As Drummond’s role expands, on and off the court, Pistons’ fortunes sure to follow
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ORLANDO – “Hey,” Andre Drummond called to Spencer Dinwiddie as the newest Piston pulled on his backpack at the conclusion of the week’s fifth practice of the Stan Van Gundy era. “Go get me a water and a Gatorade, please – and I don’t usually say ‘please.’ ”
For Dinwiddie, it was just another rite of passage, rookie orientation. For Drummond, it was further evidence of his growing comfort with embracing leadership.
“I think it’s starting to come easy,” he said, drenched in sweat after two hours of leadership expressed as effort in a tightly run practice. “I get to the point where I don’t care about the age anymore. I feel like there’s a point where I have the experience and I know what it takes to win. For the younger guys – not really the younger guys, because they’re all younger than me – I feel I can share so much knowledge with them and let them know what I think and just how I feel about certain situations, what I’ve been through and what I think they can do to better their situations and not follow the footsteps that probably I did wrong.”
It’s worth noting that at 20 – he turns 20 in August – Drummond remains the youngest Piston, four months Dinwiddie’s junior. But as he looked around the gymnasium at the Orange County park where the Pistons have held practices all week leading to Summer League play that tips off Saturday, the thought that this was where he launched his NBA career only two years ago seemed surreal.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “Just going into my third year, feels like I’ve been here forever already. I feel like I’ve been here through it all. Having Spencer being here just shows how far I’ve really come. For him to look up to me in a sense and to ask me questions, it’s like, wow, either I’m doing something right or they really believe in me.”
In Van Gundy, Drummond will be playing for his fourth head coach, following Lawrence Frank, Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer. He’s pretty sure this one will be around long enough to see him flower into full stardom.
“I feel like for him getting that big deal for that long, he’s going to have a chance to really work with us and really build the team that he wants. He has a great resume. He has teams he brought to the Finals. He’s done great things already. I’m just excited for the years to come.”
Van Gundy called Drummond the day he got the job in mid-May and they sat down for nearly two hours the following week. They’ve had several conversations since. Even though Van Gundy isn’t coaching the Summer League team – assistant Bob Beyer is – his voice is heard often before, during and after the Orlando practice sessions. Drummond is already getting a sense of his style.
“Even though he’s not really coaching, his presence is felt all the time,” he said. “He’s hands on. When he sees something, he’s going to let it be known that you did something wrong or if he sees that you did something right. That’s not only with me, but with everybody out here. He’s really a hands-on guy and he’s big on communication. It’s really cool to see that he’s so driven to have this program changed.”
Van Gundy’s staff isn’t yet complete, but Drummond knows the man who’ll be focusing his attention on honing his sharp edges: Brendan Malone. Van Gundy calls Malone as fine a teacher of the game’s nuances as he’s come across and said that Washington’s Marcin Gortat – who broke in with Orlando when Van Gundy and Malone were there – unfailingly credits Malone with fast-tracking his career.
Drummond grew fond of both of the coaches assigned to him in his first two seasons, first Roy Rogers and then Rasheed Wallace. As last season unfolded, Drummond increasingly flashed a jump hook with both hands and one- and two-dribble power moves that exploited his quickness.
“I credit that to Rasheed,” he said, “drilling that in my head day in and day out, sitting there for hours, shooting ’em with both hands and just how comfortable I’ve gotten with it has been great. So I really thank Rasheed for making sure I had that stuff in my game. He noticed the other stuff I had – my quickness, my athleticism – and he said, ‘You might as well use that to beat your defender with a jump hook or blowing by your defender with a quick step for the dunk.’ ”
All of Drummond’s coaches to date – Frank, Cheeks, Loyer, Rogers and Wallace – have raved about their student’s hunger to be coached. The bonding process with Malone appears well under way. Van Gundy sent Malone to Los Angeles, where Drummond trained all of June with other pros and prospects preparing for the draft like Dante Exum and former UConn teammate Shabazz Napier, for three days last month to work with him.
“Brendan is funny,” Drummond said, cracking a wide grin at the mention of his name. “A basketball court is everywhere to him. He’ll stop me in the middle of dinner to have me get up and show me a different move.”
As Drummond talks, Malone walks about 30 feet away in pursuit of a Summer League free agent invitee hoping to earn a shot at the NBA, showing him a few tricks of the trade as players get in a few minutes of individual drill work before they get herded out of the gym.
“Look at him,” Drummond said. “He’s ready to start right now. He’ll pull random people to run a set or run a duck-in play anywhere we are. It’s crazy. He has so much knowledge in his mind – it’s always going, thinking of different things to better me as a player.”
One of those things, which they drilled after Wednesday’s second practice, involved Drummond standing 3 to 5 feet from the rim, holding the basketball only with his right hand, cupping it palm up at first and then swinging his arm to get it into the shooting motion without his left hand to guide it as he shot – and then doing it over and over again.
“That’s just to keep my shot in line on my free throws. I’ve been getting a lot better with it throughout the summer,” Drummond said. “It’s making sure I have the right muscle memory, shooting one-handed. It’s been beneficial for me.”
That’s where Van Gundy wants Drummond, too – 3 to 5 feet from the basket, where he can eventually dominate a game at both ends. Van Gundy has told Drummond how he plans to occupy those spaces farther from the basket.
“Adding a lot of shooters,” he said. “That’s all I know. He said he wanted to add a lot of shooters to really clear space out for me.”