season. So, what about Drummond and his own three point shooting plans?

I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking that Marc Gasol has been shooting feathery soft two point jump shots off the glass and straight in and everything in-between (sometimes while fading away) for years and years now, so it was only a natural progression that he’d extend his stroke behind the long line. You’re also thinking that Andre Drummond hasn’t even gotten to be reliable with his hook shot or post play yet, so why focus on three pointers now!?

And your thinking would be right!

But just have an open mind for a second — it took until Marc Gasol’s ninth season to expand his game to the point of being able to be a viable three-point threat in an NBA game. This is an educated guess — Gasol was probably at least semi-comfortable shooting threes outside of game situations (read: on his own) earlier in his career, but there wasn’t a need for it in Memphis’ offensive game plan, nor was there enough confidence from Gasol to know that he could shoot threes fairly accurately in an actual game. For Andre, he’s also likely been practicing threes for years on his own, but now thinks he can incorporate this as a part of his game. He didn’t dream this up in one night — it was a gradual process. And his growing confidence probably has a ton to do with him believing he can get this off the ground now.

Speaking of Andre’s growing confidence: last season Drummond significantly improved his free throw percentage (+21-percent from the season before), I DON’T KNOW IF YOU HEARD. I don’t think a ton of people really saw that coming. Andre did, though. Andre worked. What I’m trying to get across is that there’s probably some more positive somethings that will transpire this season. And it might not be Dre’s three point shot developing this season — rather, that might slowly develop over the course of a few more seasons. This season that something may be an improved post game and/or some feathery mid-range twos, a la Marc Gasol. Who knows. Confidence is a funny thing. Andre seems to have heaps of confidence, and if he’s confident enough to believe he could be successful behind the three point line, then what’s stopping that confidence from positively affecting other areas of his game? The best thing that can happen is for Andre Drummond to have full confidence in himself.

I’ll tell you this — let’s just have some fun this season. I believe it will be the most fun the team and its fans have had in many years. And let’s hope Andre Drummond improved his game wisely over the off-season and that it will help him have a remarkable season in which he’ll be in the running for the 2018-19 NBA MVP.