Raising the Bar

Faring well in longest outing, Andre Drummond pushes his boundaries

Rookie Andre Drummond is making the most of his minutes on the court.
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
The Pistons put zero expectations on Andre Drummond with regard to starting, cracking the rotation or racking up any kind of numbers. Their demands were simple: Work hard before, during and after practice and affect the game – if and when you get a chance to play – in the ways that your physical gifts allow.

So, yeah, flying colors.

Maybe in their most inner sanctum, maybe in their heart of hearts, Joe Dumars and Lawrence Frank had more concrete goals in mind for Drummond, but there’s no reason not to take them at their word. Within minutes of drafting him last June, first Joe D and then Tom Gores and Frank, as well, put a voice to the unanimity of perspective on Drummond: He was 18, tremendously talented but clearly in need of development, and the organization intended to exercise every bit of patience required – so long as Drummond proved a willing learner, a team player and a competitor.

Check, check and check.

Frank is asked about Drummond several times a week, questions about his progress, about whether he’s ahead of schedule, about what the future – near and far term – holds.

He’s been consistent in his responses there, as well. Frank lauds Drummond’s character and his embrace of coaching and praises what he’s been able to contribute over the first quarter of his rookie season while taking it back to the reality that Drummond is 19 and in his infancy, even by the standards of the typical one-and-done types who populate the lottery.

Fans, or at least a vocal chunk of them, clearly want Drummond’s role greatly expanded beyond the 17 minutes a game he’s currently playing.

Frank responds by saying his loyalty is to the team, plain and simple. Drummond’s playing time isn’t determined at tipoff, but based on performance – not just his, but of the players whose minutes might otherwise be Drummond’s.

Here’s what Frank said before Wednesday’s game with Golden State when he was asked about the balancing act of attempting to win games and develop young players simultaneously:

“Your loyalty is to try to find a way to win that game, whatever that takes. Unless your organization says, ‘All we’re doing is playing the young guys. It’s not about winning, it’s totally about these guys playing,’ then that’s one thing. If your goal is to try to win, then your loyalty is to winning.”

No, Joe Dumars has never given his coach – this one or any previous coach – those marching orders.

“He’s never once said, ‘I need you to play Joe Smith a little bit more, or Johnny Joe.’ ” Frank said. “It’s always about the commitment to the team.”

So on Wednesday, when his team got off to a disjointed start and fell a dozen points down by the midway point of the first quarter, Frank turned to the two most prominent members of his bench as currently constructed: Andre Drummond and Rodney Stuckey.

Drummond responded well, giving the Pistons eight points and seven boards in 15 first-half minutes. He finished with 31 minutes, his longest stint of the season by six minutes. He played the last 16 minutes consecutively – a long run even for a veteran and especially for a big man. He held up well, not just physically but also from a focus standpoint, not making more than the occasional assignment gaffe and – in fact – covering up for mistakes of others, Frank said.

“Andre is always going to have – no different than a lot (of players) – coverage wise, he’s off, but his effort and energy is what supersedes it,” Frank said after Thursday’s practice. “Plus, because of his physical gifts – his athleticism, his length, his timing – he made up a bunch of mistakes for us. We made some mistakes, he was there to either block the shot or discourage it.”

By holding up so well – not showing major dropoff due to fatigue or lapses in concentration – Drummond earned another measure of Frank’s trust. It doesn’t mean he gets blanket immunity the next time he hits the court, but … well, let Frank tell it.

“It’s never like you’ve arrived, but it’s a good thing to see because you’ve shown you’re capable of doing it. Now you just continue to raise the bar in terms of the standards we expect. Once you’ve shown us that you can do it, we expect it. He had another stretch (recently) where he played maybe 11 consecutive minutes but he started to get really fatigued and tired. But he showed he can stretch himself out.”

So about those expectations the Pistons didn’t have for Drummond coming into the season? They’re starting to develop some – as dictated by Andre Drummond’s play, which will be the dominant factor in determining his playing time going forward, as it ever was.