A Half-Full Glass

Drummond’s down time likely will be put to good use by Pistons staff

Lawrence Frank talks about turning the negative of Andre Drummond’s back injury
Lawrence Frank talks about turning the negative of Andre Drummond’s back injury into a positive.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
Lawrence Frank is the first to admit his life won’t win any awards for the breadth of his experiences. Like most pro or big-time college coaches, his attention is devoured by the excesses required of the job. To the extent he’s familiar with mainstream pop movies, it’s because he turns his TV on in the middle of the night to help induce a few hours of fitful sleep before he beats everyone else to work in the predawn hours.

But when he spoke of the need to “turn a negative into a positive” with regard to Andre Drummond’s back injury, he wasn’t speaking from deep inside the bunker where most coaches take up residence. He was speaking with genuine intent and authority. There really are things Drummond can do in his down time to make himself a better player upon his return.

It’s disappointing, of course, that Drummond must sit out until mid- or late March simply because it was such a joy to track the remarkable arc of his progress. Watching Drummond was like monitoring the early months of a baby’s life, where there is almost nothing subtle about the rapid succession of “firsts” accomplished.

But there really is a silver lining to this idleness. No. 1 is the nature of the injury – a stress fracture of the fifth lumbar vertebra. It sounds grim – back injuries are notoriously problematic – but once the bone heals, it’s healed, with no reason to believe there will be any degradation. This isn’t a disc injury. It’s not damaged cartilage that even modern medical technology can’t rehabilitate.

Drummond’s time won’t be wasted, either. Arnie Kander and his staff are as wowed by what they see from Drummond in the back room at the team’s practice facility – where Kander’s customized weights and contraptions, designed to replicate movements common to basketball activity, are housed – as everyone else is by what Drummond displays in public in games.

They’ll have him doing things in there almost immediately. Small example: Perhaps you’ve noticed that on occasion Drummond has lost control of the basketball as he’s gone up to dunk, sending it flying off in the wrong direction.

One of the tasks on the off-season agenda for Drummond, at the direction of Kander’s staff, was to increase the flexibility and strength of his grip. He has enormous hands, a gold mine waiting for development, and great hands are critical to a big man’s ability to score around the rim. Ben Wallace’s ability to be effective there was limited by his hand size. Drummond has no such limitations. You can bet Drummond will spend some of his idle time working on that, among a host of other things.

Without needing to grow any bigger, they believe Drummond will play bigger once his posture improves to make full use of his length. As with all young players, a focus of the summer was going to be increased core strength. The back injury will only make that more of a focus and, presumably, an area Drummond – a player they’ve found to be every bit as receptive to coaching in the weight room as the coaching staff has found him to be on the court – will embrace.

Frank told me last month that as enthused as he was about Drummond’s potential after getting his first glimpse of him during Orlando’s Summer League last July, he wasn’t quite sure Drummond – who had obvious rough edges then – would be ready to crack the rotation as a rookie.

“What no one knew is how great a kid he was,” Frank said. “No one knew that. Nice guy, (but) no one knew how coachable he was. I didn’t know that. After Summer League, his work ethic then compared to what it is now – night and day. He couldn’t even do it. His back would get sore” – simple muscle fatigue, wholly unrelated to the current bone injury – “working with the (medicine) balls with Roy (Rogers, assistant coach). The pace, the intensity, he goes at a whole ’nuther level. Now, he’s got a lot more gears to go, but huge, huge improvement and that comes down to coachability, talent, character – do the math.”

The disappointing parts of the next month-plus are the joy Drummond derived and provided by playing basketball for the Pistons dries up. But that’s the extent of it. Whenever he comes back, he’ll be back at 100 percent of the dazzling prospect he was pre-injury. And he’ll be back that much farther ahead of the game in those areas that otherwise were going to have to wait until the off-season for attention.

So when you do the math, as Frank suggests, you don’t have to do any voodoo accounting to see how Andre Drummond and the Pistons can turn this particular negative into a resounding positive.