ORLANDO – The Pistons felt they had a strong sense of Andre Drummond’s fiber when they made him the No. 9 pick in the 2012 draft three weeks ago. They believed they were getting a kid with a good head and a good heart, and that those two things ultimately would allow the tantalizing raw ability within him to be realized.
They left Summer League even more confident Andre Drummond’s career would follow the right path, but just as determined to invest the patience necessary to nurture an 18-year-old suddenly immersed in a man’s world.
“The kid has a tremendous amount of talent, but he’s raw. That’s fair to say,” Joe Dumars said as the Orlando Pro Summer League week wound down. “There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s why we got him at No. 9. But if you look at him as a piece of clay, we got the best piece of clay in the draft.”
Molding that chunk of clay into a dominant 7-foot shot-blocker and above-the-rim athlete that is the on-paper ideal complement to the skilled and cerebral Greg Monroe will take work on both sides of the equation – on Drummond’s part and on the part of Pistons coaches, trainers and management.
There was never a question of the willingness of the Pistons to invest the time, but perhaps some wondered whether Drummond would be an earnest student. Whatever doubts the Pistons themselves might have had were alleviated during their time in Orlando in which Drummond participated in six practices and five games.
“The most encouraging thing is that he’s a willing learner,” Dumars said. “This is not a kid that’s brushing you off when you talk to him. He’s looking you dead in the eye and trying to soak everything you say. When you have a kid who listens the way he does and then you see him go out on the floor and try to do exactly what you told him to do, then you know you’ve got a kid who has a chance to get better.”
Drummond not only accepted instruction, he invited and embraced it, making it clear to teammates and coaches that his desire to blend in and help move the franchise forward superseded any personal agenda.
“Some of the guys, they’re looking out for me because I’m new to the team and I’m the youngest person on the team,” Drummond said. “I have a whole lot more to learn, physically and mentally. They’re definitely taking the time to help me out to get me up to speed to where they’re at.”
Though Drummond didn’t have a huge impact on each of his five Summer League games, in averaging 7.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots per game he flashed moments in each of them that put his stunning athleticism for one so big and young on full display. His jump shot from 12 feet and in was surprisingly effective. His ability to jump out to disrupt pick-and-roll plays and then recover to the paint was remarkable. He didn’t always put his body on an opponent when a shot went up, yet frequently would spear the rebound regardless because of his quick-jump ability and enormous reach.
“That’s what we were hoping for,” assistant general manager George David said. “One, get some moments that made you feel like this is a kid that, going into the season, was ranked the No. 2 player for this draft. Two, get some of those moments in every game. He’s 18 years old. As a basketball staff, we are more than willing to wait on his progress from a skills standpoint, from an understanding standpoint.”
The Pistons stressed to Drummond throughout the week to focus on the things they know he can do well – block shots, run the floor and rebound. There will be plenty of time to hone low-post moves and become more accomplished in the game’s nuances. As long as he plays hard and continues to respond well to coaching, it will be easy to exercise patience for the process.
“His first season, what we’ll really be focused on is let’s take the two things you can do right away – rebound and block shots. That comes easy for him. Two, can he make athletic plays? If we just focus in year one on him being able to do that more and more consistently, not only game to game but within a game, you can wait on the skills to come along.
“Lawrence (Frank) is big on that, too. Lawrence’s only demand has been, ‘show me effort and I’m willing to wait on everything else.’ From Andre’s standpoint, we couldn’t have been more pleased.”
The Pistons also were eager to see how Drummond and his teammates would interact. Though Monroe didn’t play in Summer League games, he did participate in each of the six practices and spent most of his time playing next to Drummond. Brandon Knight frequently pulled Drummond aside during breaks in play to pass along bits of advice. Drummond soaked it all up.
“Nothing really fazes him,” Pistons Summer League coach John Loyer said after the fourth game, a win over Boston in which Drummond had to guard both 7-footer Fab Melo and Ohio State power forward Jared Sullinger. “You can ask him to guard a guy with (Utah center Enes) Kanter’s size. Today he has to guard a 6-8 guy in Sullinger. He just never really blinks. He knows that’s his job. He’s emotionally focused, ready to go.”
“He’s just a guy that’s working hard,” Knight said. “He’s soaking up everything that coach is telling him and we’re telling him. It’s just a great experience for him. He’s a sponge. He wants to learn. He’s a smart kid and I know he’s going to be a great player.”
The Pistons were looking for a third young pillar of the franchise to join Monroe and Knight, the fruits of the last two drafts, and in Drummond they feel they’ve landed that player, a fit in both talent and temperament.
“His personality is a perfect fit for the young guys we have here,” Dumars said. “For the direction we’re going as a team, he fits perfectly. I think these guys are going to embrace him, I think he’s going to embrace these guys and he’s another big piece to the core.”