Auburn Hills — Legendary Pistons coach Chuck Daly often sent a short but powerful message to budding superstar Dennis Rodman during the Bad Boys' reign of terror.
"Don't think," he'd bark to Rodman. "Don't think. Just play."
In time Rodman became one of the most instinctive players in the NBA. He ran the floor, was strong, could defend any position and scored off of offensive rebounds and broken plays. He won defensive player of the year honors and was one of the game's best rebounders.
Andre Drummond, the current Pistons prodigy, is similar.
Don't think Andre. Just play the game.
Daly vs. Van Gundy
Here is the problem: Daly is no longer the coach. Stan Van Gundy is, and he has a higher standard of expectations for Drummond. There is a system to run and Drummond is an important part of that. Drummond is 6-foot-11, strong as an ox and Van Gundy sometimes wants his back to the basket, ready to launch limited offensive moves.
Short term, that may not be the best game plan for Drummond. But Van Gundy wants more out of Drummond long term. At some point Drummond must be a threat to score big buckets in crunch time.
"I have never really said that (don't think) to anybody," Van Gundy said. "I don't know the answer to that. Obviously you want guys to play really hard and not be weighed down mentally, but at the same time concentration and thinking have to happen in this game."
Drummond is getting back to his old self after struggles with personal fouls and self-doubt while learning a new system. The Pistons are not running many plays for him. He also appears a bit more confident on the defensive end.
The results are eye-opening. He finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds against Milwaukee and followed that game with a 17-point, 10-rebound outing against the Los Angeles Clippers. Teammates are finding him in the lane and he is attacking the basket.
Drummond's mind appears clear.
Of course, that is not quite good enough because the Pistons (3-12) keep losing. Only the winless Philadelphia 76ers have a poorer record.
"I think the more you think the more you hurt the team," Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said with a hearty laugh. "You have to know the system and you want to play with your instincts. That is why you do things over and over. I don't think you can be a complete athlete and think at the same time. I think that is what Chuck is really saying. Once you get the system down and you are free you don't really think about it. You just kind of do it."
There are many challenges for Van Gundy and the Pistons. Drummond is young and has plenty of promise, but he must be the number two or three guy if the Pistons are serious about competing for titles again. Drummond is a role player, not a go-to guy.
"He does a good job," Van Gundy said. "But I am not the kind of guy who is going to say to anybody, 'Don't think too much.' There is thinking that has to go on. Hopefully guys get instinctive in what is going on."
Drummond has come a long way. He was one of the worst players in the league when he played youth basketball, once running the wrong way down the court. He remains raw but is developing.
"I prescribe to the theory that big men don't start playing until later," Rivers said. "There is a lot to learn. A lot of these guys are walking down the street and somebody says, 'You are big. You should play basketball.' I think that happens more than you think."
Drummond is still learning the game. And at some point he must think. However, that won't happen until he becomes more instinctive and spontaneous on the floor. We see signs of it, but there is still a way for him to go.
For now don't think, Andre. Just play.