Quick Study

Drummond’s rapid growth portends big things in Pistons future.

Andre Drummond
At only 20, Drummond continues to develop ahead of schedule.
Nathaniel S. Butler (NBAE/Getty)

Among the half-dozen or so attributes that elevates Andre Drummond to the 99th percentile of the world’s 7-footers in athleticism is his sideline-to-sideline quickness. What will elevate him to a similar stratosphere in the pantheon of NBA centers is that he’s every bit as quick from ear to ear. For the many ways he’s impressed the Pistons in the 16 months since they drafted him, his mental acuity ranks right near the top of the list.

Combine his quick-study proclivity with his work ethic and you get the week over week gains Drummond has put into evidence. The leap the Piston saw from him from Summer League to training camp to the regular season a year ago exceeded their hopes for him, which were already considerable.

And that’s why that while the Pistons aren’t banking on Drummond to develop into a go-to scorer at any time in the immediate future, neither would they be surprised if he assumes such a role well ahead of anyone’s timetable.

He hinted at his future with two minutes left in the Pistons’ seventh preseason game on Tuesday against Washington. With about two minutes left in a game they led by two points, Chauncey Billups fed Drummond, pushed out a step from the right block, with the shot clock dictating that Drummond act decisively. To say he acted instinctively before deftly dropping a baby hook to double their head wouldn’t be accurate, because Drummond came to the Pistons with nothing instinctive in the way of a back-to-the-basket game.

But after a handful of weeks working diligently with Rasheed Wallace over a summer he’d always intended be used to broaden his horizons, Drummond acted with the confidence built on all those hours in the gym and all those repetitions under Wallace’s scrutiny.

“Yesterday we were in here and I was telling him, I see him shoot so many of those,” Billups said. “Every day he’s in here shooting that shot, it gives me confidence that even if he misses, I don’t care because I see him working on that. If I don’t see him working on that, I’m probably not going to throw it to him at that part of the game. It’s really just a testament to his hard work.”

“He’s right,” Drummond said. “I’ve been in here every single day working on that right hand, left hand, so when I did get the ball in that stretch during the game, I went right into my package of what I’ve been working on and hit a baby jump hook.”

The Pistons can afford extraordinary patience with Drummond’s post offense because what he already offers is provided in volume. Take Thursday’s preseason finale, when he dominated both backboards – 12 defensive rebounds, eight offensive.

Billups played with a player who might come as close to offering the combination of size and athleticism Drummond possesses during his stint with the Los Angeles Clippers in DeAndre Jordan, who’s spent five years in the NBA after just a single season, like Drummond, as a collegian. Billups gives Jordan a certain edge in the present but left no doubt where he believes Drummond will wind up ranking.

“I think DeAndre, he’s actually a little more polished offensively at this point,” he said. “He’s got a couple of little moves – right hook, up and under. Dre is more of a real center – big, strong, can move with the best of ’em. DeAndre is a little like that, but DeAndre is probably a guy who could be a four if they had a bigger guy.

“But as far as potential, I think Andre, he’s going to have a chance to be possibly the best guy in the league a couple of years down the road.”

Keep this in mind, too. Drummond turned 20 less than two months ago. As strong as he appears, there’s much natural growth and strength ahead of him. Tony Mitchell knows what it’s like to bang with Drummond, but he’s seen another level of strength against some of the veterans he’s played against in preseason.

“I thought Dre was strong,” Mitchell said after his first pass at Nene, now 31 with 11 NBA seasons on his resume. “That boy was a bully.”

A recent survey of NBA front offices on NBA.com listed Drummond as the second-most likely player to have a breakout season behind 2012 No. 1 pick Anthony Davis of New Orleans.

“I don’t read into all that stuff,” he said. “I’m just here to play basketball. Just try to play Detroit basketball and win games this year. In terms of my progress, I’m just going to do what I do – work hard every day and try to get better. Try to get better along with my teammates and make a big run this year.”

Drummond, along with Pistons front office staff and coaches, mapped out a realistic plan of attack for him over the summer, focusing on perfecting a few basic post moves – hooks with either hand and quick-burst moves from the elbows, one or two power dribbles with either hand to use his quickness and strength to get to the rim.

“That’s very important,” Billups said. “A lot of guys, they work on so much stuff. Really, at the end of the day, if you’ve got a good move and people can’t stop it, do it, and then you develop a counter off that. It’s not about 10 moves, it’s about one or two, maybe three. It’s very important for him to establish what’s his shot, what he’s comfortable with, what he’s going to go to when he has an advantage, and live with it.”

The Pistons are content to live most happily with it, wherever Andre Drummond’s journey might take them.