Detroit — Andre Drummond walks around with his gallon jug, with the quiet confidence and wisdom of a Jedi Master. For him, it’s the Force that he believes in, the elixir to ward off mediocre play, that Drummond keeps with him just as Linus keeps his trusty blanket for a sense of security.
It’s been the key to Drummond’s surge since Jan. 31, when he began the tear that’s arguably put him among the top centers in the league. In his 28 games in that span, Drummond ranks in the top 10 in the league among centers in some key categories: 18.6 points (ninth), 16.6 rebounds (first), 1.9 steals (first) and 1.8 blocks (ninth).
“I think it’s the best I’ve played in my whole career,” Drummond told The Detroit News. “Everything is just clicking right now. I’m staying the course and not getting too big-headed about everything, being humble about my success and just having fun while I’m out there.”
It hasn’t always been fun for Drummond. He’s been hounded by his bouts of inconsistent play, at times seeming to disappear when the team needed a boost. Those instances are far fewer and in this last stretch, his athleticism is outshining many of his counterparts.
At a time when many players’ energy is lagging and some teams are opting for “load management” to rest their top players to prepare for the playoffs, Drummond seems to be finding a second wind and is taking some of the load as Blake Griffin’s production has waned a bit.
What’s the secret solution that’s helped his surge?
“Easy. These gallons of water I’m drinking, staying hydrated, lifting and taking care my body is what it really boils down to,” Drummond said. “I’ve learned the game and what it takes to have a successful season, from a lot of veteran guys and what they do to last the entire season without breaking down. I’ve taken those necessary steps and it’s really working out for me.”
In Saturday’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers — in which the Pistons scored just 11 points in the first quarter, Drummond was the catalyst, picking up the team on the defensive end. Drummond was all over the floor, like a water bug on a pond surface, both steady and fleet of foot in defending pick-and-roll plays and setting multiple screens.
That versatility on both ends and Drummond’s improved consistency has drawn praise from coach Dwane Casey, who has helped bring out some of the best qualities in Drummond’s game.
“We have a lot of good centers in our league, but he is one of the best of that group,” Casey said. “For what he does for our team and in the game with rebounds, blocked shots and scoring without (me calling a play for him). He does a great job of running our break. It sounds crazy.
“He has grown; he’s really developed his decision making and there is still a lot of growth to be had.”
Drummond, 25, is a two-time All-Star but still isn’t regarded among the elite centers in the league. Certainly, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Denver's Nikola Jokic are in a group to themselves, because of all the things they can do on both ends of the court.
That next group of big men includes Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, Utah’s Rudy Gobert and San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge. For many, Drummond can be lumped in with them but because he isn’t a primary offensive option, he sometimes gets lost in the mix.
With Davis missing a huge chunk of the season, it opens a spot for Drummond to be considered for third-team All-NBA, likely behind Embiid and Jokic.
“Those awards can be a little fickle. Who votes for those?” Griffin joked. “It’s not to say that (the media) don’t know what they’re talking about but sometimes substance isn’t judged by the right criteria… “A lot of times, I don’t agree with those awards. (Drummond) definitely should get consideration but he’s not going to hang his head because at the end of the day, it’s not in the right hands.”
The win over the Magic — in perhaps the Pistons’ biggest game of the season — may have been one of Drummond’s best showings. He dominated inside and played excellent defense.
“This young man, with not one play called, he still comes in and gets 18 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks — just big time,” Casey said. “He did a great job of commanding the boards, playing defense on one of the top centers in our league in (Nikola) Vucevic and a good job on blitzing when we had to. Just an all-around excellent game.”
Drummond traditionally has been criticized for his lack of rim protection but his 1.7 blocks per game rank second in his career. He’s improved on defense with moving his feet and the energy and effort that have long been rightly questioned are on display more frequently.
There’s still more growth and development that Casey will try to pull from Drummond in the summer workouts, but from what he’s showing this late in the season, there’s a lot to be optimistic about.
“It might be him being 25, but you have to commend him. With the work he’s put in during the summer and these past few summers, I’ve seen his body change since I got here to today,” guard Reggie Jackson said. “He takes care of himself and when we were lifting, he was talking about how he needed to get his full workout in to get ready for this last stretch. Hats off to the way he comes in and approaches it each and every day.”
Drummond’s improvement at the free-throw line has put him in a new position. In the final seconds of the win over the Trail Blazers, Drummond was not on the bench; instead, he was right in the middle of the mix.
Through his first six years, Drummond converted a miserable 38 percent, among the worst in league history. Last season, he improved to 60.5 percent and this year, he’s at 59 percent. In the recent stretch, he’s improved to 67 percent.
In previous years, he might have been saddled to the bench, but now he’s turned into a clutch shooter at the free-throw line. In those waning seconds, his attitude was much different, waiting for the opportunity to ward off the demons at the line.
“I just stood there and said, ‘Go ahead (and foul me),’” Drummond said.
With Griffin’s production dipping in recent weeks, including missing the past two games because of a sore left knee, Drummond has picked up more of the slack and is carrying more than his typical share of the scoring load.
“It shows our maturity as a team, that we don’t have to depend on just one guy. He does take a lot of the load for our team but we have a lot of guys who can contribute and help out on both ends of the floor.
It’s because of the hard work I put in and the trust the coaches have in me to give me the ball in certain positions and defensively making the right plays,” Drummond said. “It’s working out to stay on the floor late in games because I’m making free throws now too. All in all, I’m just playing great.”
Pistons vs. Pacers
Tip-off: 7 Wednesday, Little Caesars Arena
Outlook: Despite their loss to the Pacers on Monday, the Pistons (39-38) are in sixth place and inching closer to clinching a playoff spot. Blake Griffin (sore left knee) is questionable and Luke Kennard (sore right foot) is doubtful. The Pacers (46-32) are jockeying with the Celtics for fourth place and home-court advantage in the playoffs.