Halfway Home

Drummond’s early impact gives Pistons compass to their future

The Pistons opened their season, now one game removed from the halfway point, on Halloween. Sort of fitting. Because the team that’s gone 8-4 over its last 12 games resembles that team about as much as the CPA who dresses up for Halloween resembles his Freddy Krueger costume.

They’re still a long way from completing their transformation, they’re still too inconsistent for Lawrence Frank’s liking and they still have areas of need. But for the first time since the transition phase from the Goin’ to Work era began, the identity the Pistons are seeking is taking a recognizable form.

And that starts with Andre Drummond. I’d tick off a list of first-half accomplishments for the Pistons, but to give you a 1 through 10 list would shortchange Drummond’s impact –unless you listed him 1 through 7.

Greg Monroe was the first building block and Brandon Knight the second, but by themselves there wasn’t enough there for the Pistons to know exactly what their new identity would be. They needed to slide one other foundational piece alongside them and then figure out the blueprint to make the resulting dynamic work.

Drummond’s addition next to Monroe and Knight narrows their focus. The Pistons know Drummond thrives surrounded by shooting and a slick pick-and-roll operator. They know their future rosters will need a handful of those types of players – those with the ability to keep the floor spread and those with the ability to exploit the space provided by such shooting.

Knight counts as one of the shooters. Still evolving as a pick-and-roll guard who didn’t experience the staple of NBA offenses in Kentucky’s dribble handoff-heavy scheme, Knight is emerging as a harassing defender and a sniper offensively with a quick trigger from the 3-point line and an improved ability to finish at the rim.

Monroe, too, figures to benefit from playing with more shooting around him. Frank has upped Monroe’s profile in the half-court offense this season, frequently starting plays by funneling the ball to Monroe at the elbows. The more room created by a few floor-spacing shooters around him, the more dangerous as a high-post passer Monroe becomes and the less vulnerable to pocket-picking wing defenders sagging off their covers.

Frank demurs when asked to reflect on the distance the Pistons have traveled over the season’s first half, wishing to look in no direction but forward – and even at that for no greater distance than the next game. So how much closer are the Pistons today than they were 2½ months ago at establishing an identity?

“It’s obvious in our wins what we do well,” Frank said. “To me, that’s how you form an identity. If you’re that committed to winning, then you’re going to sell out to those ideals and they haven’t changed from day one. It’s still the same formula. For us, it’s proven every which way – on the scoreboard and statistically and just through the naked eye.”

I won’t drown you with numbers, but here are three telling ones: The Pistons now rank No. 8 in the league in rebounding as measured by rebound percentage; they rank No. 5 in points in the paint per game; and they stand at No. 9 in field-goal percentage defense.

That’s all in keeping with the direction Frank has been nudging the team toward since he got here. Adding Drummond to the mix has allowed the Pistons to skip a few steps to get there, but the progress is more a matter of mind-set and the daily homage paid to the tenets of sound basketball a la Frank: take away points in the paint, limit damage from the 3-point line and take care of the basketball.

“Big picture, it’s who are you going to be?” Frank said. “What’s your identity? What’s your formula for winning? Can you be committed to it? Will you sustain it? What’s your resolve? How are you going to respond to adversity? The more you’re together and the more you stay with it, that’s when you’re really able to evaluate.”

Who the Pistons are going to be has become clear in the season’s first half. The impact Andre Drummond has had is what made it so.