Denver — Against the Cleveland Cavaliers two weeks ago, Pistons center Andre Drummond got the ball around the free-throw line in a first-quarter possession. Instead of looking for the next pass or driving to the rim, he flipped the script.
Drummond pulled up for a 15-foot jumper and made it.
He jogged back to the other end to play defense. No fist pump. No grin. Nothing.
It’s a shot that Drummond has gotten more comfortable with, as he tries to add it to his repertoire. He hasn’t shot many jumpers in games, but it’s a part of his game that he’s been working on since the summer.
During the Drew League summer season in California, Drummond showed flashes of what he’d been working on, putting up mid-range jumpers. There’s a big difference between summer exhibitions and NBA games and Drummond has the confidence now to put up short jumpers.
“That’s something I’ve worked on all season behind closed doors, taking my time to critique it, perfect it and next season, I should be shooting them consistently,” Drummond said. “Going into year seven of my career, it’s time I expand my game; the game has changed each year.
“It’s about time I start shooting those little jump shots around the free-throw line; when I’m left wide open, I should be able to shoot that shot.”
So far, it’s small sample size, but Drummond has been trying to round out his game gradually, adding a jump-hook to his inside game around the rim and fiddling with a 3-point shot. That’s the direction that most NBA big men are going, in trying to become a threat not just in the painted area, but also on the perimeter.
Combined with the other pieces to his game, a jumper would make Drummond a more versatile offensive option, something the Pistons have needed in the second half of the season as they’ve searched for other options.
“It’s going to open up other stuff. Everybody knows I’m a very aggressive driver when I get the ball,” Drummond said. “If I’m able to shoot that shot, I can pump-fake and go right by them. It’s going to be tough when I get that down.
“I’ve put in a lot of hours shooting jump shots around that elbow and mid-range area. I’ve shown spurts of it throughout the summer and in summer league play and later in the season, I started shooting pull-up shots. It’s something I have to keep working on, keep taking and build confidence in.”
The Pistons saw a prototype of that versatility in Thursday’s loss, as Nuggets center Nikola Jokic posted a triple-double with 23 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. In his last five games, Jokic is shooting 11-of-20 from 3-point range and 67 percent (41-of-61) from the field.
Coach Stan Van Gundy sees the progress, but isn’t as keen on Drummond developing a jump shot at the expense of the rest of his game. It’s not Drummond’s biggest strength now but if he could supplement his skill set with a jump shot, that’s just another option to consider.
“It’s not a high priority but the more in that area that he can catch the ball on a short roll and finish, it’s good,” Van Gundy said Thursday. “He’s trying to make some progress, but it’s certainly not the highest priority. More would be his shots and jump-hooks around the rim and getting a little more efficient there.”
Reggie Bullock (back) and Dwight Buycks (sprained ankle) both returned to the lineup Thursday after missing the previous two games — and they both were big contributors to the offense. Bullock finished with 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting, with three 3-pointers and Buycks had a career-best 22 points, on 8-of-15 shooting.
Buycks played the last stretch of the game when he started to find openings in the Nuggets’ defense, getting aggressive in the pick-and-roll.
“(Buycks) gave us a good lift, attacking on pick-and-rolls,” Van Gundy said. “He did a really good job and was a big part of us getting back in the game.”
Pistons at Trail Blazers
Tipoff: 10 p.m. Saturday, Moda Center, Portland
Outlook: The Blazers (42-26) are one of the hottest teams in the NBA, with an 11-game winning streak. They’ve catapulted to third place in the West, with a two-game lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder.