Miami — A quick glance at the stats doesn’t do Andre Drummond’s season any justice. It might be hard to notice because the improvement has come in just statistics, as some are wont to do.
Those numbers are pretty impressive too: 14.3 points, a league-best 15.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists — obliterating his career high of 1.1 last season.
Still, many fan voters won’t bat an eye when they’re casting their votes for the All-Star team. Though there might be bigger names, such as the Cavs’ LeBron James, the Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis and the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, Drummond is deserving of an All-Star nod this season.
Drummond earned his first selection in 2015-16, when his numbers were somewhat similar: 16.2 points and 14.8 rebounds. But he was a different player back then, as a primary post-up option.
He’s become a more integral part of the offense, ascending to a point-center role and more than tripling his assist average. Moreover, Drummond has slain the Kraken that cast a shadow over his career by boosting his free-throw percentage from an abysmal 39 percent last season to an eye-popping 63 percent. He’s on pace to shoot 400 free throws, the second-highest total of his career.
“The assist totals are big, the free-throw shooting is way up and his defense has been considerably better and more consistent,” coach Stan Van Gundy said after Wednesday afternoon’s shootaround in Miami. “I don’t think judging him from a numbers perspective is going to tell the story.”
Even Drummond’s strongest skill, rebounding, still is improving: he’s averaging a career-best 15.2 rebounds. He’s led the league in total offense rebounds each of the past four years and is doing it again this seasons.
“He’s improved significantly. His rebounding numbers, where are they going to go? Nobody is going to average 20 rebounds. He’s a great rebounder and they’re not going up,” Van Gundy said. “He’s probably not getting as many scoring opportunities but he’s getting more opportunities to have the ball in his hands and run offense.”
The problem is that might not translate to All-Star votes. James is likely going to be the leading vote-getter the combination of fan voting (50 percent), player vote (25 percent) and media (25 percent) will determine the rest of the starters.
In the new All-Star format, the coaches will pick the other seven reserves for each conference and then the captains will select the 12-man rosters — for the first time, irrespective of conferences.
With so many talented options in the frontcourt, the choice could come down to Drummond and 76ers big man Joel Embiid. The differences could be razor-thin, as the Sixers have won the first two meetings this season. Embiid’s numbers are better: 23.9 points, 10.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists but the Pistons are 20-15, almost four games better than Philadelphia in the standings.
It all comes down to individual tastes — and although statistics tell a story, Drummond likely will have to rely on whether the coaches have noticed his improved play on both ends of the court. The change hasn’t been necessarily at Van Gundy’s behest.
From all accounts, Drummond made all the changes himself in the offseason, part of his maturation in turning 24 and improving his game on his own. Even Van Gundy, who has vocally had to push Drummond in past years, has mellowed a bit.
“He’s gotten to the point where most of the time, you can just tell him to get back or get up on pick-and-rolls and he’ll respond and do it,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t recall a lot of times (this season) where I’ve been yelling and screaming at him.”
All-Star voting ends Jan. 15; starters and captains will be announced on Jan. 18. All-Star weekend is Feb. 16-18 in Los Angeles.