Drummond: Déjà Vu

Pistons grab UConn 7-footer to anchor frontcourt with Monroe

The Pistons selected UConn big man Andre Drummond with the No. 9 pick.
Jesse D. Garrabant/NBAE/Getty Images
Andre Drummond, meet Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight. The three players the Pistons have plucked from the draft over the past three years have more in common than the NBA uniform they’ll wear next season. They also share this: Not one of them was supposed to be a Piston. And now they’re at the heart of the team’s future.

Just as Monroe was supposed to be gone before the Pistons picked No. 7 in 2010 and Knight off the board before the Pistons’ turn came at No. 8 a year ago, Drummond was considered a possibility to be drafted as high as No. 2 but tumbled all the way to ninth for the Pistons on Thursday night.

“When we came out of the Chicago predraft camp, he was one of the players we met with,” Joe Dumars said moments after taking at No. 9 a player many feel was the No. 2 talent in the draft. “When he left the room, we all looked around and said, ‘Well, that’s the last time we see him.’ I’ve been saying that for three straight years, but – really – this guy wasn’t supposed to be there at nine, for real this time.”

The Pistons know that Drummond fell to nine for valid reasons. He’s very raw offensively and, at 18 – Drummond wont’ turn 19 until late August – he was the draft’s second-youngest player. Until late August 2011, he was poised to return for another year of prep school, but reclassified and decided to enroll at Connecticut. The Huskies had a chaotic season, marked by coach Jim Calhoun’s health issues and young guards who dominated the ball, and Drummond’s performance and consistency suffered accordingly. He averaged 10 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots a game amid frequent questions about how hard he played.

“As soon as I get up there with my team and go through Summer League and all the other things, all the talk about my motor and all the other stuff – ‘He doesn’t play hard’ – will be put to rest immediately,” Drummond said by phone from New York. “I’m definitely a hard worker and my teammates know that and my coaches definitely know that.”

The Pistons left their interview with Drummond in Chicago feeling they’d made a connection with him; Drummond confirmed as much Thursday.

“I definitely felt that way,” Drummond said. “We had the meeting in Chicago and we just had this certain vibe for each other. I think we would be a great fit for each other. … All I know is that I’m walking into a brotherhood and I’m walking into a great family and coaching staff and the organization is amazing. I know that I’m going to grow as a player and as a person. I know the fans are great out there, so I just can’t wait to walk into a great situation.”

Dumars and Pistons personnel director George David flew to New York on Tuesday night and secured a gym on 61st Street, running Drummond through about a 45-minute workout starting at 10:30 p.m., followed by another 45-minute conversation. The workout came together Tuesday afternoon after Dumars asked Drummond’s agent, Rob Pelinka, if he would arrange it. Pelinka at first balked, not believing Drummond would fall that far, but got back to Dumars a few hours later and told him “you need to get on a plane.”

It took some stunning moves ahead of the Pistons for Drummond to fall. Charlotte took Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at No. 2 after New Orleans made Anthony Davis the first pick. Washington grabbed Bradley Beal at No. 3, then Cleveland – for the second straight year – made a surprise pick at No. 4. Last year, it was Tristan Thompson. This time, it was Syracuse guard Dion Waiters. With Thomas Robinson sliding to No. 5, Sacramento – which likely was poised to take Drummond if Robinson had gone No. 2 to Charlotte, as most expected – made the Kansas junior its pick.

Portland, thought to be a possible landing spot for Drummond, went instead with Weber State point guard Damian Lillard. Golden State took Harrison Barnes, who most thought would go to Cleveland or Sacramento. That left it to Toronto at No. 8. And while nobody thought the Raptors, after taking 7-footer Jonas Valanciunas a year ago, were likely to take Drummond for themselves, the threat of trading the pick to someone targeting Drummond – a team knowing he wouldn’t get past the Pistons at No. 9 – was very real.

“(Teams) were trying (to trade with Toronto),” Dumars said. “It was a lot of phone calls. Once Thomas Robinson went fifth, he was in play for us then. We knew that was the cutoff. If Sacramento didn’t take him at five – they were debating about taking him – we knew then there was a good chance he would be there unless Toronto in front of us tried to leverage him.”

Though other attractive big men were still on the board – North Carolina teammates John Henson and Tyler Zeller and Illinois 7-footer Meyers Leonard, most notably – Dumars said it was an “easy” decision to draft Drummond, a legitimate 7-footer with amazing lateral quickness and an enormous wing span.

The Pistons don’t expect Drummond to come in and tear the league up as a rookie, understanding he needs time to mature emotionally, hone his skills and learn how to play NBA basketball. But he should be able to have an impact as a shot-blocker, pick-and-roll defender and a player who uses his athleticism and reach to clean up offensive rebounds and finish lob dunks.

“He’s a huge asset for us,” said Pistons owner Tom Gores, who was at Dumars’ side in the draft room. “He’s young, so we have to make sure we nurture his talent. We’ve very excited. Last year we got Brandon and I feel we were very fortunate to get that and this year we got Andre – so very lucky, very fortunate.”

Dumars said he had already talked to Monroe, who just turned 22, about serving as a mentor for Drummond.

“We’ve talked to Greg about that, about taking this kid under his wing,” he said. “Greg is a very professional guy. This kid is a very high character kid – emphasis on kid. Greg, all you guys, you’re going to have to take care of this kid.”

“Very athletic,” Dumars said. “He has an NBA-ready body. He’s a young, raw kid on the offensive end, so the advantage for him right now is defense, rebounding and blocking shots.”