Does Andre Drummond Have More Upside Than Any Other NBA Star?

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2014

Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) reacts after being fouled in the first period in an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks in Atlanta, Tuesday, April 8, 2014. The Pistons won the game 102-95  (AP Photo/Todd Kirkland)
Todd Kirkland

Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond has now grabbed more offensive rebounds (407 as of Wednesday) than any player since the 1997-98 season, when Jayson Williams had 443.

It's one of the few highlights in what has otherwise been a dismal season for Detroit, but it promises to be the first of many milestones for Drummond. The 20-year-old is already establishing himself as one of the best big men in the league, albeit on an offense that doesn't go to him nearly enough.

That's where those offensive rebounds come in for Drummond, per Michigan Live's David Mayo: "I pride myself on getting offensive rebounds. That's how I get my points."

Interim head coach John Loyer has noticed the effort and skill Drummond devotes to getting second-chance points, per Mayo:

Some guys can see the trajectory of the ball, where it's going to come off at -- whatever the old adage says, 75 percent come off on the other side. But it's just, I think, a little bit more the desire to go get it, to get inside that guy, to refuse to be blocked out, and then most of them are second or third efforts. Are you a good second jumper, or are you a one-jump guy?

Of course, offensive rebounding alone won't make Drummond into a star. It's the rest of his game that carries so much appeal. And we're talking a scary amount of appeal. This guy could be the game's next dominant center, the likes of which we haven't seen since Shaquille O'Neal.

Hyperbole? At the moment, maybe. But we're doing some guesswork here. We have to. 

Drummond has only had two seasons to show what he's capable of doing, and he's functionally been a complementary piece on a pretty bad team. It's hard to shine in that atmosphere, hard to stand out in Detroit even when standing out is exactly what you're doing. He certainly stood out earlier in March when claiming 26 rebounds against the New York Knicks.

In his sophomore campaign, Drummond is averaging 13.3 points and an outrageous 13 rebounds per game. In his first four games through April (an admittedly tiny sample size), he's putting up an unbelievable 18.5 points and 17.3 rebounds per contest.

That's quite the double-double, especially for a guy who's yet to develop an especially well-rounded offensive game. Drummond gets most of his points right next to the basket, using his power, quickness and athleticism to go through and over the opposition.

So far it's working. With a little more polish (and a few more touches), nothing's stopping Drummond from pushing that scoring average to 20 or more points per contest, at least matching Dwight Howard-like production in the process.

One of the things keeping Drummond from more touches is the presence of two other bigs in the painted area. With Greg Monroe and Josh Smith each getting the lion's share of low-post looks, Drummond is left to mop up the misses and make the best of it. 

As he grows more comfortable scoring from mid-range and with his back to the basket, that should change. It's hard to call for the ball when you don't have the tools to be a first or second option. That will come in time.

Drummond started turning heads as a rookie, displaying uncanny physical ability for a man his size. But even then, his opportunities were limited.'s Tom Haberstroh explains the quandary faced by Drummond's former head coach, Lawrence Frank:

But in a league that increasingly embraces small-ball, Frank has a dilemma on his hands. On Friday, he called it “a game of chicken.” Should he play Drummond-Monroe together and risk getting beat by quicker players? 

Smith's arrival has only compounded the rotation mess. Drummond's minutes are up to 32.3 points per game, but it's come at a cost—namely having to play Smith at the small forward position, where he's not nearly as effective. Smith played primarily at the 4-spot with the Atlanta Hawks, beating bigger defenders off the dribble and settling less often for outside jumpers.

Something has to give.

It's hard to see the Pistons trading Drummond, but it's also hard to see the organization giving up on Smith, who signed a four-year pact last summer. Unless Smith magically becomes a much better perimeter player after nearly a decade in the league, the Pistons will struggle to find balance on either end of the floor.

Whether that stunts Drummond's development remains an open question, but it surely won't help.

For Drummond to fully develop, he'll need room to operate in the low post, the kind of room that's created when shooters space the floor. Josh Smith is not that kind of shooter.

Drummond will also need lots of practice, according to Mayo: 

Drummond's offensive style still is primarily lob and dunk, or crash and tip. He has to add to the package, but that takes time. His post moves require sustained work and big men typically develop more gradually, over longer periods, than perimeter players.

In short, we should be patient. Drummond came into this league raw, and it's fair to say he's already surpassing expectations. Coming into the season, Rasheed Wallace (who was hired to work with Drummond and Monroe) said of him, per's Michael Wallace: "He's still young, he's still raw, and he's still depending on his athleticism a lot."

And why not depend on that athleticism while it's still around? That's a luxury many big men never have.

But it's not enough to make Drummond a certifiable superstar. That requires sustained skill development, so stay tuned. The fact that he's so productive in spite of a relatively limited offensive portfolio is a testament to his tremendous upside, an upside few other budding stars could even dream of.

The real question is what we'll see two years from now when Drummond turns 23. That's how old Paul George and John Wall are at the moment, and they've both spent the season establishing themselves as All-Stars who will in all likelihood remain fairly dominant for the next decade. There's nothing stopping Drummond from falling into the same category.

It's hard to think of another 21-year-old with the same kind of ceiling.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is still just 20 and without question an elite stopper in the making. But his scoring ability is even more limited than Drummond's, a scary thought for a guy who will desperately need a jumper if he's to climb the star ladder.

Rookies Michael Carter-Williams (22) and Victor Oladipo (21) have had standout seasons, but it's hard to see either of them becoming absolutely dominant. Both are likely closer to their ceilings than Drummond, already beginning to fully realize their potential.

You could certainly argue that some youngsters have "arrived" more quickly than Drummond will. Kyrie Irving (22) is in just his third season and is already ranking among the league's very best point guards. But that doesn't really speak to upside. If Drummond adds a well-rounded scoring ability to his repertoire, it will be hard to argue that Irving's is the more desirable path for player development.

DeMarcus Cousins has emerged as the game's best young center, but that could change quickly enough. Drummond is the better rebounder and has the potential to be a much better defender, at least if we're to glean anything from the instincts he's shown so far.

Comparing things like potential is never an exact science. Drummond could take a step back. Someone else could come out of nowhere.

And there are lots of little things Drummond still has to work on. Dominant as he could be defensively, CBS Sports' Matt Moore noted in February that he's yet to become an especially smart defender. He has to become more communicative, more cerebral. Hulking around the basket won't cut it in the grand scheme of things.

But you'd expect as much from a guy who's just 21. And you can expect that much more from him as he grows into the star he was destined to become.