Andre Drummond's Breakout Is Lone Bright Spot in Detroit Pistons Nightmare

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Andre Drummond's Breakout Is Lone Bright Spot in Detroit Pistons Nightmare
Dan Lippitt/Getty Images

Nothing and no one can save the Detroit Pistons' wildly disappointing, endlessly dismal season.

Except for Andre Drummond.

Amid a year in which the Pistons are realizing hope cannot be bought—at least not when it's Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings being purchased—there is Drummond, the mammoth-sized 20-year-old with a future bright enough to enliven Detroit's pitch-black hellhole.

Short on things to play for, Drummond is all the Pistons have. That is, unless you count tanking to keep their top-eight protected first-round draft pick as something to play for.

Which you shouldn't. 

 

How Bad Are They?

Dan Lippitt/Getty Images

The Pistons were supposed to be better than this, above this. Money was spent to ensure they would nab a playoff spot in the lawless Eastern Conference, where substandard teams are gospel and middling factions are treated like gods.

Rather than sneak into an enfeebled playoff picture, the Pistons have hit rock bottom. They are neither middling nor substandard. They are worse.

Much worse. 

Allow me, if you will, to turn the controls over to Bleacher Report's own Stephen Babb for a moment:

There are no more coaches to fire. No instant fixes. For all intents and purposes, the Pistons are still very much rebuilding. The hope at this point has to be that trading one of Detroit's bigs will help solve some chemistry issues. Until the rotation actually makes sense, this team's ceiling will remain low.

Immediately, their ceiling isn't just low. It was low to begin with, cracking and leaking, threatening to cave.

Then it actually caved, forming a heaping pile of debris, right around the time they ended the Philadelphia 76ers' 26-game losing streak.

A team this bad, this insanely impotent shouldn't have even a glimmer hope or iota of optimism. The Pistons are 21 games under .500 (28-49) and completely out of the postseason discussion. Smith is on a contract they can't move, Greg Monroe is barreling toward restricted free agency, their point guard situation is an absolute mess, and they rank 20th and 25th in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively.

That kind of bad.

 

Much-Needed Light

Barry Gossage/Getty Images

In theory, the only discussion worth having should be about how horrible the Pistons are.

Drummond spits hot fire all over that theory.

Unlike, well, just about every other personnel gambit the Pistons have taken, Drummond is posting massive gains. In just his second season, the big man once deemed a raw and risky draft prospect at No. 9 in 2012 has injected some much-needed light into Detroit's sunless pit.

In 32.3 minutes per game, Drummond is averaging 13.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.6 blocks per game, proving to be a general gadfly and matchup nightmare on both ends of the floor. Should his current numbers hold, he will become the youngest player in NBA history to average at least 13 points, 12 rebounds, one steal and 1.5 blocks per game for an entire season.

Against the Boston Celtics, Drummond hit another individual milestone as well, according MLive's David Mayo:

For all the debate about what Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond needs to do better to cross into superstardom, one element of the NBA game where he already reigns supreme is offensive rebounding.

[...]

Drummond has 402 offensive rebounds for the season, most by any NBA player since 1997-98, when New Jersey's Jayson Williams had 443 and Chicago's Dennis Rodman had 421.

The previous high this century was 396, by Elton Brand in 2001-02 when he was with the Los Angeles Clippers.

From the infant stages of his career, it was apparent the Pistons lucked into a special rebounder. His offensive rebounding percentage ranked second among all players who appeared in at least 50 games last season, behind only Reggie Evans. 

Increased playing time hasn't curdled his prowess on the offensive glass, either. Drummond's offensive rebounding percentage (17.4) is the highest among anyone who has played in a minimum of 25 contests. He's also the youngest player ever to bring down at least 400 offensive boards.

When Moses Malone first brought down that many offensive boards, he was 21. When Hakeem Olajuwon did it, he was 22. When Charles Barkley did it, he was 25. And When Dennis Rodman first did it, he was 30.

