After a year of seasoning, all eyes will be on second-year center Andre Drummond for an improved Pistons squad. (Clarence Tabb, Jr. / The Detroit News)
Auburn Hills — It’s hard to believe, but Andre Drummond’s eye-opening rookie year was a surprise to many players and coaches because the player who accomplished so much when the lights came on didn’t look like that in practice.
Yes, Allen Iverson, we’re talking about practice.
When former Piston Tayshaun Prince was asked about Drummond’s progress last year, he diplomatically said the floor opens up for big guys in games as opposed to practice, and one of the reasons former coach Lawrence Frank seemed to hold Drummond back — likely to Frank’s detriment — was because he wasn’t a stand-out in practice.
But it’s better to be productive when it counts as opposed to freezing up in front of 18,000 people and wowing teammates in practice.
Drummond didn’t hesitate when the subject of being a better practice player arose.
“Oh yeah, without a doubt,” Drummond said. “I actually know what I’m doing. I’m able to talk and speak and know what I’m doing without guessing. I feel like I have a better understanding of the game.”
Considering he was one of the best offensive rebounders and shot-blockers for his age in this league’s history, he admits he was just reacting to the play on the floor and using his God-given ability to make things happen.
Those alley-oops he often caught from Will Bynum was reading the floor, seeing an opening and then going after the ball. Not a bad strategy, and with the two lobs he caught from Rodney Stuckey in succession in Friday’s scrimmage, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
“Just off instinct and feel,” Drummond said. “Everybody has a distinct feel for the game. (Last year) for me, it was just play hard and be an energy guy, and just listen. This year, I’m pointing things out.”
In all fairness, there aren’t many 19-year-olds able to pick up pro concepts right off the bat, but his improvement from various points of last year beginning in Summer League to finishing strong after coming back from his back injury, shows he possesses an aptitude for the game that could very well match his athleticism.
For starters, he played his best basketball at the end of the season — averaging 11.1 points and 8.2 rebounds in his last 10 games — and he wasn’t in the greatest shape.
“When I got hurt, we all know I gained a few pounds and it was my goal to get to where I need to be,” Drummond said.
So he dropped 15 pounds and is now around 284, feeling worlds better.
“You tell me? You watched. I don’t feel winded at all,” Drummond said. “I feel great. I’m in the best condition since college. Last year, I wasn’t in the best condition.”
Ironically, the game where Drummond first displayed the type of player he could be was in front of his future coach. Maurice Cheeks was an assistant in Oklahoma City when Drummond scored a career-high 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 20 minutes of action when the Pistons played the Thunder in the sixth game of the season.
Drummond made sure to remind Cheeks of that, perhaps a subtle way of intimating he should’ve been playing more from the start, which likely prompted Cheeks to say on media day he wasn’t going to hold Drummond back this season.
“Even in our game, we saw his potential,” Cheeks said. “Now, the way he rebounds the ball, the way he runs the floor, is something special. His agility and his hands, when a big guy has (great) hands, it’s a special quality to have.”
And as a practice player?
“Considering he’s standing on my right? I think he’s a good practice player,” Cheeks said. “Training camp like today, you have to keep pushing guys. Today was a grueling day. From what I’m seeing now, he’s pretty good.”
As Cheeks noted, he made sure Friday was a day he ran his players hard, but Chauncey Billups used his seniority to opt-out of the minute-long wind sprints that had his teammates bent over, gasping for air.
Cheeks took no issue with it, as he’s said from the first day that he wasn’t going to wear down his players in camp but wanted them to be in good condition.
“Chauncey’s been around a long time; he knows his body as well as anybody,” Cheeks said. “If he wants to pull himself out of certain things, it’s not a problem.”