Pistons by Position Countdown: 5

Drummond primed for big 2nd season after summer of heavy lifting

Andre Drummond
Andre Drummond is primed to lead the Pistons at center.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
(Editor’s note: First of a five-part series examining the Pistons by position as they prepare to open training camp on Oct. 1. Coming Tuesday: power forwards.)

Nothing speeds a young NBA player’s progress quite like playing five-on-five basketball against elite competition. Good luck finding any in the dead of summer, though. Players beat themselves up from October through the end of the season, whether that’s mid-April or two months later when the NBA Finals wrap up. Off-seasons are devoted to rest and recovery, then to conditioning and individual skill work. Nobody wants to risk injury or leave their best basketball on summer courts.

But Andre Drummond squeezed in some quality five-on-five basketball between his eye-opening rookie season and what shapes up as a dynamic sophomore year, first in Orlando at Summer League and later in Las Vegas at USA Basketball’s minicamp.

In each stop, it wasn’t just the competition, it was the spectrum of his experiences that the Pistons believe will speed the already accelerated pace of Drummond’s learning curve.

In Orlando, it was the way the coaching staff designed the offense, heavy on post touches for Drummond. In Las Vegas, it was the rare collection of talent assembled and the chance to match up against those players frequently in practices with Greg Monroe – who slides over to power forward in the anticipated 2013-14 Pistons starting lineup – at his side, as they hope he’ll be for the next generation.

POSITION: Center
  • Depth chart: Andre Drummond, Josh Harrellson
  • Options: Greg Monroe
  • Flexibility: Harrellson, because of his shooting ability, could serve as a stretch four. But the Pistons have plenty of power forwards, including two – Charlie Villanueva and, to a lesser degree, Jonas Jerebko – already filling the stretch four role. Drummond has the foot speed to defend power forwards, but why take him away from the paint?
  • The skinny: Drummond will start and should soak up about 30 minutes a game. Monroe, who’s been the Pistons’ starting center since midway through his rookie season, will start at power forward but probably play half of his minutes at center and most of the ones when Drummond isn’t playing. Harrellson offers a different package of skills as the No. 3.

“The week with USA Basketball was really, really good for him,” Pistons assistant general manager George David said. “The majority of those guys were young players. They’re all in the same boat. His opportunity to see that firsthand – see guys who were in better shape than others, see guys who had come on a little quicker than others, to see the difference in those guys, to see the difference in work habits – all of that was great for both him and Greg.”

In between and after those two July experiences, Drummond spent most days drilling at the team’s practice facility under new assistant coach Rasheed Wallace. The emphasis in those workouts was in their variety, which Drummond credited with making every day in the gym a fresh experience. But rest assured, it won’t come at the expense of what Drummond does best: defend the rim, grab rebounds and dunk.

“We talk to him about that,” Joe Dumars said. “ ‘The things you’re working on this summer are things you add to your game, not to replace anything.’ We understand he’s still on a growth path and we understand it’s going to take him some time to reach the heights that he wants to and that we want him to reach. But in the meantime, we think he can continue to be an incredible rim protector, a defensive force, an athletic big who can finish around the rim. Those are the things that come naturally to him.”

The Pistons were careful to keep expectations for Drummond ratcheted back going into his rookie season. There were reasons eight players were picked ahead of him in the 2012 draft despite a spectrum of physical gifts that screamed top-three pick. But all bets are off now. Drummond averaged 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots in just 21 minutes a game and his impact compounded as the months rolled by. Barely 20, it’s fair to say he’s among the most intriguing young players in the NBA and will be at the center of all personnel decisions the Pistons make for the foreseeable future. There are expectations now, to be sure.

“That’s what happens,” Dumars said. “When you come in and play well and surpass whatever expectations have been put in front of you, then each year you raise the bar and your organization is going to raise the bar. That’s how you become great. You keep raising the bar.”

What’s a reasonable expectation for Drummond heading into his second season?

“One of the most difficult transitions from year one to year two for any NB A player is they’re on people’s radar now,” David said. “In year two, everybody knows how you did. Everybody knows what you are capable of doing. Everybody is a little bit more prepared to try to take things away from you. That can be a difficult transition.”

Drummond’s offense a year ago consisted almost exclusively of finishing lob dunks and scoring via put-backs. Those areas should always constitute a significant component of his arsenal, but he worked tirelessly over the summer on left- and right-hand baby hooks and assertive rip moves to either hand from the elbows, even face-up jump shots inside of 15 feet.

The Pistons don’t expect a smorgasbord of polished offensive moves, nor do they believe it’s necessary. Many of the most decorated big men the game’s ever known have cemented their legacy on the backs of one or two signature moves, Kareem’s sky hook and countering drop step-finger roll the shining example.

“Some of the best bigs in our game have a very simplistic skill set and when I use the word simplistic, they might have one move and one counter move and that’s it,” David said, pointing to Tim Duncan. “The ability to do simple things extremely well is very undervalued for bigs. If I had to project the next step for Andre in year two, it’s that: the ability to do some simple skill moves but to do them well. We’re not going to try to project anything beyond that, right now, at his age.”

Drummond can expect a heavier work load this season, minutes he probably wasn’t capable of handling from a conditioning standpoint as his rookie season opened. He doesn’t anticipate that being the case this time around. His weight, which hovered around 290 to 295 last season, was at 284 in September with his body fat percentage between 4 and 5, he said.

“My body feels great,” he said three weeks before training camp was set to open. “I’m moving quicker than I was last year, so I feel good. I’m right where I want to be going into training camp. My wind is good. I worked real hard this summer to get back to where I need to be.”

Monroe will still see plenty of time at center, of course, figuring to slide over when Drummond takes a seat. But the Pistons needed to sign a backup after including Slava Kravtsov’s contract to facilitate the trade that landed point guard Brandon Jennings. After a deliberate search, they zeroed in on 2011 second-round pick Josh Harrellson, who had a strong rookie season with New York but got caught in numbers crunches by both Houston and Miami when the Knicks dealt him to the Rockets among a package for Marcus Camby. Harrellson averaged 22 points and 18 boards in winning MVP honors in China and sorted through NBA interest from a handful of teams before choosing the Pistons.

Harrellson appealed to the Pistons for a few reasons. As a 3-point threat, he offers something a little different than the athletic Drummond or Monroe, a skilled scorer closer to the rim. Harrellson also was attractive for his demeanor, befitting a player who was buried under a wave of future first-round picks at Kentucky but battled his way into the starting lineup and helped carry the Wildcats to the 2011 Final Four.

“We’ve watched him a lot and we love the way he competes,” Dumars said. “Doesn’t back down – tough, physical guy. And he has the ability to step out and shoot the ball. Along with his toughness, that was appealing to us. It was a skill set we don’t really have from any other center on our team. He doesn’t shy away from contact, but he can really step out and shoot it.”