Drummond sees weekend as way to raise profile

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — This year’s All-Star weekend isn’t Andre Drummond’s first rodeo.

In four seasons, Drummond has been invited to the Rising Stars Challenge twice, but played only in his second year.

Now, he’s hit the big time.

Drummond was selected to play in Sunday’s All-Star Game — his first — and has the added bonus of participating in the Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday night at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

“I’m excited,” Drummond said. “The (Slam) Dunk Contest, I have to prepare for that. ... It’s going to be a fun weekend.”

Drummond is the first Pistons All-Star selection since Allen Iverson in 2009. Drummond leads the NBA in rebounding (career-high 14.9) and adds a career-best 17 points. He’s the youngest All-Star this season at 22, and one of four first-timers (Kawhi Leonard, Spurs; Draymond Green, Warriors; Isaiah Thomas, Celtics).

With the exposure of the dunk contest, and being one of the up-and-coming standouts, it’s an opportunity for Drummond to burgeon his profile on a national stage and become a household name.

“It’s great for the franchise that we have somebody there, but it’s really a great experience for him,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “It’s something that as a kid, you watch and you dream about.

“Just being in the NBA is something pretty special but to be in the game and part of that weekend with all of the other great players, it’s really special.”

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Drummond has had his share of acclaim — he had a three-quarters court heave this week, the longest shot made in the NBA in nine seasons — and struggles — poor free-throw shooting, including an NBA-record 23 misses against the Rockets last month.

But he had an impressive stat to the season, with five games of 20-plus points and 20-plus rebounds, and has since compiled a league-leading 45 double-doubles.

But for Drummond, the next step is becoming a superstar, with consistent production and all-around game that would match the expected $120 million max contract he likely will sign after this season.

With six years between Pistons All-Star selections, there isn’t a lineage of excellence for Drummond to follow. But he could be getting some words of wisdom as he embarks on his weekend of fun.

Chauncey Billups — a five-time Pistons All-Star and captain of the 2004 championship team — is looking to become a mentor for Drummond.

“I’ll get some time to sit with him and share that with him,” said Billups, whose jersey was retired at The Palace on Wednesday. “It’s a responsibility. Go and have fun but understand what’s on your shoulders.

“That’s all we ever cared about and what was important to us. I will share that with him. It’s a big weekend and I’m excited for him and the organization.”

Since his rookie season, Drummond has steadily improved, building a reliable hook shot and a couple go-to post moves. But his anemic free-throw shooting continues to be a bugaboo — he’s shooting a league-worst 35 percent.

Those struggles have given rise to a popular strategy of intentionally fouling Drummond, which puts him on the free-throw line or forces Van Gundy to bench him in favor of backup Aron Baynes.

“My first year, I had to build a post game and now I’m getting fouled, so now I have to work on free throws, then move on from there,” Drummond said.

But all the negatives go out the window this All-Star weekend, which is more about fun and playing with some of the game’s greats such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

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All-Star Game

Tip-off: 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Air Canada Centre, Toronto

TV: TNT/WMGC

Outlook: The West has won five of the last seven meetings, including last year’s matchup, 163-158. ... Lakers G Kobe Bryant, a four-time All-Star MVP, is playing in his final All-Star Game.