Why Andre Drummond Will Blossom to New Heights Under Stan Van Gundy

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 14, 2014

Feb 5, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) points up against the Orlando Magic during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Andre Drummond has already become a valuable player for the Detroit Pistons, emerging as a franchise centerpiece despite having only two years of professional experience under his belt. 

But with Stan Van Gundy at the helm, the 20-year-old center is going to become a world-beater by the end of the 2014-15 campaign. 

As ESPN.com's Marc Stein first reported, "The Detroit Pistons have signed Stan Van Gundy to a contract make him their new coach and president of basketball operations, according to sources with knowledge of the talks."

The future looks a lot brighter in Motown.

Drummond, coming off a season in which he averaged 13.5 points and 13.2 rebounds per game, has already established himself as one of the better 5s in the NBA. In fact, he checked in at No. 8 in the B/R NBA 200 rankings for centers, trailing only Al Hoford, DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol, Al Jefferson, DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard and Joakim Noah

That's already elite company, especially for a young big man in his sophomore season who came out of Connecticut as raw as sushi. He was supposed to take years to develop into a quality rotation member, not become a potential superstar before he could legally consume alcohol. 

But "supposed to" doesn't always matter in the Association. 

Drummond was already going to blossom in 2014-15, but you can take that to an extreme now that SVG will be pacing his sidelines. 

 

Experience with Elite Bigs

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 11:  Dwight Howard #12 listens to head coach Stan Van Gundy of the Orlando Magic in Game Four of the 2009 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers on June 11, 2009 at Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida.  NOTE TO USER:  User expressly ackn
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

It's not easy to find coaches with better track records when it comes to working with big men (on-court track records, I should say). For now, we're just going to overlook the drama at the end of the 2011-12 season that caused SVG to lose his job and Dwight Howard to begin the process of relocating from team to team. 

Van Gundy first became an NBA head coach during the 2003-04 season, when he was tasked with helping a young Dwyane Wade develop on the Miami Heat. That wasn't a particularly talented team—Wade (in his rookie year), Eddie Jones, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and Lamar Odom drew the vast majority of the starts—but Miami still finished with a 42-40 record. 

Then things got better. 

Shaquille O'Neal arrived that offseason, and he immediately bought into the system. Though it's not like Van Gundy coached him up and helped him develop into a superstar, seeing as he'd already clearly established himself as one during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers, Shaq did maintain his level of excellence. 

That's not always easy in a transition period. 

MIAMI - NOVEMBER 21: Head Coach of the Miami Heat Stan Van Gundy and Shaquille O'Neal #32 of the Miami Heat take a timeout against the Philadelphia 76ers November 21, 2004 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowle
Victor Baldizon/Getty Images

Van Gundy did coach Miami to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2004-05, where the Heat lost in seven games to the Detroit Pistons, ironically enough. That's when things fell apart for the dynamic partners.

"The bad blood between Shaq and Stan Van Gundy started when both were with Miami in 2005, when Shaq criticized Van Gundy's coaching decisions following Miami's loss to the Pistons in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals," wrote Sports Illustrated while explaining the feud between the two. And the next year wouldn't go smoothly, as SVG was fired 21 games into the season after winning just 11 games. 

Van Gundy got another chance, though. 

When he signed on with the Orlando Magic for the 2007-08 season, D12 had just made his first All-Star team. But it wasn't until the head coach arrived that Howard transformed into one of the best players in the league, and that metamorphosis happened almost immediately. 

Just look at the jump he took during SVG's first season in charge: 

Per-36 Minute Numbers and Advanced Stats
PointsReboundsBlocksTurnoversTS%WS/48PER
2006-0717.212.01.93.861.90.15421.1
2007-0819.813.52.13.161.90.20022.9
Basketball-Reference.com

Then he took a monstrous leap the next season. 

In 2008-09, D12 earned 0.234 win shares per 48 minutes with a player efficiency rating of 25.4, per Basketball-Reference.com. Sure, that growth was natural, given Howard's youth, but it was also aided by the tutelage of a man who understands how to work with centers. 

"There were two things that Van Gundy was able to do for Howard that other coaches just have not duplicated—and it is not necessarily the case that Van Gundy deserves all the credit for those successes," wrote SportingNews.com's Sean Deveney. "But Van Gundy was able to deploy an offense that gave Howard plenty of space, and was able to get Howard to diversify his game."

