Niyo: Pistons' Drummond famished for success

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Six weeks past his 22nd birthday, Andre Drummond is the second-youngest player on one of the NBA's youngest rosters. And yet, the Pistons center is also his team's longest-tenured player — by a long shot.

So on the eve of his fourth training camp with the Pistons — a day that's typically filled with optimistic talk and often-wishful thinking — Drummond's words probably carried the most weight.

"I've seen a lot," he said. "I've seen good, bad, ugly. I've seen it all."

And while he covered a variety of subjects Monday at Pistons media day, talking about the fans and his future, about his owner and taking ownership of this team, there was a noticeable edge to him.

Things are going to be different, everyone insists, now that Stan Van Gundy has reshaped this roster in his vision, adding talent and toughness with a flurry of moves.

But we've heard that before, and so has Drummond.

"I feel like now is the time for us to really do what we set out to do every year," said Drummond, who has been a part of three consecutive 50-loss teams since entering the league as a first-round lottery pick in 2012. "We say we're gonna do one thing, and then one thing leads to another and we don't do it. But I feel like now, this is our time. We're on the rise, and we're gonna do it."

Overhauled roster give Pistons reason for optimism

Do what, exactly? Drummond wasn't making any brash predictions. Nothing about the playoffs or All-Star appearances or any of that. The closest he got was when someone asked him if he'd lead the league in rebounding this season. Drummond smiled and answered, "Maybe."

As for the rest?

"It's just words until you do it," Drummond said. "I hate losing. I can't stand it. It's the worst feeling. People laughing at our team, that's not a good feeling. I want to rub it in somebody's face that we're a great team."

To get there, he knows he'll have to become a great player. And it's obvious, in listening to his coach and his teammates the past few months, Drummond is more determined than ever to do just that.

"I think Andre's in a good place," Van Gundy said. "He has put in more time this offseason than I think he ever has before. He's been committed to what's going on."

No offseason for center

And if that wasn't always the case his first few years in the league, despite what he and others said, it sure sounds like it's more than lip service now. Drummond has been going hard with his workouts since May, first in Connecticut, where he's still finishing up his degree, and then California, where he trained with a variety of NBA stars such as Joakim Noah and Al Jefferson.

"I haven't really taken any days off since the season ended," said Drummond, who brought rookie teammate Stanley Johnson with him to Santa Barbara this summer.

Drummond also was one of the dozen or so Pistons who took part in a weeklong mixed martial arts boot camp with UFC fighters in Las Vegas this month. And since returning to Detroit, he has been busy with the team's new shooting coach, Dave Hopla.

Hopla's a well-respected guru who has worked with several NBA teams the last decade, and someone Drummond has known since his childhood. ("He's been teaching me to shoot since I was a kid," he says.)

Now they're working twice daily in sessions to improve Drummond's free throw shooting. He shot 38.9 percent from the free-throw line last season, and until he gets that figure above 50 percent, he'll be a target for intentional fouls and a fourth-quarter liability.

"It's just repetition," Drummond said, "and having faith and confidence in myself."

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Drummond says he's not worried about his looming contract extension, though that, too, may require a small leap of faith on his part. The Pistons have been open about their desire to reward him with a max deal — five years and $120 million, give or take — but the timing is tricky. By holding off until next year, the team improves its salary-cap flexibility next summer.

Bonding with Jackson

The young center's close relationship with owner Tom Gores could play a role, just as it surely has in the past. Drummond says he's in "constant communication" with Gores, "just about things that I see on the team, things that I feel should be changed."

Likewise, the bond with point guard Reggie Jackson is already to the point the latter has taken to calling Drummond's bachelor pad "my second house," Jackson laughs, "even though it's his."

Together, they seem like an ideal fit on the court, potentially one of the NBA's best pick-and-roll tandems. After the trade Van Gundy made to acquire Jackson last February, Drummond averaged 16.1 points, 14.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks the final 28 games.

Yet, while the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Drummond spent the offseason trying to develop his offensive game, "where we need him to really take a step this year is at the defensive end of the floor," Van Gundy said.

"He's already one of the elite rebounders in the league — very capable of being the best rebounder in the league," Van Gundy added. "But he's got to improve and be more consistent. If he does that, if he brings great energy and intensity on a nightly basis, he's one of the rare guys in this league that can dominate the game regardless of what happens on the offensive end of the floor."

Of course, those are just words, as Drummond is quick to point out. Until he does it.