As Pistons center Andre Drummond prepares for his sixth year in the NBA, he’s taking a different approach in one of the most unique offseasons of his career.
Drummond, who turns 24 next week, will participate in Saturday’s NBA Africa Game at the Ticketpro Dome in Johannesburg, South Africa, playing for the World Team against Team Africa, comprised of first- and second-generation African-born players.
It’s the first NBA-level game for Drummond since having sinus surgery just after the season and finishing what was regarded as a step back, with 13.6 points and 13.8 rebounds. But coming off an All-Star season in 2016, it’s a regression, which Drummond is looking to turn around.
Much of the Pistons’ inconsistency — finishing 37-45 and missing the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons — can be traced to Reggie Jackson’s knee tendinitis, which caused him to miss the first 21 games and the final nine, and pushed Ish Smith into a bigger role.
“It was a roller-coaster ride for me and an inconsistent year for us as an organization. We were really hot and cold, and dealing with Reggie being injured was tough to get adjusted to Ish right away,” Drummond said Thursday on a conference call.
“My play wasn’t where it was supposed to be and I take responsibility for that as well; I wasn’t playing up to my potential — and I can’t allow that to happen again.”
Drummond remains the longest-tenured Pistons player and the last man standing since team president Stan Van Gundy took over three years ago. Last season’s production drew some ire, but also pragmatic optimism about how Drummond can shake off some of his bugaboos and continue to improve and help the team.
“With him, it’s having a better motor, to come every night with tremendous energy, getting up and down the floor, defending at a higher level on a consistent basis,” Van Gundy said last month.
Jackson is back near 100 percent with a reduced summer workout schedule and Drummond says he’s breathing better since having the surgery. He said he’s been medically cleared for about a month and showcased some of his game at the Drew League pro-am tournament in California, with a flurry of mid-range shots, dunks and drives to the basket.
Drummond vowed to continue that style of play and to be more versatile on the court.
“I’m not going to play with a filter anymore; I’m going to play the game I need to play to be a great player for my team,” Drummond said. “I feel like I’m in great shape and I can actually breathe. I don’t get tired as easily and I’m sleeping better. Everything has been a plus since I got that surgery.”
Without Jackson, Drummond had to play a different halfcourt game, in which he hit just 53 percent on field goals, but attempted and made the fewest field goals total since his second year. He admitted that some of the trade rumors midway through the season affected him — and the trade talk persisted through the summer, but he’s looking to push forward and help the Pistons get back to the playoffs.
“I never had to deal with that before; it was tough for my family and me to hear those rumors. Guys who make that much money and not having the year they’re supposed to have, those talks are going to happen. I’ve accepted that,” Drummond said. “They were looking for a better option. They still have faith in me and believe that I can still carry this team to where we need to get, so I have to get that done.”
Africa trip a dream
After spending eight days in South Africa, Drummond said he has gained a greater appreciation for his life. Though it’s a business trip, he’s gotten to do some tours and help out in some basketball camps, helping spread the game of basketball.
The other benefit is sharing the experience with his mother, Christine Cameron, who accompanied him on the trip.
“She’s loving every minute of it. We both had dreams when I was younger to make it to Africa one day, even if it was just a visit,” Drummond said. “To come for this reason, to give back and help somebody else out, was a step above what we were expecting. We’re both excited to be here.”
Getting that perspective has been one of the most valuable benefits of the trip for Drummond, who had never been to Africa. The full package is something that he won’t soon forget.
“The experience outweighs the basketball part. The stuff I saw today building houses and driving down dirt roads and seeing the way these people live and the houses they’re in and having no food crushed me,” Drummond said. “It was a very emotional day for me. It got to the point where a little kid walked past me eating a branch and it was hard for me to see. I went out of my way and gave every supply we had – food, drinks, bananas — I gave it all away to them.
“Stuff that we take (for granted) and don’t really appreciate means the world to them. To see that today was huge for me.”
NBA Africa Game 2017
Tip-off: 11 a.m. Saturday, Ticketpro Dome, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Outlook: Team Africa consists of NBA players who are of first- or second-generation African descent, including Joel Embiid (injured), Serge Ibaka, Victor Oladipo, Dennis Schroder and Emmanuel Mudiay. The World Team includes Dirk Nowitzki, Kemba Walker, DeMarcus Cousins, Kyle Lowry and Drummond.