Ahead of Schedule

Drummond delivers game-changing impact sooner than many expected

As a fellow UConn Huskie, Charlie Villanueva’s interest in Andre Drummond was perhaps more keen than that of his teammates. When Villanueva traveled to Orlando to partake in a handful of practices before Drummond and other rookies and young players dived into their Summer League schedule, he was immediately struck by the traits of Drummond that are immediately striking: the sheer size, strength and eye-popping athleticism in one so frightfully young.

So Charlie V expected big things from Andre Drummond.

He just didn’t expect them so soon.

“I knew he was going to be a tremendous player,” Villanueva said a day after being fined $25,000 by the NBA for his flagrant-2 foul that saw him ejected just before halftime of the New Year’s Day win over Sacramento. “You can see it. But this early? No. I thought it was going to take him a little bit, but he’s proven me wrong. He’s proven a lot of people wrong. He’s playing very well.”

Drummond averaged 8.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a game in 22 minutes for 16 December games, up from 6.3, 6.3 and 1.2 in 17 minutes for 16 November games. Carve out the last six and the numbers tick up another notch: 9.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 24.6 minutes a game.

The rookie appreciates that he’s been brought along at his own pace by Lawrence Frank, not force fed minutes on the one hand or had his playing time fluctuate wildly if he commits the occasional rookie sin.

“Coach Frank, he knows exactly what to do to get the best out of me,” he said. “The way he’s playing me now is beneficial not only for our team but for me as well – easing me in, not throwing me in the fire right away.”

As Drummond adjusted to the speed of the game and the strength of NBA veteran big men in the early weeks, he would sometimes get winded quickly. That isn’t happening any longer, and Frank has continued to let the duration of Drummond’s appearances grow.

“I’m not getting as fatigued any more,” Drummond said. “I’m getting a lot more used to the game. It’s starting to come a little easier. I know the pace of the game. I know different stretches where I need to give it 100 percent and when I need to get back on defense and know what we need to do to get stops.”

Drummond does his best to deflect questions about individual success, but in the course of praising his support system he alluded to perhaps exceeding even his own expectations.

“The help of my teammates and my coaching staff, just the guys that I have around me in the organization to help me move forward in my game to get me better faster than expected, I definitely thank them,” he said. “But most importantly, our team is playing really well this year.”

Villanueva smiles as he ponders what must be going through the mind of Drummond and where this road figures to take him.

“He looked raw (in Orlando), but he still has no idea how good he’s going to be in this league. He’s going to be one of the top centers in this league for a long time. With him, it’s opportunity and confidence. Coach has given him an opportunity and his confidence level is high right now. He’s a kid. He’s 19 years old. He doesn’t know what’s going on. He has no idea what’s going on.”

  • Villanueva scoffed when it was relayed to him that Sacramento’s Thomas had called him “a dirty player,” after Tuesday’s game.

    “Dirty player? Not at all. I know a lot of people would testify to that. … I tried to block the ball and he’s 4-foot-11, 100 pounds wet, so it looks bad. But I’m not a dirty player. I didn’t try to hurt him at all.”

    Villanueva expected to be called for a foul, but not a flagrant of any sort – no ejection, no fine and no suspension, certainly.

    Frank also dismissed any suggestion that Villanueva had intent to harm Thomas.

    “C’mon,” he said. “He’s not a dirty player.”

    “You look at it live vs. tape, to me it’s two different things,” Frank said. “I don’t think the intent was what the end result was.”