The Right Stuff

Drummond shows his talent, then his mettle, in 29-point outburst to beat Cavs

The Pistons forsee an extremely bright future for rookie Andre Drummond.
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
About 20 minutes before tipoff of Wednesday’s game at Cleveland, Cavs TV analyst Austin Carr, doing a live in-arena interview to preview the Pistons-Cavs game, proclaimed Cleveland shooting guard Dion Waiters “the best rookie in the Eastern Conference.

Perked my ears up a little bit. Fans in Washington (Bradley Beal) and Charlotte (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) would probably object, but fans in Detroit – perhaps the only place where Andre Drummond’s impact is fully appreciated – surely would.

But, OK. Waiters has been pretty good, scoring almost 15 points a game despite low shooting percentages, and Carr, a Notre Dame legend who averaged 38 points a game as a junior and senior 40-plus years ago, is likely inclined to value scoring above all else.

Then the game started and Drummond left a trail of destruction in his wake, making 10 of 11 shots – all dunks, layups and tip-ins – on his way to a career-best 29 points. I’d Tweeted Carr’s proclamation about Waiters with no editorial comment or any mention of Drummond and started hearing back from followers as the game unfolded.

“Cavs TV guy crushing Drummond, says slow feet and said numerous times he will have a weight problem … unreal” came from @PrestonG04. That came after Drummond had scored four times fast on Cleveland rookie center Tyler Zeller, a four-year star at North Carolina. Told of the weight crack after the game, Drummond grinned and said Arnie Kander had tested him for body fat last week and it came back at 5 percent, a surreal number for a 19-year-old who weighs 290-some pounds.

The more astounding half of that double slam, though, was the “slow feet.” If there was one thing NBA scouts agreed on with regard to Drummond coming out of UConn last spring, it was his feet – unnatural, balletic, cat-quick feet for a 7-footer. They marveled at how he could hedge on pick-and-roll plays, then recover to the paint so quickly. There are at least one or two times a game when Drummond bounds from one side of the rim to the other to corral wayward rebounds. Those feet – if there’s a TV analyst out there who spends five minutes watching Andre Drummond and questions his lateral quickness, it’s time to consider vocational training.

“Probably jealous they didn’t get him,” Tweeted @mattC_fromtheD, echoing the sentiments of a handful of others.

And let’s think about that for a minute. The Cavs had the No. 4 pick, five spots ahead of the Pistons. Can you imagine Kyrie Irving running pick and roll with Andre Drummond? The drumbeat surrounding LeBron James’ potential to return to Cleveland after the 2013-14 season, when he can exercise a termination option in his contract, would be deafening if the Cavs had potential future superstars at center and point guard to lure James home.

“You know they’re still insulting Drummond saying they don’t know if he can play yet all he does is get dunks,” Tweeted @ItsLazyy. “All he’s done is dunked in this game – that’s like six,” Tweeter @CalebWilliams13 reported Carr as saying.

Hmmm. That’s like watching Miguel Cabrera hit three home runs, strike out the fourth time and saying, “All he does is hit home runs.” The best shot in the game is the dunk, right? Because it’s the highest-percentage shot. The trick isn’t completing the play, it’s putting yourself in position – behind and above the defense – to make the play.

The Cavs, I’m going to venture a guess, had read a scouting report on Drummond. They very likely knew he wasn’t going to be hitting pick-and-pop jump shots or sweeping hooks across the lane. So if they had braced for Drummond’s rim assault and he still went 10 of 11, what does that tell you? (The only miss, by the way, is one he’d like to have back: a great setup from Rodney Stuckey for a lob that bounced off the back rim.)

Maybe the best part of Drummond’s night wasn’t all the dunks, though surely that and his ability to be equally dominant at the other rim portend exciting days ahead at The Palace, but the mettle he showed in the face of Byron Scott’s Hack-a-Dre strategy. Seven times in 195 seconds the Cavs intentionally fouled Drummond. A 34 percent foul shooter, Drummond split the pair the first six times, essentially foiling the strategy, before knocking down both ends to break a 99-all tie.

Think about the inherent pressure involved when 14,000 people are witness to what amounts to a public inquiry of your least polished attribute. The spotlight was on Drummond in a way it isn’t even for shooting a free throw earned in conventional fashion. And he passed the test. Lawrence Frank beamed after the game, talking about players he’s coached in the past who would all but beg out of the game in a similar spot. But Drummond, he said, was irked when Frank briefly inserted Jonas Jerebko into the game for one possession.

However Drummond develops as a foul shooter, the fortitude he showed in weathering an uncomfortable spot in Cleveland will serve him well in the seasons ahead. All due respect to Austin Carr and Dion Waiters, the Pistons are quite pleased with the way the 2012 draft unfolded.