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Chicago — During the Detroit Pistons’ opening win, Andre Drummond got in early foul trouble and motioned to coach Dwane Casey that he was fine to stay in the game. Throughout his career, Drummond has mostly avoided getting into serious foul trouble, so Casey gave Drummond a vote of confidence.

It had mixed results.

Drummond was good on the offensive end, but a little tentative defensively, allowing the Brooklyn Nets guards to penetrate and get to the rim, almost at will. It’s the double-edged quandary of letting big men play while in foul trouble: they can’t protect the rim as aggressively.

It started with some touchy fouls and Drummond tried to stay engaged and active, but it caught up with him and as the Nets kept attacking, Drummond had to concede some easy baskets.

“They’re tick-tack fouls but then you can’t stop playing and give up lay-ups at the rim,” Casey said. “That’s the thing when he got his fourth — he got soft at the rim and they had 23 layups.

“He’s got to be more physical at the rim, go vertical and still challenge shots at the rim. That’s very important. Even though you have three or four fouls, you still have to give yourself up and protect the rim. We didn’t do a good job of that.”

Drummond has said that he wants to improve his overall rim protection and become a top-five shot blocker. That’ll be hard to do when he’s in saddled with fouls, but with a career average of 3.1 fouls per game, it’s a rarity that he’s even handcuffed by foul trouble.

Still, there’s a fine line between being passive and sticking with principles and contesting shots at the rim. That’s the next level to which Casey would like to push Drummond to improve on that end of the floor.

“That’s his next step, to learn how to play with fouls and not get the cheap fouls early and still play aggressive,” Casey said. “Those are the challenges he has as a young big man, to play early without fouling.”

Casey did point out Drummond’s ability to move and switch on the Nets’ guards, especially on one of the final sequences, when Caris LeVert penetrated and hesitated, leading to a turnover. In the late-game situation, Drummond could play more freely, with the game on the line and nothing to lose.

“He moved his feet and cut him off as well as our guards did all night,” Casey joked. “He has the ability to do that consistently and Blake (Griffin) has that ability.

“We don’t have the traditional 7-foot bigs who can’t move their feet or switch out or guard perimeter guys. That’s what we want to challenge Andre with.”

Johnson's return

Stanley Johnson returned to the lineup after missing the season opener because of a toe injury. There’s been a lot of focus on Johnson contributing more on the offensive end and improving on his 29-percent shooting from 3-point range last season.

Johnson is known for his defensive ability and Casey wants him to focus on his strengths while working on his other areas. That makes it a little easier to improve individual areas without having to worry about doing everything at a high level.

“He’s worked his butt off all summer; he’s worked on shooting and ball-handling. Maturity and growth are always important,” Casey said. “Like I told him, offense is one phase of the game that affects winning; you can affect it by rebounding, defense, passing and screening.

“There are so many other areas that Stanley can do it, other than shooting. The exhibition game against Cleveland, he had one of his most efficient games without shooting the ball.

“I don’t want to get caught up in Stanley having to be an efficient shooter to affect the game. Don’t get caught up in makes or misses.”

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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