Pistons' Drummond seeks game on offense

Vincent Goodwill Jr.
The Detroit News

Washington — His massive hands covered the side of his face, but the disappointment on Andre Drummond's face couldn't be hidden after yet another underwhelming outing, following the Pistons' loss to the Wizards Wednesday.

The 21-year old sat at his locker, long after his teammates departed for the bus, headed to Oklahoma City for another shot at reversing a season-long trend of empty finishes, forced to answer the same questions as to why they couldn't get it done.

His teammate Josh Smith called it "a funk," certainly illustrated by seeing Drummond walk to the bench after being in foul trouble yet again, not interested in extending his hands to teammates who've seen his slumping shoulders and drooping eyes drift away from the floor and toward them on the bench.

Drummond sits at the intersection of the pact made from Stan Van Gundy and owner Tom Gores upon Van Gundy taking over the huge responsibility of this franchise, the words seeming to linger in the background, every time Drummond touches the ball with his back to the basket: "Be competitive now, while not sacrificing the future."

Van Gundy made it clear from the start of September featuring Drummond offensively was a point of emphasis, and with the experiment failing spectacularly so far, he doubled down with the edict, claiming it would be a "major mistake" to change course.

"I don't want to run less through him," Van Gundy said after Wednesday's shootaround, before Drummond again looked lost and out of place several hours later. "Going away from him would be a major mistake for a 21-year old guy."

But isn't it a major mistake to keep highlighting the worst part of someone's game, displaying attributes that are clearly in the infant stage while neglecting the things a player does best?

"Everybody has their shaky moments, it's an 82-game season," Drummond said in a low tone.

"I don't know when I'm getting in (in the fourth quarters), so I have to continue to stay ready."

There's been times where he's been open and teammates have missed him in front of the rim, and the player he connected most with (Will Bynum) was sent packing a month ago.

"I'm gonna keep giving you the same answer," he said, after being asked what his frustration level is when he's open at the rim but doesn't get the ball.

He then flashed an exasperated smile, and it's hard to remember when he last did that on the floor.

Hard to express joy when you're shooting 20 percentage points below your career average, and putting up just 8.6 points and 10.9 rebounds when everyone expected you to take The Leap this year.

Defensively, he's late to help — and that's with the presumption he shows up at all, often a spectator when his mere presence should make him feared by opposing players, not attacked.

"I don't know," Van Gundy said after the game when asked about Drummond's struggles.

Drummond didn't have great success at Connecticut, going through an up-and-down year that it made him a question mark headed into the draft — one that about seven execs are kicking themselves over, it should be said.

But with every airball the Pistons seem to be chipping away at his confidence, at his joy and exuberance, the very thing that makes him special, the very thing that has so many excited at the possibilities.

But what could come isn't what we're seeing right now, nor should it be demanded of him yet.

The day after he was drafted, Joe Dumars said words that now look to be prophetic: "We're gonna bring him along slowly."

With Gores' ambitious words in mind, can the Pistons say they're in the early stages of a playoff season or even a step closer to finding out if their big man is a centerpiece — or just a piece?

Pistons at Thunder

Tip-off: 8 tonight, Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City

TV/radio: FSD+/WMGC

Outlook: The Pistons have lost three in a row, but they will face a Thunder team missing its two biggest stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.