Atlanta — Andre Drummond was defending Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic in the paint and went for an up-fake. Vucevic pivoted and put up a shot close to the basket. Drummond moved just as quickly to block the shot.
It wasn’t in time; the officials called goaltending.
That play encapsulated the new-look Drummond, still a work in progress under new coach Dwane Casey. Drummond has been maligned at times for his lack of energy and effort, but those instances have decreased this season, as he’s been more active on both ends of the court.
He’s posting 18.9 points and 16.6 rebounds and is forming a tandem with Blake Griffin that’s making the Pistons a formidable team to defend in the paint. Drummond has four games this season of at least 20 points and 20 rebounds and narrowly missed a fifth, with 23 points and 19 rebounds against the Magic.
Drummond stood out on defense in guarding forward Aaron Gordon on the perimeter, cutting off driving lanes and clogging the lane. He also was active with his hands, forcing three steals and causing havoc inside, including on the Vucevic play.
“I just wanted to go get it. I’m the rim protector for the team so when I do make plays, it energizes our team,” Drummond said. “Even though it was a goaltend, plays like that get everybody going and we try to go get another stop.”
In his last two games, Drummond has gotten more efficient, shooting 21-of-35 (60 percent) from the field and being more active around the rim, including 19 offensive rebounds.
He took some erratic shots early in the season, at 39 percent (21-of-54) in the first three games, with 1-of-7 on 3-pointers. He’s gotten more selective and efficient with his shots and is seeing the ball more as a result.
“One thing he’s doing a better job is getting two feet in the paint and getting deep post-up position,” coach Dwane Casey said.
It’s a balance, Casey says, because when Drummond gets the ball deeper in the paint and makes quicker, decisive moves, he’s much more effective. He showed it against Vucevic and against the Miami Heat big men on Monday.
Drummond is making a progression, as he’s playing better off Griffin, with some additional pick-and-rolls in recent games with Reggie Jackson.
“Earlier on, it was a feel out and seeing different spots on the floor and where I’m comfortable,” Drummond said. “Now, knowing where I can get easy shots in my bread and butter, I’m choosing my spots wisely and getting shots off that.”
Casey continued to harp on the Pistons’ struggles with taking care of the ball. They were one of the better teams in the league early in the season, but the past few games have included some bigger numbers, which has helped them dig into the hole without their transition defense getting back in time.
“Our No. 1 thing is our turnovers; we have to make sure we take care of the ball. We went from fifth or sixth to 25th (in the league) in a two-week span,” Casey said. “A lot of it is shooting ourselves in the foot, trying to overdo things, one-hand passes, playing in a crowd or driving in a crowd and not making good decisions with the ball.
“In today’s NBA, you need as many attempts as you can get. We turned it over 20 times — 20 is way too many; it’s harder because it puts pressure on your defense.”
Plan of action
Many football coaches script the first 10 or 20 plays of the game, based on tendencies and seeing how the defense is playing against it. Casey said there’s a similar practice for the Pistons, but it’s more based on the units on the court rather than in the football sense.
“We have certain plays for our first unit and certain plays that are good with our second unit. It’s like two different personalities,” he said. “It’s not unusual because of the dynamic play of Blake and Reggie and we have to take advantage of that with certain sets.
“The second unit is a little different because we don’t have that one post guy or dynamic one-on-one guy; it’s got to be a different ball-movement kind of play. It’s two different personalities.”
Casey said there might be a set number of plays in the early minutes to take advantage of their pregame scouting and to get certain players going in certain sets. But in an age of advanced scouting and metrics, there aren’t as many uncertainties.
“We should know how they’re going to defend it before the game starts, but we’ll see how they run it,” Casey said. We’ll have four or five sets in the first unit and I don’t run them in sequence every game. We’ll see them in the first four or five minutes and how they’re guard it.”