Beard: ‘Different’ Drummond a force in Pistons' rise
Boston — Stan Van Gundy’s phone isn’t ringing as much as it did last season around the trade deadline, or even in the summer, when he at least entertained offers.
At that time, teams wanting to trade for Andre Drummond could at least get Van Gundy’s ear to see if the offer was even worth considering. Van Gundy could afford to at least listen when Drummond wasn’t playing well and the Pistons were hurtling toward missing the playoffs again.
Van Gundy wanted more from Drummond.
And now, he’s getting it — as evidenced in Drummond’s monster stat line in Monday’s win over the Boston Celtics: 26 points, 22 rebounds, six assists and four steals.
“Andre and I talked this summer and he knew what my issues with him were. He’s a different player right now,” Van Gundy told The Detroit News. “It’s on him — he’s the one who went to work on his free-throw shooting and got the job done.
“He’s the one who’s playing harder on a nightly basis; he’s the one who’s showing a maturity. He’s been terrific. He’s gotten a lot better, and I have a lot of respect for that.”
Drummond went into a crucible this summer, honing the weak parts of his game. There were the well-documented free-throw woes. There’s the question of his effort. Then, there were the issues about his maturity and defensive presence, especially with a max contract.
He answered them all — and he’s done it for most of the season, posting 14.4 points, 15.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists, adding 62 percent from the free-throw line. There’s a newfound consistency about his game, with only rare lulls, but more of a commitment to being a presence on a night-to night basis.
It’s a new place for Drummond. But Van Gundy appreciates the road it took to get there. It wasn’t some mandate that Drummond had to shape up or get shipped out; rather, it was Drummond figuring everything out on his own and deciding to do something about it.
Young players have their career epiphanies at different times — Drummond’s seems to have come at age 24, in his sixth season.
“There were never any doubts about his ability and he’s always been a good guy; the concern was whether he was going to play hard on a nightly basis,” Van Gundy told The News. “That was the question in my mind — and so far this year, it’s been a lot better.”
In 19 games, it’s a welcome development; the next test will be whether Drummond can maintain it for longer stretches.
Drummond’s increased confidence — especially at the free-throw line — has brought more swag with it. In the closing minutes, Drummond shushed the sellout crowd at TD Garden after he made the free throws to help keep the Celtics at bay.
He was partly fueled by playing near Connecticut, where he grew up. And doing it in front of friends and families provided some of the incentive he needed. Add in playing the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference, and Drummond had enough to bring out his best.
“They’ll remember it. It’s one of those memorable games; we came in and beat the No. 1 team and I had a lot of points and a hometown kid from this area having the night I did was something they’ll have to remember,” Drummond said. “It’s the (only) time we play here, so it’s something they’ll have to deal with that one for the rest of the year.”
Drummond will have more challenges in the coming weeks. The Pistons play at Philadelphia — with what’s sure to be a much-hyped matchup against Joel Embiid — on Saturday. They’ll see the Celtics again on Dec. 10 at Little Caesars Arena.
It’ll an every-night gut check for Drummond, who will have to answer the call — if he’s dishing out the talk, he’ll have to back it up.
That’s what Pistons fans and Van Gundy wanted to see.
That’s what the other teams in the league didn’t want to see: Drummond reaching his true potential. He’s still not there yet, but he’s no longer in trade talks, either.