The Monday Drive: Drummond isn’t going anywhere
Auburn Hills — While coach Stan Van Gundy dried off from an impromptu ice bath following the Pistons’ win over Washington on Friday, he had already decided to give his team the weekend off.
It was a welcome respite after a hard-fought win and the reward — two days off from practice — may not be realized until the playoffs.
Van Gundy said he went to the Tigers game at Comerica Park on Saturday, and it was the first day since the season started he didn’t do any basketball work. But he followed that up with a 10-hour day of film study Sunday in preparation for the final two games — against the Heat on Tuesday and at Cleveland on Wednesday.
After having some time to think about it, Van Gundy still was elated at the improvement in making the playoffs, but still wants to get more out of the final two games while preparing for the postseason opponent, Cleveland or Toronto.
The Monday Drive is loading up with some extra rations for the playoff trip, which starts on the weekend — with the destination still in question. Here are this week’s observations:
1. Not surprisingly, Andre Drummond is playing the best of his career. After finishing second in each of the past two years, Drummond will cap his first All-Star season with the rebounding title. He’s had more room with the departure of Greg Monroe, increasing his boards by 1.3 per game. His field-goal percentage inched up slightly, as have his field-goal attempts, field-goal percentage and scoring (16.3).
2. Drummond isn’t going anywhere. Whether it’s sulking on the bench or missing free throws, the thought that Drummond shouldn’t get a max contract in the summer is odd. He’s 22 and still growing into his game. He’ll get better — see his stats from last year to this season — but the alternatives for the Pistons aren’t there. What’s the next option? Fans have to be patient and revisit this in two more years.
3. Backup center Aron Baynes showed his worth again. In the fourth quarter Friday he was the perfect complement when Drummond had to go to the bench. He made his free throws, and Baynes consistently brings good defense. Fans might get down on his diminished production at times, but he more than makes up for it. He’s a backup center; he shouldn’t have the same numbers as a starter. The Pistons got a good one in that pickup last offseason.
4. Van Gundy won the trade market. He made two critical trades to improve the frontcourt, getting Marcus Morris in the summer — along with Reggie Bullock — for a 2020 second-round pick and sending the expiring contracts of Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova for three more years of Tobias Harris. It’s hard to figure out which was the bigger heist. Van Gundy has managed to get two starters and a key reserve for spare parts.
5. Credit Van Gundy and his coaching staff for their moves. Pulling the trigger on inserting Reggie Bullock in the lineup over Stanley Johnson was a tough call, but worked out in their favor. Bullock has responded almost every time he’s been called upon. Johnson likely will bounce back in the playoffs but the staff saw that he wasn’t producing and made a tough call.
6. Which is the more favorable first-round opponent? The Pistons aren’t saying, but on first blush LeBron James and the Cavaliers have a decided advantage in playoff experience. That would be a big stage for the Pistons in their first foray together in the postseason. The Raptors backcourt would be a difficult challenge, but the Pistons might have a decided advantage in the frontcourt.
7. Golden State is on a collision course with history. After outlasting the Spurs on Sunday night, the Warriors (72-9) have tied the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the most wins in a season in NBA history — and only the Grizzlies stand between them and win No. 73. It’s a remarkable feat, but as the Warriors have said, it means nothing if they don’t finish it out with another title, much like the 2007 New England Patriots.
8. The finish to the East race will be intriguing. The teams for the 1-2 and 7-8 positions are locked but spots 3 through 6 are within two games. The Hawks have the upper hand, but with two games left, there’s plenty more shuffling that can happen between them, the Celtics, Heat and Hornets. There’s plenty to play for in the last two, including home-court advantage in the first round.
9. The Pistons eliminated their competition last week. In beating the Bulls and Wizards, they moved past two of the more disappointing teams in the East this season — aside from Milwaukee. Chicago had playoff aspirations for most of the year, and the Wizards got hot but fizzled down the stretch. They’ll both make some tweaks in the offseason and come back as contenders again, but the Pistons made the jump this year.
10. The Pistons made another commitment to the community, with a second $75,000 donation to the Bing Youth Institute mentoring program. Owner Tom Gores and vice chairman Arn Tellum are making an impression on and off the court and Bing is spearheading the effort with 14 Detroit-area schools. One focus area is showing other sports careers and expanding the scope for students besides just being an athlete.