Detroit Pistons Will Go as Far as Andre Drummond Can Carry Them

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 5, 2013

MILWAUKEE, WI - DECEMBER 4: Andre Drummond #0 of the Detroit Pistons dunks against the Milwaukee Bucks on December 4, 2013 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice:  Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Josh Smith is the Detroit Pistons' most established player, Greg Monroe their most polished, and Brandon Jennings is probably their most exciting.

But Andre Drummond is, by far, their most important.

That's because he's the one man on the roster who has a chance to be a franchise-altering piece, a potential anchor on a future championship-contending team.

Drummond's vast potential has been on full display of late. In three December games, he's averaging an absurd 21.7 points, 18.7 rebounds 3.3 blocks and 2.0 steals while leading the Pistons to three consecutive wins—all of which have come on the road.

Jennings was particularly grateful for Drummond's recent dominance when the Pistons flew into town to take on the Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 4. 

(Note: It's a good thing they traveled by plane, too, because the bridge Jennings torched on his way out of Milwaukee would have made the overland route difficult.)

Per Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

Booed throughout the first half, Brandon Jennings struggled in his return to Milwaukee. But Andre Drummond had his back.

Drummond’s monster 24-point, 19-rebound night was the main difference in the Pistons’ 105-98 victory over the Bucks Wednesday night.

Per Ellis, Jennings commented after the game:“(Drummond and Monroe) played big tonight. They came in here, they did a great job. They took a lot of heat off me.”

The highlights from Drummond's huge night in Milwaukee are impressive, as they so often are when it comes to the 20-year-old big man.

He runs the floor well for a player with his hulking size, hauls in rebounds from well outside his immediate area and dunks pretty much everything he touches.

Defensively, Drummond has unlimited potential. He's already shown plenty of quickness and length, and the increasingly frequent flashes of anticipatory adjustments make him a rim defender with all the necessary tools. And really, this is what makes him the guy who can have the biggest impact on Detroit's future.

If you don't have a LeBron James or a Kevin Durant, the most important piece of any championship hopeful is a big guy who can limit opponents' effectiveness at the rim.

That's why guys like Roy Hibbert, Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah, Marc Gasol, Dwight Howard and even someone like Tiago Splitter are so important. The league is putting an increasing premium on shooting threes and getting as many close-range looks as possible on offense. Just about any wing off the scrap heap can be part of a good perimeter defense if the scheme is right and the motivation is there.

But finding someone who fits the "Hibbert mold" is exceptionally difficult.

It'd be wise to note that Drummond is nowhere close to matching the impact of the aforementioned elite defenders. Shot-blocking is no problem, but he has a few obvious shortcomings in other defensive areas.

In fact, the numbers show that he's had an almost nonexistent impact on Detroit's overall statistical performance this season. With Drummond on the floor, the Pistons have an offensive rating of 102.7, a figure that is identical to the one they post when the big man sits down, per Defensively, Drummond's influence has been surprisingly minimal.

Detroit's defensive rating is 102.8 when Drummond plays, but slips only a half-point to 103.3 when he sits.

Nonetheless, Drummond is passing the eye test ever more frequently of late. And his most recent three-game stretch deserves an especially high grade. More importantly, he has demonstrated the work ethic necessary to improve his game.

That's the "scary reminder" to which Lowe referred earlier; Drummond is pretty good—and sometimes great—right now. But there's every reason to believe he'll get much, much better.

Per Grantland's Jonathan Abrams, Pistons head coach Maurice Cheeks had this to say about Drummond's habits and goals before the season started:

He's always asking questions. Even before practice, he'll come in and see me and we'll talk about certain things that he can do to get better at. I think he has some knowledge in terms of where he wants to get to in terms of his ability. Most guys like that can reach another level—he has that ability

Thanks to that ability Drummond also has the rare opportunity to forge Detroit's future identity.

Because of him, the Pistons can become a team built on interior defense, which is, frankly, the best thing an NBA team can be. His continued growth will allow him to become a focal point around which the Pistons can situate complementary pieces.

There might be some casualties along the way.

Note who's missing from Detroit's potential future.
Note who's missing from Detroit's potential future.Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With Smith signed up to a long-term deal, it's possible that Drummond's emergence as an alpha dog will mean Monroe's time in Detroit is running out. While it would hurt to lose a player as talented as the man Pistons fans lovingly call "Moose," Detroit could probably build a more balanced, dangerous lineup around a Smith-Drummond frontcourt combination...if it truly believes in its young big man's potential for greatness.

Throw in a few shooters and a cheap perimeter defender or two and the Pistons might suddenly boast a roster worthy of legitimate contention in the East.

Admittedly, we're looking way ahead here. But that's exactly what Drummond allows the Pistons to do: peer hopefully into the future.