The education of Andre Drummond
There are two things you notice when watching Drummond play at this level after he matched up with some legitimate NBA big men so far this week.
One is that he resembles a player who came to the NBA right out of high school. That's almost true. He enrolled at Connecticut a year early and is still a month away from his 19th birthday, making him the youngest player currently on an NBA roster. The other is that there aren't many 6-foot-11, 280-pound men in the world who can move like him. That is precisely why he's where he is.
The Pistons have been a bit surprised at how little Drummond actually knows about high-level basketball. If he was taught much about it at UConn, it didn't stick. They are having to go very slowly with him over certain basic concepts, especially as it pertains to managing a pick-and-roll.
During the first half of the Pistons' game Wednesday, a game they lost 83-62 to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Pistons coach Lawrence Frank came over from the stands with a legal pad after 10 minutes of action and sat with Drummond. He started doing intensive in-game coaching. Frank has been having these little sessions with Drummond regularly over the past two weeks.
But that doesn't mean Drummond is slow. In fact, the Pistons have noticed they usually don't have to tell him things twice. He has been receptive and coachable -- there's just a lot of coaching to do.
"There's new terminology. I haven't heard some of these words before," Drummond said. "I ask a lot of questions. This whole summer league is a big learning experience for me as I move into training camp. I overthink sometimes and try to do it all."
Indeed, sometimes Drummond looks lost out there. Sometimes he gets out of position because he tries to block every shot. Sometimes he gets worked over by players obviously more experienced than he is.
Tuesday, for example, he became the personal target of Orlando Magic rookie Kyle O'Quinn, who was the 49th pick overall. O'Quinn went after Drummond both physically and mentally, bashing into him and trash talking all the way. Drummond did not appear totally up for the moment, posting a three-point, three-rebound game. Afterward, O'Quinn, a four-year college player at little Norfolk State who showed polished footwork and extreme confidence, crowed about outworking the lottery pick from the big school.
"I wouldn't say people look at me as a target, just a player they need to play against," Drummond said matter-of-factly. "Why would someone target me just because I'm a lottery pick?"
Well, they are, and he better get used to it.
But then there's a stretch like the first quarter Wednesday and you understand why Pistons general manager Joe Dumars got so excited Drummond fell to him at No. 9. Playing against the Thunder's Cole Aldrich, a player OKC plans on having in its rotation next season, Drummond had 8 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in a 10-minute stretch that drew some "wows" from the scouts and media in attendance.
Drummond has terrific natural footwork. He does not move like a big man. He runs, jumps and corners like smaller and lighter players. And though some instant detractors have labeled him another Kwame Brown, Drummond seems to have reasonable hands. His stats in college and so far in Orlando are not impressive. But he outplayed Aldrich in that first quarter and had good success the Utah Jazz's Enes Kanter on defense in the first summer league games on Monday.
He finished with 10 points and nine rebounds Wednesday. In the three games thus far he's averaging 7 points, 5.3 points, 3 steals and 3.3 blocks a game. He's able to play long minutes day after day, showing he's in reasonably good shape, though of course the team hopes to get him in better condition. He's 3-of-11 from the foul line. He has avoided a classic young big man's mistake of heavy fouling, collecting a reasonable 11 in the three games.
Calling it too early to tell on Drummond is an understatement. You can see all the challenges and all the potential. The Pistons will have some interesting decisions on how much to play him. Last season they played rookie point guard Brandon Knight heavily and let him play through mistakes. Giving Drummond minutes as a rookie will take patience as well.
The Pistons are currently considering bringing back veteran big man Ben Wallace. He could act as a mentor to Drummond but he could also take some of his playing time. Detroit may want to see what they have with the rotation of Drummond and Greg Monroe.
In the meantime, Drummond is planning on moving to Detroit in the next few weeks to start workouts leading up to training camp. He's got a long way to go but that doesn't mean he won't get there. His attitude about his situation seems to be a mixture of naiveté, curiosity and confidence. Which is probably exactly what to expect from a talented 18-year-old in his position.
"I'm trying to soak it in," Drummond said. "They're pushing me around a bit, I'm a rookie. But I'm not giving in to anybody."
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