Oftentimes throughout League history, the leap forward for an emerging player can come along for a number of reasons. A natural evolution in skill set, the newfound trust of a coaching staff, or simply an increase in minutes all played a role in impacting the sudden surges of likes of Paul George, DeMar DeRozan, Lance Stephenson and several other rising stars.
For Andre Drummond, the beast of a man child almost immediately moved beyond the “potential bust” tag that’s trailed countless UConn lottery bigs before him. Thanks in part to his physically dominating style of play in an era marked by few true bigs, his summer with Team USA spent learning from some of the League’s most dedicated players and a much quicker learning curve than many expected for the ninth pick from the 2012 Draft, this upcoming NBA campaign already has the makings of being his breakout year.
Perhaps more than other player featured in this year’s #SLAMTop50 rankings, it’s the leap we’re anticipating Drummond to make that has him rising quickly through the League’s depth charts. Luckily for Pistons fans, the 21-year-old has the same lofty and sudden expectations for himself this year.
“I’ve been in the League for two years now, and it is time for me to step up and become a leader here,” Drummond said boldly and without hesitation this past week at Pistons media day. “That has to be my role now.”
The great news for the 6-10, 270-pound force in the middle is that the franchise is looking to immediately turn the corner from the rocky display of inconsistency over Drummond’s first two years in the League. Owner Tom Gores made swift changes once the season ended, and appointed Stan Van Gundy to dual roles as both Pistons President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach.
“He’s 21 years old and he’s already an elite defender and rebounder,” Van Gundy recently beamed to the Detroit News.
The former Magic head coach’s experience building around franchise center Dwight Howard in Orlando saw them make the Playoffs in each of Van Gundy’s five seasons there, along with a trip to the NBA Finals in 2009.
In just his first year with his new squad in Detroit, Van Gundy is hoping to reach similar heights with Drummond as his franchise player.
“There’s nothing about Andre Drummond that doesn’t appeal to me.” Van Gundy raved at his introductory press conference. “I was very impressed with my first phone call with him. He was asking questions like, ‘What do I do? What do I need to do?’ He’s a guy that wants to be great.”
In his first two years amid a dysfunctional offense and lethargic team defense, Drummond has already established himself as a game-changing defensive presence all on his own, also eager to flush lobs and expand his offensive game on the other end of the floor. In just 32 minutes a night, he posted 13.5 points and 13.2 rebounds per game last season—Shaq (a fellow SVG favorite) is the only other person in league history to post averages of at least 13 and 13 before turning 21.
“I think we have two responsibilities to Andre Drummond that will help our team,” outlines Van Gundy. “Number one, to do everything we possibly can to develop him as a player. And secondly, we have a responsibility to put a system and personnel around him that allow him to thrive.”
As both coach and President, Van Gundy is very transparently referring to his own responsibilities from a personnel standpoint, and adding shooters to a roster that finished as the second-worst shooting team in the League last season. He’s since added vets Caron Butler and Jodie Meeks to round out the perimeter, and plans to move Kyle Singler from the 2 to his more natural position at the 3 to better space the floor around Drummond in the post. (Pistons fans are probably also hoping this means far, far fewer jumpers for Josh Smith.)
“Stan and I talk literally every day,” Drummond happily told SLAM earlier this summer. “He’s one of those guys that, he will call your phone every day if he has your number, just to check on you. It doesn’t even have to be about basketball. He’ll just call you to say, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about you,’ just to say ‘Hi.’ I feel like that constant communication can be so beneficial for us—you know that he’s always thinking about us, thinking about the next move to help our organization get better. I’m really excited that he’s our coach, and that he’s doing the things he’s doing.”
Drummond has already got the shot blocking, defense and dunking down (and the occasional insane highlight finish), and in order for him to take that next leap toward being elite, he’s looking to make strides on his moves around the basket to become more of a threat on offense.
“This summer, I’ve been working on my back-to-the-basket game,” he begins. “I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with it, both my right and my left hand. Stan is going to put the ball in my hands this upcoming season. So I have to really work hard on being comfortable with it, and I feel like I’ve done a good job of that this year, staying well-conditioned and becoming a lot more comfortable with the ball in my hands, making the right decisions.”
So far, the Pistons couldn’t be more happy with the progress Drummond is quickly making on his game, and if all goes well this season in Detroit, you can expect to see big Dre taking on more ownership of the team, making more plays on both ends of the court, and soon affirming himself as one of the League’s elite players for years to come.
|#SLAMTop50 Players 2014|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’14-15—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.