Just a stepping stone, Drummond says of early Pistons success
“I wouldn’t call it success,” he said when I asked him if his early showings had given him greater confidence in his NBA future. “I would call it a new stepping stone for me. I’m building up as a player. The success I’ve had so far, that’s just the ground floor for me. I need to build to get better each and every day, so I’m not satisfied at all. I mean, it’s great that I’ve played well those six games, but I’m still not done. I have a lot more work to do to get myself where I need to be.”
It’s precisely the message Joe Dumars and Lawrence Frank would want to hear from Drummond, but it wouldn’t surprise them. Because it’s also precisely the attitude he has projected since his first Summer League practices.
“You notice him in the game – he’s impacting it,” Frank said. “There’s a lot of work to be done. We think he has a very high ceiling and a long, long way to go, but he definitely has been, quote-unquote,” and here Frank nods to the sign hanging high on the west wall above the team’s practice court, which reads Be Impactful, “that sign over there, he’s been impactful in the minutes he’s been in.”
In 17½ minutes a game, eighth on the team, Drummond is third in scoring (9.8), first in rebounding (5.8) and first in blocked shots (1.5). He says he’s even surprised himself with how quickly he’s picking things up, crediting teammates and coaches for his comfort level. Inconsistency was a rap on Drummond coming into the draft – though even the critics agreed that his circumstances as a UConn freshman were a perfect recipe for inconsistency – but in the microscopic sample size of six preseason games, Drummond has consistently affected games.
“I’m not really trying to step outside of my game. I’m just trying to do things that I’m good at because I’m going to be here for a little while, so I have time to work on my game. I’ll be able to step out and do some more back-to-the-basket things, but right now I’m a role player. I do all the dirty work: play defense, grab rebounds, block shots and finish strong around the rim.”
That’s the drum Pistons management, coaches and teammates have been banging since July with Drummond. If he plays hard, runs the floor, rebounds and blocks shots, they’ll be thrilled. There’s plenty of time for everything else. The strength and athleticism with which he makes those plays – the rim-rattling dunks and emphatic blocks – are usually momentum-swinging plays. They’re a big part of his repertoire and no one’s really surprised that he’s been able to make at least a few of those every night.
Encouraging, if not downright surprising, is that those big plays haven’t been countered with as many wince-inducing moments.
“In practice, when he does it, we nip it in the bud early,” Brandon Knight told me. “Coming from us first, and then the coaches will tell him, he’s maturing quickly. He’s young, just like I am, but he’s definitely one of the guys that learns fast. He knows what he can and can’t do and what we’re looking for. He respects that and he listens to that.
“That’s why I think in the games you see Dre doing stuff that looks good all the time, because Dre knows what we’re looking for from him and what’s going to make him look the best and what’s going to help our team the most.”
The Pistons are down to their final two preseason games heading into the Oct. 31 opener at The Palace against Houston. Frank reiterated on Tuesday that these last two – Wednesday at Winnipeg against Minnesota, Friday vs. Atlanta at home – will feature something likely similar to the playing rotation he employs against the Rockets next week.
If it’s not official yet that Drummond will be a part of that rotation, it’s everything but.
“He’s got to continue to work,” Frank said. “Everything is fluid. Someone could start in the rotation and then be out of it. But I think Andre’s done a lot of good things. Hey, look, he definitely brings something that we didn’t have. He has length and athleticism. The good thing is he’s rebounding the ball well, which is very encouraging.”
Drummond isn’t accustomed to coming off the bench, of course, but he says observing Greg Monroe and opposing big men in the first quarter gives him a chance to assess what he should do when Frank summons him. It also gives him time next to Corey Maggette, the veteran to whom Drummond has attached himself, a fount of advice on the professional level, but even more on the personal.
“I wasn’t expecting to come here and start, so I knew I was going to come off the bench and I knew my minutes weren’t going to be what a lot of people thought they were going to be,” he said. “Coach Frank, he knows the type of player I am. He knows what he needs to do to get the best out of me, so he plays me in short spurts. He knows in short spurts, I’m going to give it my all and I’m going to work my way to where I need to be.”
The biggest adjustment Drummond has found so far about being a teenager in a grown-up world? Away from the court.
“All the bills I’ve got to take care of,” he said. “I was frustrated last night, looking at all these bills I’ve got to take care of.”
At the rate he’s going, and the introspection he exhibits in handling early success – ahem, early building blocks – it appears he’s going to have a pretty good shot at obtaining the means to take care of those bills for a long time.