Auburn Hills — It was a baptism NBA-style, a trial by fire of the worst and most painful kind.
Andre Drummond hopes to be what Dwight Howard has become on the floor, as the most dominant big man the league has to offer, and Howard showed Drummond how far Drummond has to go, in the best way he could.
Howard’s 35 points and 19 rebounds Saturday for the Houston Rockets, a basketball clinic on the Pistons’ second-year center, looked more like a workout between teacher and pupil on a hot summer day than an actual NBA contest that counted.
Howard started off the game with a not-so-subtle mission in mind: to remind Drummond that although the day could very well be his, it wouldn’t be anything soon.
For all of Drummond’s gifts, being 20 years of age hasn’t allowed him much time to develop his “man strength” as Howard got wherever he wanted all night long, rooting Drummond off the block in a way not many in the NBA can.
Howard has taken criticism for a perceived lack of post game, but he’s worlds better than Drummond at this stage, displaying the entire toolbox of moves — and taking Drummond and Greg Monroe to the tool shed.
Drummond had his moments in 28 minutes, with four blocked shots in the first quarter, but clearly Howard won the day.
It was Howard and Drummond’s first time playing significant minutes against one another, leaving quite the impression on Drummond as the game ended.
“I thanked him. I told him, 'Thank you for teaching me something,'” Drummond said. “It was my first time playing him, it was definitely a learning experience for me.”
The Pistons’ 20-year old man child was man enough to admit being manhandled by a better player afterward, not running from the disparity in production and affect between himself and Howard.
Fittingly, Howard didn’t throw shots at Drummond, rather praising a player he sees a few similarities with — as both players entered the NBA at an early age. Despite there being enough differences in terms of playing style, Howard admires Drummond.
“That’s a tough situation, being young and everybody wants you to dominate, but he is dominating at certain levels,” Howard said. “As he gets older and matures and learns to play basketball, he’ll be great. I love him.”
Howard has taken shots from fans and media with his “will he, won’t he” act that Pistons fans hope Drummond doesn’t emulate, but being gracious enough, even in a resounding victory, says something about the man.
“I love Andre,” Howard said. “The way he’s been playing this year, I told him before the game, he’s having an amazing season, keep doing what he’s doing. He’ll be fine.”
But once the contest started, it wasn’t much of one. Howard nimbly got around Drummond with ease, as his head fakes and drives to the middle left Drummond dazed, confused and looking like he was ready for a standing eight-count.
“I didn’t get frustrated, actually,” Drummond said. “Was it annoying that he got what he wanted? He’s an established player, he knows how to beat his defender. I took a step back and learned something even though I was guarding him.”
Howard remembers going against big men he looked up to and respected, and although Howard just turned 28, he’s old enough to be the picture on Drummond’s wall as a teenager.
“He’s 20, doesn’t back down from any challenge,” Howard said. “I love that about him, he’ll continue to get better. I wanted to go at him tonight. He’s a great shot-blocker, so I tried to move him, throw him off with some pump fakes.”
Howard was the focus of a Rockets offense, something Drummond predictably hasn’t shown the ability to be yet. Howard also led the Orlando Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals with an offense that went through Howard and spread shooters.
In the fourth quarter, Howard noticed Drummond giving him a sliver of space on the baseline on multiple possessions. Lesson learned as Howard easily drove past Drummond for dunks, surprising virtually everybody.
Although he got what he wanted all night, Howard anticipates he’ll have to deal with Drummond for years to come, as Drummond matures physically and mentally.
As good as Drummond is at 20, it’s so important to remember that he’s 20. To expect him to be at peak efficiency every night is a high — and almost unrealistic — expectation.
‘I think Andre is already strong. A big, strong boy,” Howard said. “For him, he’s got to continue to work and be patient. Everybody wants everything to happen now and that’s not the mindset you have to have in this league.”
Howard has unofficially welcomed Drummond into the fraternity of big men in the NBA, a dwindling club at that. When Drummond thanked Howard for the lesson, Howard coolly replied: