Drummond stirs memories of Howard for ex-Magic players
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The comparisons of Andre Drummond to Dwight Howard began before Drummond stepped on UConn’s campus three years ago. They intensified when Drummond hit the NBA with impact not seen in a young center since Howard arrived eight years ahead of him.
They ratcheted up another notch when Stan Van Gundy, Howard’s coach for five seasons in Orlando, signed on to coach the Pistons. And the recent wave of 3-point shooters brought to Detroit by Van Gundy, emulating the blueprint used in Orlando to space the court around Howard, adds another layer to the comparisons.
Brian Cook spent about 1½ years in Orlando – arriving early in the 2007-08 season and leaving at the trade deadline in 2009 – when Howard was in his fourth and fifth NBA seasons and already established as an All-Star. (Howard’s first All-Star season was his third in the NBA. He’s made it each of the past eight years.) After a handful of Summer League practices earlier this month in Orlando, he saw clear similarities.
“A lot. Andre, he’s a natural, man. When Dwight came into the league, he was a little skinnier and Dwight worked his tail off to get where he is. Andre has all the potential in the world. Shaq (O’Neal) was the biggest I played with and he’s got that type of body.”
Cook first glimpsed Drummond when he was an instructor at the NBA Players Association development camp for high school players held annually. He was struck by Drummond’s pure size and agility.
“When he came out, I said, ‘This kid is going to be really, really good. He has that potential. It’s all talent. He’s still young and he’s still got a lot to learn.”
Cook believes Van Gundy will be great for Drummond’s development as far as makeup and approach, while assistant coach Brendan Malone – who left Summer League after two games to return to Los Angeles and resume his work with Drummond at his off-season training base there – will be just as important for his skills development.
“Brendan will be great for Andre,” Cook said. “He worked with Marcin Gortat all the time when he was in Orlando. I used to see how hard Marcin worked. If Andre gets that kind of work ethic, he’ll be great.”
Justin Harper, the No. 32 pick in the 2011 draft, spent all of Howard’s last season as a member of the Magic with him in Orlando. He just as emphatically sees the traits Howard and Drummond share.
“Especially in the defensive side of the ball,” Harper said after going through seven tough practice sessions with Drummond. “Andre just has great defensive instcints. He’s a great help defender. He tries to block everything and he finishes a lot of defensive possessions with the rebound. When guards send guys to the paint, they know he’s back there as the anchor on defense.”
Harper sees room for growth out of Drummond on the offensive end, but his first thought had nothing to do with his scoring potential.
“I think a huge step for Andre – he’s so great at such a young age, he has so much room to improve – but I think his passing out of the post, being able to count on him down the stretch. Throw it in for a bucket, but also to trust him to make the right decision. Passing it – whether it’s a cross-court pass to a big or anybody who can shoot or when the double-team is coming – that’s a huge step. People kind of forget how important that is to be a solid big in this league.”
Cook and Harper were brought to Orlando, no doubt, because of their shooting ability as power forwards to help create space for Howard. They expect Van Gundy to eventually find similar players to surround Drummond.
“That’s a big part of what Stan wants to do on offense,” Harper said. “Just creating action from the bigs and having threats on the perimeter. The fours are a huge part of the offense. It’s crucial to have bigs who can shoot the ball.”