Detroit News' Rod Beard on team's come-from-behind win over defending NBA champions.
Los Angeles — In Saturday’s matchup against the Pistons, Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan was in a quandary: stay with Andre Drummond or flash out to help defend Reggie Jackson.
The dilemma is nothing new, as Jackson and Drummond have teamed to form one of the best pick-and-roll combinations in the league over the past couple years. What is new is a subtle wrinkle in which Drummond can work out of that same action and dribble to the rim for a high-percentage shot.
Coach Stan Van Gundy calls Drummond’s new role a “hub,” through which the Pistons operate more this season. Along with the regular screen-and-roll, Drummond is doing more to keep defenses guessing. It was on full display in the two improbable wins, over the previously unbeaten Los Angeles Clippers and at the defending-champion Golden State Warriors.
“He’s just a physical force and when he rolls to the rim, it’s really hard to stop that,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Whether he’s catching a lob or catching a ball in the middle of the paint, he’s really strong and powerful, so you have to commit a lot of attention to him — and that opens up the whole floor.”
With Drummond as the new hub, Jackson is playing less of a role as well, with more motion to get Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley more looks.
So far, it’s working, as the Pistons have started 5-2, with two signature road wins to reflect on.
For Drummond, it means fewer shots for himself and more usage as a creator in the new offense. He’s bought in, but it took some concessions to give up some of the traditional role for team success.
“It’s more of a maturity thing. Most guys probably would not like that very much, to step back from what you’re doing,” Drummond told The Detroit News on Monday. “Obviously, I was taking quite a few shots, and to sacrifice that to get my team’s offense going and the movement around us is something I really take pride in now.
“I take pride in trying to get 5-7 assists a game and it’s a lot more fun for me to run around and get my guys going.”
It’s already paying off, with 15 points and 17 rebounds against the Clippers — in what Van Gundy called one of Drummond’s best games since Van Gundy arrived. Drummond followed with another impressive stat line against the Warriors: eight points, 18 rebounds, five assists and five steals.
The transformation wasn’t easy for Drummond, who ran significantly more pick-and-rolls with Jackson in the previous two seasons. The new niche requires more versatility and focus from Drummond — and the mistakes are going to come with the ramped-up learning curve, but Van Gundy is willing to accept that.
“What we’re getting out of him in terms of what he’s doing to help our offense and an increased defensive effort on the boards has certainly been more important than the facts that he’s had more turnovers.”
The early-season numbers bear it out: Drummond has been more effective in his new versatile role. He’s posting a career bests of 2.6 assists and 2.3 steals — along with 2.7 turnovers — but he’s more engaged on both ends of the floor.
His improved game comes with an acknowledged step forward in maturity from himself and his teammates. With the disappointing 37-45 finish last season, he learned a lot about himself and realized that some things needed to change if they were hoping to get back to the playoffs and turn things around.
And it started with him looking within to change his play on the court.
“It was just an acceptance and trying something new. We tried the other way, shooting the ball in the paint and this is something new to see if it works,” Drummond said. “If it didn’t work, we wouldn’t go back to it. Since it’s working, it’s something I’ve found a love for, which is trying to get my teammates open.
“(The change) is overall — my entire summer was so much fun, working on the mental aspect rather than physically trying to get after it. I took the time to mentally figure out what I needed to do to be the best basketball player I could be for my team.”
One of the most important changes is in Drummond’s free throws this season. With a revamped approach, he’s shooting 70 percent (14-of-20) after going 16-of-20 in the preseason. It’s yet another surprising start to the season, where the Pistons have looked to be one of the teams to watch, if they can keep up the pace.
As the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have had some early losses, the Pistons aren’t viewed as a serious contender yet, but Drummond doesn’t mind if fans and pundits sleep on their transformation.
“It’s tricky because it puts a bullseye on our back. We’re just going to play as hard as we can each and every night; we’re not looking for attention or people to (fawn over us) because we’re playing well,” he said. “We’re looking to win basketball games and we’re going to do it in our style, which is to play hard and get up into people.”
It’s still a small sample size to make snap judgments about where the new philosophy will take the Pistons, but the early production looks good — and Drummond can lead the way.
PISTONS AT LAKERS
Tipoff: 10:30 Tuesday, Staples Center, Los Angeles
TV/radio: FSD, NBA/950
Outlook: The Pistons (5-2) have the best record in the Eastern Conference and look to get an improbable three-game sweep in their western trip. They’ll get their first look at former teammate Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and rookie Lonzo Ball.