New Orleans — Andre Drummond’s back injury caused the rookie to miss last year’s Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend, where he would’ve introduced himself to the NBA at large.
Although it came one year later, Drummond made his announcement to those who were watching that even in an exhibition, he’s a force to be reckoned with — and it’ll be surprising if his next visit to All-Star Weekend is as a spectator in the marquee game.
From the first moments of the game Friday, when he tried to dunk on the player he’ll most likely be compared against -- Pelicans All-Star forward Anthony Davis -- to the second half, where he gracefully led a one-man fast break, it was obvious he took the evening serious and wanted to make an impression on those watching.
If anyone thought he took it as just an exhibition, 30 points and 25 rebounds later proved otherwise, as he helped Team Hill -- players selected by former Piston Grant Hill -- to a 142-136 win over Team Webber (Chris Webber), winning the MVP award.
How good of a night was it for Drummond? He made six of eight free throws, and was interviewed by TNT’s Craig Sager at halftime, an honor reserved for the better NBA players on the league’s showcase nights.
The only thing he didn’t do was repeat his declaration to grab 30 rebounds -- a statement he made last year before finding out his ailing back would cause him to miss the game in Houston.
“Missing the game last year was tough for me; I hated watching it, every second of it,” Drummond said after Friday’s game. “It was tough I couldn’t be out there. It was my mindset (this year) to come out and play with energy like I had been all year.”
The only downer of the evening for Drummond came when he was being presented his MVP trophy. The presenter dropped the trophy and it broke in two, but Drummond laughed off the incident.
The Knicks’ Tim Hardaway Jr., a rookie from Michigan, grabbed Sager’s microphone and said, “ESPN Not Top 10.”
Before he temporarily ceded the spotlight to teammate Dion Waiters, who took over the game in the second half with a shooting display and one-on-one battle with Hardaway Jr., Drummond made an imprint on the contest.
Four straight plays in the first half ended with the same result: putback dunks, with a little resistance. Already one of the league’s most ferocious rebounders, Drummond’s performance drew criticism — from observers wanting to see more of him in the first half, when he tallied 16 points and 10 rebounds in the first nine minutes.
He was clearly soaking in the All-Star experience — from being on the video board, where he described his first dunk as a youth, where hanging on the rim earned him a technical foul, he said — to even getting hit in the face inadvertently by Nets forward Mason Plumlee late in the second half while attempting a putback dunk.
Drummond very well could’ve joined Davis and Team Hill teammate Damian Lillard in Sunday’s All-Star Game, and played as if he had energy to burn — in front of stars like Kevin Durant and James Harden.
“I like his game. He’s still young, you see the talent and potential with his growth and development,” Hill told The Detroit News this week, while also pointing out more veterans will begin to seek Drummond out as he progresses and earns more attention.
Heat star Dwyane Wade didn’t name Drummond specifically, but certainly had Drummond in mind when talking about the new wave of stars looking to take the game to the next level, while he takes a step back
“When we came in, it was the Jason Kidds the Kevin Garnetts, the players we had so much respect for. It goes so fast,” Wade said. “You just have to enjoy it along the way. You see the younger guys coming up, they’re the future and one day they’ll look back and wonder how fast did it go?”
Drummond was a late arrival to New Orleans due to the weather, which forced him to land in Baton Rouge and make the drive to the Big Easy from there, as he didn’t get in until Thursday night at about 9 p.m.
But he was no worse for the wear, even after a morning practice and doing the traditional NBA “Day of Service” activities the players are slated to do, playing with the bounce and energy most Pistons fans have seen him play with in the last two years.
For one night he could forget about the turmoil and drama surrounding his team and show the NBA he’s as much a part of its present as he is the future.