Andre Drummond has come a long way.
NBA scouts loved his athleticism, but he was certainly a project. That's why the Detroit Pistons were able to draft him at No. 9 overall in the 2012 draft.
Fast forward to September, and we can mention Drummond's name in the same breath as Dwight Howard's without bursting into fits of laughter. His rookie campaign was that encouraging.
Superman comparisons might seem premature, but Howard himself was just as raw once. Ten years ago, he was the one with potential, not the established star we consider him now.
Could we be saying the same about Drummond in the future?
This is where it all begins.
Statistical analysis suggests that Drummond had a rather pedestrian rookie campaign. In 20.7 minutes of action, he notched 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks on 60.8 percent shooting.
Those numbers don't jump out at you, especially when you look at Howard's rookie campaign. In 2004-05, he posted 12 points, 10 rebounds and 1.7 blocks on 52 percent shooting. Most of Drummond's averages fall short, but one must consider that Howard averaged 32.6 minutes per game.
When you project what each would have done in 36 minutes of floor time, the end result is far different.
Drummond trumps Howard in every major statistical category. Still, extrapolated statistics tend to favor those who play less, the belief being that it's easier to play at a high level through short bursts of action.
On the other hand, what are we supposed to make of Howard's 3.5 win shares during his rookie crusade? Orlando rattled off 36 victories in 2004-05, comfortably surpassing Detroit's 29 last year, yet Drummond finished with 4.5. In less playing time. On a markedly worse team.
We can't ignore that.
Howard has no glaring weaknesses in his game...said no one ever.
Superstars are not beyond reproach. They're not these unsullied talents who never make mistakes. Howard is proof that you can still dominate at your position despite a number of intrinsic flaws.
One of Howard's most well-documented weaknesses—which also happens to be the one we have the most fun with—is his free-throw shooting. Not only is he shooting 57.7 percent from the charity stripe for his career, but he's getting worse.
Since Howard converted 67.1 percent of his freebies as a rookie, he hasn't eclipsed the 60 percent mark once and has spent the last two years hovering around 49 percent.
Early on, however, Drummond only wishes he could shoot like Howard. He hit just 37.1 percent of his free throws last season, a full 30 percent less than Howard did as a rookie.
Drummond's accuracy from the foul line is definitely a concern, but up until last season, Howard was universally seen as an elite player. Even if the UConn product never improves from the foul line, he can still be considered elite if he continues on the career trajectory he is on.
Rookies don't always get it, but Drummond certainly does.
Pick-and-rolls are a big man's greatest weapon. They involve little dribbling (for the big), one-directional movements and point-blank opportunities at the rim. They're particularly important for the centers who aren't the most self-sufficient scorers, like Drummond.
Per Hoopdata, 61.3 percent of his made baskets came off assists—only slightly above the league average of 60.6—but he had next to no success when posting up. Only 4.7 percent of his offensive possessions came in post-ups, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required), and he hit on just 23.5 percent of his attempts.
To combat that, Detroit relied on pick-and-rolls to get Drummond looks. Nearly one-fifth of his offensive touches came in that situation. In pick-and-roll sets, he hit 66.2 percent of his field-goal attempts and averaged 1.18 points per possession, the 24th-best mark in the league.
To this day, Howard is still struggling to recognize where he is most useful on the offensive end. He shot 79.6 percent as the "roll man" last season, and his 1.29 points per possession ranked ninth in the entire NBA.
The problem is, those plays accounted for just 11.4 percent of his total offensive possessions. For whatever reason, Howard has always preferred to post up. More than 45 percent of his offensive touches came that way, where he shot 44.5 percent and put up 0.74 points per possession (121st in the league).
Getting open is half the battle. Drummond already knows where he's most effective, and he isn't sidestepping it. That alone gives us hope for Drummond's offensive future.
He can already do other things Howard can't. Like handle the ball, for instance. When's the last time you saw Howard take it coast-to-coast?
Drummond's 1.01 points per possession on offense last year ranked 56th, easily exceeding that of Howard's 0.95 (133). That he's already matching up to him offensively, and even leapfrogging him in certain instances, speaks volumes about his offensive potential.
Howard is already set in his ways, while Drummond is only just starting out and still improving.
Potential is nothing without actual improvement.
We can dissect Howard's follies all we want, but he doesn't get to where he is without evolving. And Drummond won't take the next step without upping the ante during his sophomore season either.
Below, you'll find that Howard's percentage jumps in crucial per-game categories from his rookie to sophomore campaign:
While Drummond doesn't have to experience identical percentage increases, he does need to improve, to build upon what we've spent ample time praising.
Howard's post-ups may still be a mess today, but he became a bigger focal point of Orlando's offense as a sophomore. He scored more points, grabbed more rebounds, played more minutes and was more potent in general.
Detroit's wunderkind must do the same. His per-game averages have to increase, starting with his minutes and his usage rate. We have to see that he's on track to becoming a more important part of what the Pistons are trying to build.
No matter who you are or who you play for, increased responsibility and subsequent output is all a part of becoming a star.
Looking ahead, Drummond certainly looks like a draft-day steal.
His rookie campaign more than holds its own against Howard's. From points and rebounds to athleticism and foul-line incompetency, they're the same player in so many ways.
Will Andre Drummond ever be the best center in the NBA?
Drummond isn't going to be a carbon copy of D12, though. He should rebound just as much, remain just as athletic and emerge as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate one day, but he'll be different.
Embracing the pick-and-roll will allow him to become more serviceable offensively. Superior handles will ensure he becomes a more versatile scoring option.
In the end, Drummond will still wind up in the same place: the top.