Ahead of Schedule

Drummond’s work ethic, coachability hasten his NBA impact

Andre Drummond's maturity is hastening his NBA readiness.
Dan Lippitt/NBAE/Getty Images
MIAMI – Lawrence Frank knew when the Pistons left Orlando last July that they potentially had a very special player in Andre Drummond. He just wasn’t sure he was ready to play as a rookie.

“But what no one knew,” he told me this week, “is how great a kid he was. No one knew that. Nice guy, but no one knew how coachable he was. I didn’t know that.”

What the Pistons found when they got their hands on Drummond – after Summer League, when he came to Auburn Hills and began working with Arnie Kander and his training staff and assistant coach Roy Rogers for on-court drills – is a player with vast athletic skills. Kander marveled at the results he saw, the type of testing skills he might expect out of a point guard or elite wing athlete, not a virtual 7-footer who weighed 285 pounds with 7 percent body fat.

But those vast athletic skills needed to be drawn out. Drummond’s body was out of balance, one side ahead of the other, and his upper body, in particular, needed strength. He didn’t stand erect, they noticed, and that worked to negate his enormous wing span.

When the training staff first began working with Drummond, he was hard to read. They weren’t sure of his attentiveness. Then they noticed that whatever they told him – even some of the most complicated movement drills – was absorbed after the first telling. It was remarkable, they thought, for any player, let alone one who was 18 at the time. It was like unlocking Fort Knox to them.

“His work ethic then compared to what it is now – night and day,” Frank said. Not for lack of desire. Because his body wasn’t ready to absorb the work load. “He couldn’t even do it. His back would get sore with the med balls with Roy. The pace, the intensity he goes at, a whole ’nuther level. Now, he’s got a whole lot more gears to go, but a huge, huge improvement – and that comes down to coachability, talent, character. Do the math.”

The Pistons suggested to Greg Monroe it would help speed Drummond’s acclimation process if he traveled to Orlando with them for Summer League practices, as much to get to know Drummond on a personal level as anything. Monroe saw Drummond’s unpolished edges in Orlando, but he’s not surprised, he said, that Drummond has been able to hit the ground running in the NBA despite his limited college background.

“He’s that kind of player,” Monroe said. “He’s going to affect the game whenever he’s on the floor. He’s been working hard. It’s not like they just leave him out there. He’s working out, (watching) film, trying to get better, develop more skills. But the thing that everybody’s always on him about is his motor. If he’s just playing hard, he’s going to impact the game in a major way. And he’s been doing a great job of that.”

Drummond, indeed, has put to rest the predraft chatter about red flags for effort. He still might have moments of uncertainty for lack of recognition of reads and sets, perhaps, but none when it comes to hunting down loose balls or running the court.

Frank has found ways to play Monroe and Drummond side by side in increasing doses as Drummond’s playing time has ticked up over the course of the season. Eventually, Monroe is prepared to spend the bulk of his time as a power forward while Drummond mans the middle defensively. Monroe likes the fit so far.

“Definitely,” he said. “It’s still a long way to go to be really good. We have to spend more time together, but right now we’re starting to be really effective and as that time expands, we’ll be even better.”

Given Drummond’s learning curve, maybe it won’t take as much time as the Pistons might have expected.