Drummond is 20. A sophomore. His smirk is still boyish, his face yet to be hardened by the progression of time, and he's already putting himself in the company of legends and Hall of Famers. He's already making history.

En route to his historically impressive rebounding season, Drummond has garnered all types of comparisons. Recently, Pistons interim head coach John Loyer related his skill set to that of All-Star Zach Randolph.

From The Detroit News' David Goricki:

Andre’s rebounding at an extremely high level on the offensive end and we show him the ones where he goes (and gets it) and we show him the ones where maybe he could have went and he’s a pretty quick study and he’s got it figured out. The one that I coached (who compares to Drummond) is Zach Randolph. When I coached Zach he wasn’t the most athletic guy and wasn’t the quickest guy, but his second jump was very, very good and he had a knack for knowing where it was.

Individually, the comparisons could go on and on and on. Drummond is having an All-Star-caliber season, which is pretty incredible when not even two years ago, he was lauded only as a long-term project, arriving in Detroit with "Drafter Beware" plastered all over him.

Although Drummond still relies heavily on his athleticism to get by, he's more polished as a player and noticeably smarter than he was last season. It's no longer just about dunks and rebounds with him. He's really worked on his all-around game, finding himself as a post player on both sides of the floor.

Flaws still abound, of course, most noticeably his troubles from the charity stripe, where he's connecting on an eye-gouging 41.8 percent of his attempts. But for everything else he does, the trade-off is worth it. His touch around the basket has improved, he's more knowledgeable as an off- and on-ball defender and the rebounding totals speak for themselves.

Put it this way: No one in NBA history—save for Drummond—has ever averaged at least 13 points, 12 rebounds, one steal and 1.5 blocks while also shooting 60 percent or better from the floor.

Say what you will about Drummond's limited offensive range and still-developing defensive shortcomings, but there's value to be found in his ability to do something Dwight Howard, who is similar in build and skill, and so many others have never done.

 

A Future Worth Investing In

Predicting Drummond's ceiling is difficult. 

Likewise, finding the right player to measure him against is equally exacting. Some—like myself—have pinned him next to Howard. Assuming Anthony Davis is never classified as a true 5, chances are good Drummond will, sometime very soon, become the NBA's best center.

Here's the thing: None of that matters. Not as much as what matters most.

Whatever Drummond is, whoever he becomes is going to be way better than the Pistons are now. Aside from him, they don't have a definitive building block. Not a single one.

J-Smoove is one of the league's most versatile migraines, and Jennings continues to be a relatively empty, one-sided, completely inefficient stat-stuffer. And whatever the Pistons may have in Monroe means little. Either he'll leave in restricted free agency, or the Pistons will overpay him to stay in Detroit, where his career trajectory will be muddled by the presence of Smith, who he simply cannot play alongside.

Drummond is the future of this team. Paths to better days and more meaningful seasons lead through him and, as of now, only him. Because while the Pistons could have cap space to work with this summer, along with, if they're lucky, a top-eight pick to boot, they can't be trusted. This year's calamity is expensive proof.

Owner Tom Gores is willing to spend.

If he's smart, he's even willing to show team president Joe Dumars the door. But all the money in the world and boundless lust for winning cannot change this year. And it may not even accelerate a rebuild that was deemed "complete" merely months ago. 

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

All the Pistons know that they have is Drummond. All they will leave this season with—aside from the stench of failure—is his rapid progression, his meteoric rise from formless prospect to unfinished superstar.

For now, with the Pistons toiling away in high-priced obscurity, that's enough. They're lucky to have that much. They're lucky to have him.

What is Andre Drummond's ceiling as a potential star?

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"It's funny because you might not see a lot of things in the boxscore but my whole thing is to get everybody involved and just win," Drummond said, per Mayo. "At the end of the day, whatever it takes, whatever the coaches want to do, just winning at the end of the day is what makes me feel good." 

Winning is something the Pistons haven't done. Faith is something they haven't earned.

Chemistry is something they don't have.

Hope, thanks to Drummond, is something they do.

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com (subscription required) unless otherwise noted. All salary information comes via ShamSports.


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