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Pistons 'expect more' of Drummond after bumpy season

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
No player was affected more by Reggie Jackson's injury than pick-and-roll partner Andre Drummond.

Last summer, the Pistons signed center Andre Drummond to a max contract, making him the highest-paid player in franchise history.

After his All-Star season, all was supposed to be well and the Pistons were supposed to be headed back to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2008-09.

A funny thing happened on the way back to the postseason.

After Reggie Jackson’s knee tendinitis provided an inauspicious start to the season, the Pistons struggled — maybe the one most affected was Drummond, Jackson’s pick-and-roll partner.

By the eye test, Drummond looked to have a down season last year, when he averaged 13.6 points and 13.8 rebounds.

“He went from a guy on a rookie contract where those numbers looked good, to being a guy on a max contract where we expect more and they’re not good,” Pistons president-coach Stan Van Gundy said this week on “The Mike Valenti Show” on WXYT.

“Around him, things weren’t the same. He and Reggie Jackson were one of the best pick-and-roll combinations, by the numbers, in the NBA and Reggie was hurt and missed 30 games and was not nearly himself — and that hurt him.”

But without Jackson for 30 games this season, Drummond’s game didn’t have the same flow, as he ran fewer pick-and-roll plays with Ish Smith. With increased expectations, many fans and pundits viewed Drummond as a possible trade target in the offseason.

According to CBSSports.com’s Matt Moore, Drummond is No. 12 on his list of most-wanted summer targets via trade, free agency or the draft.

“Drummond is a surprise on this list on two levels: Being on it at all as being trade targeted, and being this low. Two years ago, he looked like a top-five center but this past season, he's slid big time,” Moore wrote.

“But if he is available, he's still a freak of nature who can rebound and dunk on pick and rolls, and whose defensive upside is yet to be tapped. If he gets there on that end, he would be dominant.

“That said, he’s also a guy who completely vanishes for games, and even weeks at a time, and it no longer seems just like youthful inconsistency but an actual flaw in competitive focus.”

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In his five seasons, Drummond has been a work in progress, but had his best season in 2015-16, when he earned an All-Star selection and became one of the best young centers in the league, just behind DeMarcus Cousins.

As he’s progressed, though, he’s also left fans wanting more. As Van Gundy is quick to point out, Drummond is only 23 and still is learning the NBA game.

“Andre’s got a lot to learn and he’s got to be better — there’s no question,” Van Gundy said. “And he would tell you that, but it’s not quite the situation that people have painted it to be.”

Much of the Pistons’ roster construction is built around Drummond and Jackson as a combination. If Drummond doesn’t work out in the long term, it could set the Pistons’ long-term franchise progression plan back as well.

The offseason presents an opportunity to reshape the roster, but without flexibility in the salary cap, the Pistons will have to focus more on the trade market and make do with their No. 12 draft pick.

“I don’t think we need to do any changes; we’re perfectly fine where we are the team we have is fantastic,” Drummond said recently. “We had a lot of bumps in the road last season with different things going on and it took everybody out of sync."

Van Gundy said that the relationship with Drummond still is good and though they’ve been through three years of some ups and downs, there’s still plenty of room for them to move forward in a positive direction.

Van Gundy is optimistic about where Drummond’s game can go, well beyond the free-throw problems and focus issues.

“The area where he could make the biggest jump — and do it fairly quickly — is to be a much more consistent defender,” Van Gundy said. “He’s got the capability with quick feet and good intelligence. He could make those adjustments and be a better defender if he would lock in every night. That’s an area we’ve got to get him to do a better job in.”

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard