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Drummond stands his ground as old-school center

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Andre Drummond goes between the legs on a dunk in Saturday night's contest.

Toronto — In a game against the Chicago Bulls at The Palace last month, Pistons center Andre Drummond found himself in an unenviable position, guarding big man Pau Gasol.

At 7-feet, Gasol isn’t the run-of-the-mill NBA center, and he displayed an uncanny all-around game, showing his range from 16 feet and beyond, making six jump shots in the first quarter. Gasol finished with 31 points, made 13-of-18 field goals and added a 3-pointer.

It’s part of the changing face of the center position in the NBA, with more big men rounding out their games with basket-facing skill sets and shooting range, as well as some hints of traditional, back-to-the-basket post moves.

Nearly gone are the days of the plodding, dinosaur-like big men such as Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Moses Malone and their contemporaries.

Then there’s Drummond.

The 22-year-old prodigy has honed his game in his four years, and has achieved a significant milestone in reaching his first All-Star Game on Sunday, with some of the top big men of this era.

“The game is changing and guys are starting to work on their game and becoming shooters,” Drummond said. “I’ve got other things to work on before I start to worry about that.”

Around the league, Drummond is viewed as something of a throwback to the old-school big men, with some thinking that he could become the new gold standard for the league’s traditional centers.

“He’s comfortable in his own skin; he knows what his strengths are and he doesn’t try to do things that are outside his game,” West coach Gregg Popovich said. “He knows where he’s most effective, down on the block, and he does it time after time, game after game, night after night. That’s who he is and what he does.”

West All-Stars DeMarcus Cousins and LaMarcus Aldridge along with East Stars Al Horford and Chris Bosh are examples of the new faces of the new, hybrid big men, who can hit an open mid-range jumper, drive to the rim with power and control, or finish in the paint, with precision.

This season, Drummond is averaging career highs of 17 points and a league-leading 14.9 rebounds and is something of an odd throwback to the old-school big man, which most teams in the league are moving away from, opting for speed and versatility.

Early in his career, Drummond was raw and didn’t have a particular strength to his game. But he has slowly built his game each offseason, almost forming a skills checklist and ticking off each summer, adding to his repertoire.

“Who knows what he’s going to do in the summertime as time goes on,” Popovich said. “His game will expand but I don’t think he’ll ever forget about what he does best — and that’s (working) around the block and the elbow area.

“As time goes by, he’ll add to it and it’ll be fun to see what he does add.”

Drummond has added a reliable hook shot and some power moves around the basket to his package, and excels on lobs for easy dunks off pick-and-roll plays.

His flashy game has drawn attention around the league, and in his breakout season, even his contemporaries are taking notice.

“He’s a freak of nature; he’s mobile, he can guard and he’s very athletic — and that’s what you need,” Bosh said. “The slower big man is easing out a little bit and if you’re slower, that outside touch is very important. A guy like him, his athleticism helps him survive.

“He’s only 22? (The way he plays) I thought he was 32.”

But with his youth and relative inexperience in the league, he still has much more — and plenty more time — to work on things and build a stronger repertoire.

So far, Drummond is at the head of the line, among some of the rising stars in the game, including Timberwolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns and Sixers rookie Jahlil Okafor as the changing (back) of the old guard.

Drummond, though, has all eyes on him during All-Star weekend.

“Andre Drummond is so gifted; he doesn’t need to be away from the rim. He can dominate in the paint area, he finishes really well and is a great rebounder,” Horford said. “He’s very athletic and the thing about him is he’s still developing as a player.

“He’s just 22 and that’s crazy. He’s just going to get better and it’s going to be scary; he’s going to get a lot better.”

With a weekend to be around and observe some of the better and more versatile bigs in the game, Drummond has an opportunity to make a mark in the All-Star Game, but it won’t all have to come at once.

“Luckily there are still some guys who are still centers and interior players; I hope that doesn’t completely disappear because it’s an important part of the game and it gives you balance,” Gasol said. “I’m glad there are certain players like that and they put up big numbers because there isn’t a lot of opposition out there at his position.”