Detroit — Early in the third quarter of Wednesday’s season opener against the Indiana Pacers, Andre Drummond set up for a pick-and-roll play with Reggie Jackson.
Nothing out of the ordinary.
During their peak in previous seasons under former coach Stan Van Gundy, it was the staple of the offense. That breakout season led to Drummond’s first All-Star appearance in 2016 and nearly a selection for Jackson as well.
This play was different.
Drummond set the screen above the 3-point line and Jackson threaded a bounce pass back to the big man. With Pacers center Myles Turner in the lane, Drummond drove and instead of going at Turner, went to the opposite side of the rim and converted a crafty reverse lay-in.
It was a glimpse into the newest piece of Drummond’s repertoire, which was on full display in the opening 119-110 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Drummond showed an array of face-up drives around the rim and was more active around the perimeter, facilitating the offense with dribble-handoffs and finding teammates.
With Blake Griffin out because of knee and hamstring issues, Drummond assumed the role as the scoring hub, with an eye-popping stat line: 32 points, 23 rebounds, four blocks, three steals and two assists in 41 minutes. Drummond’s total outpaced the rest of the starting lineup, who combined for 31 points.
Drummond had plenty of alley-oops and putbacks off offensive rebounds, but the big revelation was his work when facing the basket.
“For me, it’s something I’ve always had. It’s more just building the confidence to do it and do it with force and not play timid,” he said. “I worked on it a lot more this summer, just bringing the ball down in transition and facing up instead of backing down, because I’m quicker than most bigs.
“I’m using my body the right way to create space when I do get in there. The confidence aspect of the face-up game is what I really worked on.”
His 32 points matched his highest output last season and were one off his career high, set in 2015. The big question around Drummond, though, has been his consistency and playing to that high level against some of the premier centers in the league, including the Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid.
Drummond will get his first opportunity against Embiid on Saturday when the Sixers visit Little Caesars Arena.
The bigger question is about where — or if — Drummond fits in the long-term future of for the Pistons. He can opt out of his contract in the summer and test the free-agent market. With many of the top potential free agents signing extensions in the past couple of weeks, the elite options in the market are gone, which could be a boon for Drummond.
It would be foolhardy to use one game as a gauge for Drummond’s worth, but if he continues to post numbers like that — and the Pistons experience some playoff success as a result — then the decision could be much easier for team owner Tom Gores and the front office.
The quandary lies in between somewhere. What happens if there isn’t a long playoff run or if Griffin’s injury is serious and he misses a big chunk of the season? Is that worth a max contract for Drummond?
Gores has said the two sides have talked and all signs point to the team wanting Drummond back — the rub will be what the price tag will be. With Griffin under contract for two more seasons, how much longer can the Pistons move forward with the rare roster construction of two big men accounting for more than half of the salary cap?
Winning would help to make those answers easier, but without Griffin, more of the weight will be put on Derrick Rose and Luke Kennard, who also had breakout games in the opener.
But for now, Drummond remains the center of attention.