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Andre Drummond’s long, quiet road to superstardom

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Andre Drummond has gotten better every year, and now he’s playing at a superstar level. But there are few wins to show for it — is that an indictment of the team, Drummond or both?

Detroit Pistons v Washington Wizards Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

Imagine this: You’re single.

You’ve been doing the swipey-swipe apps to find a mate, but haven’t had any luck. You’ve decided to give up all hope UNTIL the belle of the ball walks into your life.

Let’s call her Andrea.

Andrea is everything you could have asked for physically — she’s tall, strong, beautiful, and carries herself with grace and elegance.

Andrea also loves you and your past. She embraces it as part of herself too. She laughs, smiles, and has fun. She’s the best girl that has ever walked into your life.

But while looking at the other girls that pass by, you start to nitpick.

“Well, Andrea sings in the summer. Why can’t she just work on being a better mate?”

“Jeez I hate that freckle on her left cheek”

She never rests on her laurels. She has hobbies, and constantly tries new things, works to improve herself and be a solid provider and supporter. But all you see are the flaws.

“I see other girls and they tap dance. Why can’t Andrea tap dance?”

Eventually, Andrea is going to leave and you will be stuck longing for a girl like Andrea for years to come.

I swear there is a point to all of this.

Andre Drummond, a home-grown prospect drafted in 2012, is Andrea.

From his rap songs mentioning it, to the teal Starter jackets, to the “Detroit vs. Everybody” shirts, to the buffs, Andre Drummond has embraced the essence of Detroit.

Never has the media gotten a whiff from Drummond indicating he does not like it in the 313. Never has the media heard anything close to grief when it comes to his role on the Pistons or the franchise’s lack of success.

Drummond came to the NBA young, hungry and, yes, immature. He had plenty of weaknesses to pick apart — free-throw shooting, defense, efficiency at the basket, etc. However, he has also steadily improved upon each of them while still improving on facets of his game in which he is already dominant. Drummond has made “Hack-a-Dre” is a thing of the past, which was something that destroyed the Pistons offense and inhibited him from closing games. At one point in his career, he was a laughable 35.5% from the line and now he has just eclipsed 67%. Last season, he was SECOND on the team in FT% in clutch situations (min 25 FTA).

Shot Selection

One thing that frustrates Drummond supporters and detractors alike are shot selection and efficiency at the rim. In 2016-17, his shots were further from the rim and shot lower than league average for that distance.

This season, he is taking over 4 more attempts per game (likely to make up for the offensive firepower missing due to the string of injuries), but managed to score at a higher efficiency and closer to the rim. Something that he struggled with before has now become a strength, in spite of the roster around him.

In addition to these improvements, he’s also done something that I, frankly, never knew was possible: he’s become an even better rebounder.

Like it or not, Drummond has perhaps already cemented his name in the Hall of Fame because of his rebounding alone. He’s been the best rebounder on the planet for the past four seasons, and this season he is replicating numbers not seen since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain.

NBA champion* Kevin Durant even had high praise for him:

“[Drummond’s] special on the boards. I like watching him. And playing against him, you don’t realize how strong he is. He’s one of the strongest in the game.”

So if he’s been dominant on the boards, steadily improved his game, and is receiving words of acknowledgement from NBA legends, why do some fans and national media heads want Drummond out of town?

You play to win the game

Frankly, it’s because all of those accolades and improvements ultimately haven’t led to any semblance of winning. Sure the Pistons have been in the thick of the bottom-tier playoff race, but they haven’t won a single playoff game in a decade. Sure they are in a much better spot than they were five years ago with the additions of Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, but the Pistons record is still 4-5.

If Drummond were THAT dominant, why hasn’t it translated into wins?

Drummond is a walking 20-20 machine, but he cannot be relied upon to generate offense for himself or others. He isn’t the same mold as Nikola Jokic, who can legitimately play “point center” for the Nuggets. He cannot pour in points from deep like Karl Anthony-Towns. He does what he does well, and affects the “hustle” attributes of a game. He will grab almost every available rebound, and he has proven to be at minimum an above-average defender at the rim while being elite on the perimeter as a big man.

He’s being asked to do too much — and he’s succeeding beyond anyone’s expectations in the early going. But I don’t exactly want Drummond trying to average 6 assists per game or leading the team in field goal attempts.

For lack of a better term, the Pistons offense has been constipated. Their primary shot-creators in Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, and Reggie Jackson have all missed significant time. The Pistons have been playing without a point guard for a week so Andre Drummond has been forced to do too much on offense. This has led to turnovers by not only him but the rest of the team. The Pistons rank eighth in the league in turnovers while Andre Drummond has been second in total turnovers.

These turnovers have exposed a Pistons defense that has been swiss cheese. The Pistons have allowed the fourth-highest field goal percentage while allowing opponents to shoot at a 37.1% clip from deep. If you look at the on/off splits, it won’t tell the full story. Often Drummond racks up blocks and steals, but his teammates haven’t been able to stop anybody from coming into the paint - making it difficult for even the league’s best to stop scoring at the rim.

Bruce Brown isn’t what he was a year ago on defense, although he did have a nice game holding Kyrie Irving to 8-for-21 shooting, Luke Kennard is still learning how to defend at an NBA level, and the point guards haven’t been able to stop anybody even when healthy.

In spite of having the world’s best rebounder, the Pistons rank 28th in team rebounding. Blake Griffin being out absolutely hurts this metric, but for the second-best rebounder on the team to average 4.3 rebounds per game is simply unacceptable.

Is it fair that the blame for Pistons’ 4-5 record falls solely upon the shoulders of Andre Drummond?

Not at all.

Is he doing too much, which leads to turnovers and other offensive maladies?

Absolutely.

But, unfortunately, it’s necessary. Looking at this team as currently constructed I’m not sure what the better alternative would be. Without his strong play, the Pistons could be looking at a winless or one-win season thus far.

It also seems like the things Drummond is excelling at will easily carry over once Blake, Derrick and Reggie are back and taking a lot of that offensive ball handling and creation responsiblity off of his large shoulders. So instead of blaming him for the record, commend him for dragging this motley crew to nearly a .500 record.

Because if he left, the Pistons would be longing for another Andrea.