Andre Drummond is quickly becoming the worst-kept secret in the NBA.
Thought to be a project when he was drafted ninth overall by the Detroit Pistons, Drummond has exceeded even the most optimistic expectations.
Plain and simple, Drummond has been one of the top three rookies this year and has arguably the most upside of anyone in this draft class.
Slipped through the cracks
So how did Drummond fall to Detroit with the ninth overall pick?
Heading into this past year's draft, there were plenty of questions surrounding Drummond. Nobody doubted his athleticism nor his freakish size.
There were three major concerns about Drummond.
One, he never dominated the competition in college. True, the Connecticut Huskies offense was mainly a perimeter-oriented squad that often placed Drummond outside of the play. Additionally, legendary head coach Jim Calhoun was sidelined much of the year, effectively diminishing the quality of coaching that Drummond received.
But overall, Drummond had a slightly disappointing season with Connecticut. He averaged only 10 points and just over seven boards per game while blocking a respectable two-and-a-half shots per game.
Two, he didn't always show a strong motor in college. His body language was often lacking and he was easily taken out of the game. He would show flashes of greatness one minute, but then you would forget he was on the court for the next five minutes.
Three, Drummond's offensive game showed a severe lack of instincts. He didn't have even the beginnings of an effective post game, he often avoided contact when "crashing" the boards and he relied too much on his athleticism when blocking shots.
He looked like a raw player who would take years to develop, if he could be developed at all.
There were fears from many (myself included) that he could potentially be a bust if drafted too high and placed in the wrong system.
As a result, plenty of teams that drafted ahead of Detroit that had obvious needs in the frontcourt avoided Drummond.
A Joe Dumars kind of guy
Drummond is exactly the type of player that team president Joe Dumars seems to always covet. He likes it when players are castoffs or have been given up on. When players have question marks attached to their names, Dumars rarely is deterred.
Many times, this backfires. Charlie Villanueva was viewed as a lazy malcontent before coming to Detroit and he has only recently done anything to beat down that assessment.
However, in some cases this has yielded success. The entire starting lineup of the Pistons' title squad in 2004 was composed of castoffs and question marks.
So when it was time to make his selection at No. 9, it was a no-brainer.
Sure, the Pistons could have gone with a guy like Austin Rivers who could develop into a star guard, or a more proven commodity like Tyler Zeller or John Henson.
But Dumars decided to go with the high-risk/high-reward Drummond.
So far, that selection appears to be a brilliant one and a pick that could bring the Pistons back to respectability in the near future.
Production is astounding
Let's take a look at Drummond's production. Drummond is currently ranked 13th in the league in blocks, 17th in offensive rebounds per game, 33rd in overall rebounds and once he qualifies would be in the top three in field goal percentage.
Additionally (although I am not a huge fan of this statistic) he is 15th in the league in player efficiency.
OK, so you have absorbed those statistics. Pretty impressive, huh?
Now get ready to have your mind blown. Drummond has done all of the above despite ranking 171 in the league in minutes per game at a meager 19.7.
The best way to assess how impressive Drummond's production has been is to measure his stats over 36 minutes.
If you extend his minutes to 36 per game (the same as Dwight Howard), he would be averaging 13 points, 13.3 rebounds and three blocks per game.
That rebound production would put him behind only Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao, that block production would put him second in the league behind only Larry Sanders and even his steals production of 1.5 would put him just outside of the top 20 in the league.
Those numbers would not just be All-Star caliber, but perhaps even All-NBA third team worthy.
Offensively, Drummond still has a long way to go. He doesn't have a ton of instincts on the low block and his jump shot has an incredibly low release point that could lead to problems down the road.
But what he lacks in offensive prowess he makes up for with exciting rim-rattling dunks. When he gets the ball near the hoop he is thinking one thing: dunk.
He also has been exceptional at offensive rebound put-backs and alley-oops.
Defensively, he already is the Pistons' best post defender. He is such an amazingly quick jumper that he can block nearly every shot in the post.
His rebounding has been perhaps the most stunning development thus far. He already is averaging nearly what he did in college in nearly 10 fewer minutes per game.
Overall, Drummond could not be playing any better.
Minutes will come
So why isn't Drummond playing more minutes? That seems to be the million-dollar question around Detroit and the league in general.
The easy answer is that the minutes will come, but he needs to earn them in the eyes of his coach. Lawrence Frank still prefers to start Jason Maxiell next to Greg Monroe, although the reasoning continues to be flawed.
Drummond is outperforming Maxiell in every category except for points per game, which Maxiell leads eight points to just over seven—hardly a commanding lead.
Maxiell is also playing over six minutes more per game.
But Frank won't be able to keep Drummond on the bench for long, especially if the talented rookie continues to play as well as he has been.
The fact of the matter is that Drummond's production warrants nearly unlimited playing time, something that is sure to happen in the years to come.
The future is truly bright in Detroit, and Drummond is the reason.
Early-Season Grade: A