Amid foul troubles, Andre Drummond's slow start continues

Vincent Goodwill Jr.
The Detroit News
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Auburn Hills — The frustration continued for Andre Drummond in the infancy stages of the 2014-15 season, as he's just emerged from the embryonic stage of his NBA career.

Picking up two early fouls — as he has done in the first quarter of every game this season — resulted in the third-year center throwing a couple towels on his way to the bench Friday, which went nicely with his kicking of a chair in Wednesday's win against the New York Knicks in the second half.

"Five games in, I'm getting in foul trouble," Drummond said before the game. "I have to adjust to it, and figure new ways to do what I'm used to doing."

His effect has been more in numeric than application, but even his 10.8 points and 10.5 rebounds aren't meeting expectations thus far. The raw piece of clay that first-year Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy wants to mold into a dominant force hasn't picked up on the concepts, particularly on the defensive end, leading to indecision and slow reaction time.

"He's not as impactful defensively (right now) as he's going to be," Van Gundy said. "I honestly believe that. As he gets to know what we want, and not think about it as much, he can react and protect the basket."

Opponents shoot over the top of him with ease, which should be a risky proposition against someone with his hand speed, leaping ability and sheer size. He's averaging 1.6 blocks per game in 27.3 minutes, and isn't changing shots as much as Van Gundy would like — but then again, the Pistons coach is trying his best to be patient.

"I have to keep it in mind. I'm not very good at patience," he said. "I know patience is a virtue, but it isn't one of mine. My expectations are high and will remain very high. If you're getting aggressive fouls, you'll live with them. The ticky-tack fouls, he has to get rid of."

For all of the fuss about his improving offensive game, one that has fans salivating over the possibility of Drummond becoming a reliable 20-point scorer on the block, his biggest impact will be on the defensive end.

"It's not only unfair but not productive at all," said Van Gundy on the focus of Drummond's progression. "I don't care where you are at what age, you're trying to go from where you are to the next step."

Part of the next step is merely more nuanced coaching, from Maurice Cheeks' system that allowed Drummond to play rather than think — to Drummond's advantage, it should be noted. Van Gundy often throws new plays and sets at the team on game days, and has a tendency to switch coverages at halftime or midstream — a lot for a 21-year old to handle.

"Right now, he's half-a-step slow on a lot of plays and that's simply a learning curve," Van Gundy said. "It's gonna take some time, more than I'd like. Especially for Andre — a 21 year-old big guy, to expect we're not gonna have mistakes defensively, is unrealistic … but I just want to see more urgency."

In his first year, Drummond was an unknown commodity, a gem that fell to the Pistons in the ninth spot of the 2012 draft. It didn't take long before the clamor started to make him a starter — even if he wasn't ready.

Last year, a huge sum of the attention and expectations went to newcomers Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith — combined with the playoff edict issued from owner Tom Gores to everyone around. A thorough dissection of Drummond's game fell to the wayside.

Now, coming off a summer where he was on Team USA but didn't play much, the expectations are clear and higher, making his underwhelming start more noticeable.

"I think it's a little of both," Van Gundy said. "The expectation going up has bothered them a little bit. New system, especially for the younger guys. Andre has bad habits that need to be corrected. He can't be discouraged about it, he's just got to keep working."

Drummond is a willing learner, but perhaps it would be wise to step back and dial down the "franchise player" label until he masters night-to-night consistency.

Like a lot of young guys, he's up and down," Van Gundy said. "He came in yesterday and had his best practice of the year. He was upset about his game and the fouls, he came in and had a highly energetic practice. Those are steps forward and you gotta stay patient."

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