The Detroit Pistons' Playoff Hopes Rest on Andre Drummond's Minutes

Chris MaddenAnalyst IIJanuary 17, 2013

Dec 21, 2012; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (1) during the fourth quarter against the Washington Wizards at The Palace. Pistons won 100-68. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

After a dreadful start to the season the Detroit Pistons have shown signs of life as of late. They're still not on pace to make the playoffs, but that could change if their 19-year-old phenom, Andre Drummond, starts to see more minutes.

As a recent ESPN article asserts, the Pistons' rookie-of-the-year candidate has a major impact every time he steps on the court, despite playing under 20 minutes per game.

In that article, Tom Haberstroh reports that Drummond's 21.9 player-efficiency rating is the highest of any teenager in NBA history. If he maintains that rating through the season, he'd finish better than Kyrie Irving, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in their rookie years.

Haberstroh goes on to say:

Drummond is currently producing at a level we've never seen in the NBA from a teenager. The 19-year-old big man is averaging 7.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks with 59 percent shooting, all in less than 20 minutes per game."

Translate his numbers on a per-36 minute basis, and you're left with 13.0 points, 13.3 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 1.5 steals with 59.7 percent shooting.

Drummond's performance might be historic, but he still plays in Detroit. The Pistons have been mired in a rebuilding process that has cost them their NBA relevance.

In other words, no one cares about the Pistons and very few fans know about Drummond.

The only people that have taken notice are basketball aficionados like Mr. Haberstroh and die-hard Pistons fans.

Even though his contributions certainly deserve rookie-of-the-year consideration, he won't get it. Much like Greg Monroe has failed to get the notoriety he deserves. Both players are stuck in NBA purgatory until the Pistons start winning consistently.

Making the playoffs would help too. 

The key is Drummond. When he's on the court he changes the game. He defends the lane, blocks or alters any shot that comes near him, dominates the glass and energizes the crowd with thunderous dunks.

Why can't he get more minutes?

It's hard to blame Detroit for their baby-steps strategy. They know what they have, and the last thing they want to do is overuse the youngster.

Fatigue could cause poor habits to develop or worse, an injury.

It's a catch-22. The Pistons aren't going anywhere unless they turn Drummond loose a bit more. On the other hand they need to protect their young investment. 

Unfortunately the Pistons don't have the luxury of waiting. They have been losers long enough. They've lost a big chunk of their fan base—Halberstroh reports the Palace of Auburn Hills is only 60 percent full on game nights—and they need to win now. 

Recently they have been winning. Despite a current two-game losing streak, the Pistons went 7-4 since December 21. Head coach Lawrence Frank should take advantage of that momentum and start giving Drummond more minutes.

Actually he has. In nine of those 11 games, the youngster received 20 minutes or more of playing time.

Drummond should be getting 25 or more minutes per game though.

If that happens, the Pistons have a chance of making a run to the playoffs—as improbable as that sounds. If we assume that 40 wins is the cutoff to make the playoffs then the Pistons have to win more than half of their remaining 43 games to get in. 

Does anyone think they can make that kind of run with Drummond in a strictly supporting role? 

Not likely. His impact cannot be understated. He's a game changer and needs to be getting starter's minutes.

He doesn't have the personality to demand playing time like many brash teenage superstars before him. This makes him a perfect fit in Detroit, but allows the Pistons to take it slow with him.

His play does plenty of talking though and it screams "play me more."  

If he's held back much longer, the Pistons' playoff chances will disappear fast, and they'll have no one to blame but themselves.