Andre Drummond played 38 minutes and finished with 20 rebounds on Thursday night. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / Detroit News)
Auburn Hills — It’s far too early to call the Pistons’ big frontline a success, but the team leaves the preseason feeling optimistic about having Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith on the floor together.
While much was made of substitution patterns to get one of the three out early in quarters, Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks usually went deep into the first and third quarters before taking one out, usually Drummond, barring foul trouble.
Thursday, Smith and Monroe took turns in the paint and on the block offensively against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Both had trouble finishing, uncharacteristically missing close attempts but the mere fact of where they played was more encouraging than the actual numbers.
“I liked our three big guys’ game,” Cheeks said. “Tonight was an indication of those three playing together. This was one of those games where they got better, feeding off each other. I liked the rhythm those guys played with.”
Drummond controlled the glass, with 20 rebounds and more importantly, played 38 minutes.
He only played 30 minutes or more six times last year, with four coming in the last 10 days of the season.
Stretching him out to 38 minutes in the preseason to gauge his stamina and effectiveness had to be an objective, as Drummond took the preseason very seriously (12.5 points, 12.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks).
“We’re trying to get guys to play together, he just happened to play 38,” Cheeks said. “I’m trying to find a rhythm of those guys playing together.”
Cheeks wants Drummond to be more of a defensive presence.
If the Pistons’ pattern of getting steals (12 steals Thursday) to get out on the break is to be continued, Drummond could be left on the back line alone on occasion.
“Andre has to be a little better, a little better, of clogging the paint, blocking some shots,” Cheeks said.
“So just in case someone gambles for a steal and doesn’t get it, he can be that anchor on the defensive end.”
Smith scored 20 and added six rebounds, while Monroe scored 17 with five rebounds.
Even though Smith took nine 3-pointers — including the buzzer-beater — Cheeks didn’t mind Smith’s shot selection. Cheeks reminded everyone that Smith’s value rises the closer he plays to the rim.
“I liked his game a lot. We put him in the post a lot and he made plays to score and for other people,” Cheeks said.
“For us to be successful, we have to use him on the block, not necessarily on the perimeter.”
Smith was double-teamed multiple times on the block but found open teammates. One of those included Monroe, who wasn’t in Smith’s line of sight but sliding near the baseline underneath the rim.
Monroe was fouled on the layup attempt.
Smith and Monroe’s alliance of unselfishness is exacerbated with the absence of Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey, two who’ll help facilitate the offense when they return.
“If it was a fifth, we’d all be drunk (laughs). It works, it works,” said Smith when asked if the adjustment would be more difficult if the two weren’t willing passers.
“Greg is a facilitator, since Georgetown. I’ve been a well-known passer since I’ve been in the league. We have guys who can play multiple positions but also can pass.”
For Monroe, he was faced with the task of guarding Minnesota’s Kevin Love, who many consider the best power forward in the game — and punishes teams from long range as well as the glass.
“It’s an unusual position to be in, guarding a guy like Kevin Love,” Cheeks said. “But I thought he did a nice job. Other guys did a nice job of holding him up until Greg got there. (Love) can be more perimeter than post.”
It’s definitely still and will be a work in progress, starting Wednesday, but the first few baby steps didn’t come with a step back.
“We got a good feel for how we play with each other,” Smith said. “Everybody’s talking about how we’re gonna play with each other. I think we’re pretty good.
“I never had concerns, it was more so the media scratching their head about it. We knew we could make it work.”