Spotting Greatness

Bobcats coach took one look at Drummond and saw a very bright future

Steve Clifford
Steve Clifford spent several days observing the Pistons during Summer League practices the week after they drafted Andre Drummond.
Streeter Lecka (Getty Images Sport)

Steve Clifford was between jobs in the summer of 2012, dismissed along with Stan Van Gundy and the rest of his staff when Orlando cleaned house once ownership became convinced that trading Dwight Howard and starting over was its best course.

So the long-respected assistant coach did some consulting for Lawrence Frank, observing Pistons Summer League practices in Orlando that involved not just the 2012 rookie class – draftees Andre Drummond, Khris Middleton and Kim English and 2011 draftee Kyle Singler off of his season in Spain – but young veterans led by Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight.

At the end of it, Frank asked Clifford for his assessment.

“Your most talented player by far is Andre Drummond,” Clifford said he told Frank. “That’s what I got out of those practices. And I thought Greg Monroe practiced very well.”

Clifford worked not only with Stan Van Gundy in Orlando, but also for Jeff Van Gundy in Houston. That means he spent seasons with both Dwight Howard, who put on a show for Drummond and the Pistons with a 35-point, 19-rebound performance in Houston’s win at The Palace on Saturday, and Yao Ming at the peak of their careers. So Clifford knows what an elite big man can do to lift a franchise and carry a team. And he sees Drummond having a real chance to reach that level.

“There are not many guys with his size and lateral quickness, and you can tell he’s intelligent,” Clifford said. “His ability to run the floor – he’s just so gifted physically and he has a physicalness about the way he plays that not many guys do.

“Even though his post game is developing – and this is from being around Yao and Dwight – one of the things he’s going to do for them as he gets older and they continue to grow, is you can’t go at him in a pick and roll nor in a post-up in the fourth quarter of a game. Usually, if you have a good pick-and-roll guard, you’re going to go at the center – and he’s going to take that part of your game away. A lot of the things that translate into winning, he’s going to be able to do.”

Clifford also got an eyeful of Josh Smith as an Orlando assistant and thinks the Pistons did very well to land the versatile Smith in free agency.

“He’s difficult because of his size,” Clifford said. “He doesn’t just score down there, he passes the ball well. I know from being in Orlando and playing playoff series against them, he’s an excellent passer out of double teams.”

Clifford probably hasn’t spent too much time pondering the fact that Charlotte bypassed Drummond with the No. 2 pick in 2012, choosing instead Kentucky forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It would hurt too much.

“They practiced twice every day (in Orlando) and I went to all of them,” he said of his consultation for Frank. “Ask Lawrence. He said give me a critique at the end, and the first thing I said is, ‘Listen, this guy has a chance to be a special player.’ ”