Perhaps Howard's offensive decline with the Los Angeles Lakers and—to a lesser extent—the Houston Rockets is just as much a result of his back injury and subsequent recovery as it is his lack of work with Van Gundy, but you can't deny the success he had with the head coach who ran the show while he was an MVP candidate. 

Shaq was first. Howard was second. 

Now it looks as though Drummond will be the third. Hopefully he's prepared for Van Gundy's gritty realism. 

 

Capable of Molding Style to Fit Drummond

One of the reasons Van Gundy found so much success with his previous bigs was an unrelenting desire to build his systems around them. 

As Bleacher Report's Josh Martin wrote, "In five seasons with the Magic, Van Gundy helped to mold Dwight Howard into a three-time Defensive Player of the Year while fashioning an offensive system that capitalized on Howard's unique strength and athleticism in the middle."

So, what was that system? 

Essentially, it was one that involved D12 manning the middle while being surrounded by four shooters capable of stretching out the court. By keeping the defense exposed on the interior and perimeter, the opposition was forced to make tough decisions, either letting shooters have their way by doubling down on Howard or stopping him and exposing the three-point arc. 

Neither worked on a consistent basis. 

The question is: Can the Pistons run something similar? 

Mike Payne of DetroitBadBoys.com tackles that question, among others: 

The traditional recipe for championship contenders sticks to the 2-in/3-out formula that represents just about every winner in recent NBA history.  The "2-in" usually includes a defensive specialist and a scorer, from Gasol to Bynum, Garnett to Perkins, Wallace to Wallace.  Every once in a while, you get that one special player who can do both -- guys like Shaq and Duncan.  Around these guys, however, their frontcourt counterparts were largely traditional. Is there any good reason to try the 1-in/4-out in Detroit, given the outcome in Orlando and the traditional recipe for frontcourt success? 

Even if Drummond is one of those "special" players, running the exact same system doesn't make too much sense given the current makeup of the Detroit roster. Asking Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to loft up three-pointer after three-pointer would certainly make the southpaws happy, but it also wouldn't do much to aid the winning cause. 

One of two outcomes is likely—either SVG will build a new system around Drummond, or he'll use his power as the president of basketball operations to make changes to the roster and mold it to his liking. 

ORLANDO, FL - MAY 2: Stan Van Gundy, Head Coach of the Orlando Magic gives the team direction against the Indiana Pacers during the 2012 NBA Playoffs in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on May 2, 2012 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.
Fernando Medina/Getty Images

As Payne notes, the Orlando shooters—Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson—were mostly in place before he first took up the clipboard for the Magic. But unlike his time in Florida, his stay in Michigan will give him the luxury of shaping his own roster. 

In fact, an anonymous general manager, per Deveney, already speculates that Greg Monroe is done in Detroit, thanks to Van Gundy's presence: 

There are two things that made that job better for Stan. One is the fact that he gets to make personnel decisions, that is a big deal of course. But the other is Andre Drummond. If you want to build your team around a young player, Drummond is the guy.

You’re not going to build around both him and Monroe, they had too much trouble making that work. You pick Drummond and move on from Monroe.

Monroe, to put it bluntly, doesn't work with Drummond. 

The man they call "Moose" is a natural center, just like his younger—and better—counterpart, and he suffered while being asked to play power forward. Allowing him to walk away in restricted free agency this offseason or, better yet, completing a sign-and-trade deal for what could rise as high as max money would let Van Gundy shift Smith back to his natural power forward spot. 

Monroe's exit is not a guarantee, though:

Granted, everything makes more sense in a Monroe-less lineup, and SVG could begin tailoring all personnel decisions around a core that features two potential All-Stars in the frontcourt. And yes, Smoove remains one despite his woeful 2013-14 campaign, as the inadequacy largely stemmed from the insistence to line him up at the 3. 

On top of all this, Drummond already seemed like a candidate to break out in a big way during the 2014-15 campaign. After all, he's going to turn 21 this summer and was already on the verge of making an All-Star team, showcasing plenty of improvement on both sides of the court throughout his sophomore season. 

That's beside the point, though, as we're focusing on what Van Gundy can do for him. Just know that he'd likely blossom even without this coaching change; the presence of the 54-year-old signal-caller only enhances that lofty ceiling. 

Van Gundy has already proven capable of building systems around elite centers. Now he has the ability to shape the roster as well? 

I don't blame Drummond if a smile hasn't left his face since the news about his new head coach was first made public.