December 7, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Rookie Andre Drummond could be building block Pistons need

Pistons rookie Andre Drummond's impressive play so for this season offers a glimmer of hope for the team's future. (Clarence Tabb, Jr./Detroit News)

Auburn Hills -- For the Pistons to turn it around, this is how it has to happen. It's not about halftime entertainment or a deep-pocketed owner or a fancy downtown arena.

It's about a spark from a player, any player, that elicits a double-take and maybe a double-team, and does stuff you're not used to seeing. The NBA is full of players with similar games, full of teams with similar rosters. The Pistons haven't stood out for several years, unremarkable in every way.

This is how it could change, with someone like Andre Drummond. The 6-foot-11 rookie from Connecticut is turning heads, even as his own head sometimes spins. He has the defensive ferocity and high-end potential the Pistons desperately need. When Drummond flushes a rebound dunk, he throws his head back in a youthful roar, and leaves fans shouting for more.

Drummond is only 19, so caution is in order here. Lawrence Frank rightly preaches perspective, and it's early for regular 31-minute games out of Drummond. But it isn't as far off as first imagined. There's a reason big men with force are so coveted in the NBA — they stand out.

"Coach has faith in me, leaving me out there for so many minutes," Drummond said after tallying 15 points and 12 rebounds in a season-high 31 minutes in a 104-97 loss to the Warriors on Wednesday. "I bring a lot of energy to the floor, that's one of the biggest assets I bring to the team."

Drummond is trying to defy the "low-motor" knock that pushed him to No. 9 in the draft, where the Pistons happily grabbed him.

He brings size and flair, which is why fans want to see more of him.

Earning his time

The Pistons should be pleased they have a player actually stirring debate, and I bet Frank will adjust if Drummond plays like he has lately. But the rookie isn't being handed anything, and he isn't the team's only potential spark. Greg Monroe averages 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds, and the young backcourt of Brandon Knight and Kyle Singler shows flashes, good and bad.

You can look at the 6-14 record and simply dismiss the Pistons, and many people do. Or you can look at their recent five-game home winning streak and Drummond's crunch-time impact and see a way back. Drummond played the entire fourth quarter as the Pistons sliced a 20-point deficit to three before falling to the Warriors.

Frank uses Drummond and the 6-11 Monroe together sometimes, with mixed results. There's a lot of experimenting, and veterans Jason Maxiell and Tayshaun Prince will stay in the mix as long as they add something. But the point is, after three straight fortunate turns in the draft, the Pistons finally have promising pieces to develop.

Monroe fell to them at No. 7 in 2010. Knight fell to No. 8 last year. Also in that draft, Joe Dumars grabbed Singler in the second around. And then there was Drummond, plopping to them at No. 9 this year, billed as the classic high-risk, high-reward youngster.

Frankly, Frank already is seeing more reward than risk. Drummond averages 17.6 minutes, 6.4 points and 6.5 rebounds, and those numbers should rise. His offensive rebounding is impressive and he's shooting 56.7 percent (tops among all rookies) and, ugh, 39 percent from the free-throw line. When Drummond was on the floor against the Warriors, the Pistons outscored them by 17.

"When Andre plays with the effort and energy he's capable of, he's a game-changer," Frank said. "That said, he's going to make, like every young player, his share of mistakes.

"But we're very, very happy with his progress."

You look at Drummond's 285-pound frame and it's easy to forget how young he is — he won't turn 20 until August. After the game the other night, he politely asked a reporter for help with his sleeve as he was putting on a jacket. Cheap line: The guy's so young, he needs help getting dressed.

Giving it his all

At least he's not getting regularly undressed by opposing players. Oh, he has his dizzy moments with turnovers and positioning, but he's also second on the team in blocked shots. And once attached, labels don't have to stick forever. Drummond is a bright, engaging guy who generally plays hard, counter to the pre-draft perception.

"In the past, people said what they had to say, that I didn't have a high motor," Drummond said. "(The criticism) had nothing to do with fueling me, it's the drive I have everyday to play this game. It's not a someday thing, it's an everyday thing."

His confidence appears to be growing with back-to-back 12-rebound games, including nine offensive boards against the Cavaliers. Drummond is fourth in the NBA in rebounds-per-minute, and says he has no problem patiently finding his role.

The Pistons are still at least a year away from even thinking about playoff contention. And they're probably longer away from seriously considering a move to join the Red Wings in a new arena downtown. That venture still makes perfect sense from a logistical standpoint, if it somehow can make sense from a financial standpoint.

That's a long-term view. In the short term, the narrative about the Pistons will only change with fresh faces and intriguing new stories. As the drumbeat about Drummond grows, the kid just might be able to handle it.

bob.wojnowski@detnews.com

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