Pistons’ Drummond finds new gear in 4th season
Los Angeles — When Lakers star Kobe Bryant was asked about Pistons center Andre Drummond, he interrupted before the question was even done.
“How many rebounds did he finish with?”
When told Drummond had 17, Bryant smiled, shook his head and replied, “That’s ridiculous.”
Drummond’s 17 points and 17 rebounds Sunday night actually lowered his season averages, a testament to how dominant he’s been through the Pistons’ first 10 games.
“He’s just taking his game to a whole new stratosphere,” Bryant said. “It’s amazing — you feel like you’re doing a good job on him and he had 17 rebounds.”
Drummond is on an early assault of the record books, posting video game-like numbers. In three games this season he has had at least 20 points and 20 rebounds, joining Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to achieve the feat.
He’s the first Piston with 10 double-doubles to open a season since Dave DeBusschere had 13 in 1966-67, and he’s the first in the NBA to post 150 points and 150 rebounds through the first eight games since Abdul-Jabbar had 224 points and 154 rebounds in 1975-76.
Drummond earned back-to-back honors as Eastern Conference player of the week — a first for a Pistons player.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy is quick to point out that it’s still early in the season. But the numbers, when measured against some of the game’s all-time greats, tell a story about how dominant Drummond has been.
“It’s a small sample size, but statistical comparisons are statistical comparisons — so obviously they’re true, but there’s a long way to go,” Van Gundy said. “The biggest challenge for Andre is consistency.”
Over his first three seasons, Drummond averaged 12.1 points and 11.3 rebounds. This season he’s often reaching those numbers in the first half. Through 10 games, Drummond is averaging career highs in points (18.5) and a league-leading 19 rebounds.
With an added offensive component to his game — a reliable hook with the left or right hand — he’s becoming a headache for opposing coaches to scout, and for players to try to defend.
“He’s a monster right now,” Golden State Warriors interim coach Luke Walton said. “In watching the game tape, he’s been owning the paint against pretty much everyone he’s playing against.”
Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins is regarded as the best center in the league — and showed it, with 33 points and nine rebounds in a win over the Pistons on Wednesday — but Drummond is narrowing the gap.
Against Cousins, Drummond shot 7-of-13 from the field and finished with 14 points and 17 rebounds, drawing praise from Cousins.
“Andre is full of potential; he’s having an amazing year,” Cousins said. “He’s leading his team and performing at a high level. The kid is full of potential and he’s definitely one of the best bigs in this league.”
‘I hate losing’
That’s high praise for Drummond, who is in his fourth season in the league, after spending one year in college at Connecticut. At 6-foot-11, 280 pounds, he’s a physical presence, but is still growing — both on and off the court.
It’s the dichotomy of being just 22 years old — still with braces — and being tabbed as one of the leaders of a team that hasn’t had success since the days of its last All-Star center, Ben Wallace.
Drummond made a concerted effort in the offseason to improve his all-around game, getting in better shape and honing his diet for an increased workload with the departure of Greg Monroe, clearing up the middle.
As Drummond improves on the technical aspects of the game, he’s looming larger as one of the game’s best dual threats.
“He’s amazing. I just watch him. Stan has done an amazing job with him,” said Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who played 14 years in the NBA. “You can see he understands body position. He’s always been big; he’s always athletic. Now you can see him getting angles for rebounds with his body — and you know that’s been taught.”
More than the on-court improvement, Drummond has taken on the role of leader off the court as well, as the longest-tenured Pistons player.
At media day in September, Drummond eschewed the usual clichés and voiced the frustration he’s harbored for the early part of his career.
“I hate losing — I can’t stand it; it’s the worst feeling. People laughing at our team — that’s not a good feeling,” Drummond said. “I want to rub it in somebody’s face that we’re a great team.”
It was a bold pronouncement, but Drummond and the Pistons have backed it up on the court with a start that has been better than expected since six of Detroit’s 10 games were on a grueling western trip.
Drummond is set to be a cornerstone of the franchise — he’ll likely sign a five-year, $120-million contract extension in the offseason, when his rookie deal expires — and be a fixture alongside point guard Reggie Jackson, who signed his own long-term deal last summer.
While Jackson is usually the one in control with the ball in his hands, Drummond has taken the reins as the team’s new voice.
“I’ve worked for this spot for the past four years and it’s my time to lead this team,” Drummond said.
Building around their young stars is the plan for Van Gundy and owner Tom Gores, who was at Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center. Gores has built a strong relationship with Drummond and is keeping an eye on his progress.
“He’s developing incredibly and I’m not surprised. We knew it from the first time he got on the floor,” Gores said. “He worked so hard this summer to develop some other skills and right now it’s showing on the floor and his character is reflecting on the team.
“You can talk about it, but then you have to do it. Andre’s doing it and he’s also developing great chemistry among all the players. You can say it or you can do it.”
Drummond’s ascendance is no surprise to Van Gundy, who is in his second season in a dual role as president and coach. He’s been down this road before, coaching Dwight Howard with the Orlando Magic from 2007-10, providing a template for the current Pistons team, with a dominant center surrounded by shooters.
Howard led those Magic teams to the NBA Finals in 2008-09 and to the conference finals in 2009-10. Van Gundy hopes to have the same success with Drummond and saw the potential before he arrived in Detroit.
“I thought he was a guy with great athletic ability and a very good rebounder who had a long way to go offensively and was very up and down at that point,” Van Gundy said. “He was just turning 21 when I came so it wasn’t that surprising.
“But he was a very inconsistent guy. You’d see games on film where you’d say, ‘Wow!’ but then you’d have other games where you’d say, ‘Where is he?’ ”
That’s one of the focus areas for Drummond and assistant coach Malik Allen — maintaining that level of play from game to game. Although he likely won’t continue the numbers at the level of Chamberlain or Abdul-Jabbar, he could break through to become an All-Star for the first time in his career.
But Drummond has downplayed his individual accolades, shifting the focus to team success, which he feels is a true measure of his contributions. There’s still plenty of room for growth, both on and off the court, and at just 22, Drummond might be just showing glimpses of his true potential.
“He’s just a baby in this league but that’s what makes everything so exciting,” said Pistons reserve center Joel Anthony, who started his nine-year career with Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning with the Miami Heat. “He’s so young and looking at him, you see everything he’s doing, and when he’s 25 or 26, he’ll figure it out. He’s just scratching the surface.”
Drummond doubling up
Andre Drummond has finished with a double-double in each of the first 10 games:
Oct. 27 at Atlanta: 18 points, 19 rebounds
Oct. 28 vs Utah: 18, 10
Oct. 30 vs Chicago: 20, 20
Nov. 3 vs Indiana: 25, 29
Nov. 6 at Phoenix: 12, 17
Nov. 8 at Portland: 29, 27
Nov. 9: at Golden State: 14, 15
Nov. 11: at Sacramento: 14, 17
Nov. 14: at L.A. Clippers: 18, 19
Nov. 15 at L.A. Lakers: 17, 17