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Pistons preview: Center will be strong point

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

First in a series examining the Pistons roster. Today: Centers

After a busy summer in free agency, the Pistons are looking to build on a 44-win season and get back to the playoffs.

They begin training camp Monday and exhibitions start in two weeks, with only a few remaining questions about specific roster spots.

Center is not one of them, as Andre Drummond is the man in the middle for the Pistons. Here’s a look at all the players in the mix.

■ Andre Drummond, 23, 6-11/280, fifth season

Statistics: 16.2 points, 14.8 rebounds, 1.4 blocks

Most of the attention is squarely on his free-throw shooting — 36 percent last season. Despite that, he led the NBA in rebounding and had 66 double-doubles in becoming one of the top centers in the league. Those factors made the decision to sign him to a max deal of 5 years, $125 million a mere formality.

Drummond also had a career high in steals (1.5) last season, but a career low (1.4) in blocks. He is working on becoming a true rim protector, which is more an instinct than a learned behavior. The bottom line is he’s just 23 and already among the league’s best true centers. He’s added reliable post moves and now that he has contract security, he can focus on continuing to improve his game.

■ Aron Baynes, 29, 6-10/260, fifth season

Statistics: 6.3 points, 4.7 rebounds

In his first season with the Pistons, Baynes had some injury issues during camp, but bounced back and had a solid year backing up Drummond. His shooting percentage dropped six points (51 percent), but he proved durable, missing one game. Baynes struggled with his shot for stretches, but was most valuable late when Drummond had to be pulled because of his free-throw shooting. Baynes shot 76 percent on free throws.

His perimeter game has made Baynes a valuable addition to the reserves — he can pull defending big men away from the rim, opening the lane for slashers, or he can be paired with Stanley Johnson for an effective pick-and-roll.

Baynes signed a three-year, $20 million contract before last season, with a player option. With ballooning salaries, Baynes is likely to opt out after this season for a bigger payday elsewhere. The Pistons prepared for this eventuality, signing Boban Marjanovic.

■ Boban Marjanovic, 28, 7-3/290, second season

Statistics: 5.5 points, 3.6 rebounds

The Pistons were able to poach Marjanovich from the Spurs, who couldn’t match the offer of $21 million over three years. It was a shrewd move since Baynes likely will opt out after this season.

Marjanovic’s numbers may seem pedestrian at first glance, but his averages balloon to 21 points and 13.7 rebounds per 36 minutes. Translation: he’s effective in small spurts, which likely will be his role as the third center. He has the potential to be a good defender with good lateral movement, but he’s not a prototypical shot blocker.

He also has a good jump shot for a center — he took 83 percent of his shots within 10 feet, converting 60 percent.

Outlook

Drummond could be in store for another breakout season, with some improvements in key areas. He’s developed a chemistry with point guard Reggie Jackson on the pick-and-roll and become a better offensive player. But none of that will matter if he can’t hit free throws or play late in key games.

Baynes is a solid backup, and judging by his production for Australia in the Olympics, he’s due for a better year.

It’s unclear whether Marjanovic might play a bigger role as the season progresses, but the conventional wisdom is that this will be an orientation season for him and only will play sparingly.

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com: @RodBeard