Rising Star, Indeed

At this rate, Andre Drummond won’t be sitting out future All-Star games

Andre Drummond
Andre Drummond will be participating in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge as part of All-Star Weekend.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
Next year’s All-Star game is in New York. The year after that, Toronto. That figures as relevant information for Andre Drummond’s travel plans. He’ll be in New Orleans this weekend, but only for the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night, not Sunday’s crown jewel of All-Star weekend. If his career arc continues on its current ascendancy, 2014 is probably the last year for a while he won’t be sticking around for the big show.

Drummond hits the All-Star break with averages of 13.1 points, 13.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots a game. He leads the NBA in offensive rebounds by a mile over DeAndre Jordan. He’s had 39 double-doubles, second only to Minnesota’s Kevin Love. His 13 games with 15-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and two-plus blocks trail only Dwight Howard, who’s done it 14 times.

Yet think about this: Despite the company he’s keeping, prevailing wisdom around the league is that Drummond has so much more to offer.

“We’ve been extremely pleased with Andre and his development,” said Pistons assistant general manager George David, who spent as much time tailing Drummond as any NBA executive, including carving out a week at about this time two winters ago to watch two UConn games and a number of practices. “What probably pleases us more than anything is the fact that he’s still developing and when you look at what he’s done right now as he’s developing, in some ways it’s scary – in a positive way.”

The Pistons scouted Drummond diligently during his freshman season at UConn, hoping to see signs that he would be able to convert his obvious and abundant physical gifts into NBA-level productivity – and never dreaming they’d get the chance to develop those gifts unless they were blessed with a top-three lottery pick.

“There are a lot of teams,” David said, “that would be happy with this being the end product for Andre, what you see right now.”

The Pistons are happy with it, too. But based on how they’ve seen his progression unfold and what they’ve come to know about his work ethic, coachability and desire to be great, they firmly believe new heights on not-too-distant horizons are inevitable.

Pistons coach John Loyer was in Orlando for Drummond’s Summer League debut barely a week after the Pistons made him the ninth pick in 2012. It didn’t take Drummond long to convert Loyer into a believer.

“It took about 30 seconds with Andre to tell he’s special – and that’s even before we played basketball,” Loyer said. “He’s a special guy. He’s vibrant. He’s a good guy, loves to play basketball, wants to get better. Just scratched the surface and his surface so far has been pretty good.”

The Pistons run their offense through Josh Smith or Greg Monroe most of the time with Brandon Jennings given the latitude to exploit his natural scoring ability whenever and wherever he spots the opportunity. They rarely run a play designed to get the ball to Drummond in the post, but they’ll gradually explore those possibilities, as well. Drummond has grown by leaps and bounds with the ball in his hands from the player Loyer first saw in Orlando.

“Andre can impact the game on both ends,” Loyer said. “At this stage in his career, he hasn’t had many things run for him. As we progress, we’re looking to run more things for him. But his best attribute is going to get it off the rim and finish. As long as he continues to do that, he’ll keep climbing.”

Roy Rogers did great work with Drummond in the summer before and during his rookie season before moving on to New Jersey’s staff and Rasheed Wallace’s connection with Drummond has taken his progression to another level. David cites two areas in particular where Wallace’s tutelage has notably influenced Drummond’s progress: post moves, where a rudimentary game is showing signs of vast potential, and in-game defensive adjustments.

“Last year, a lot of times when he would struggle with a particular area of the game – whether defending the post or a rotation or different aspects of the game – a lot of times it would take until the next day when you would show it to him on film,” David said. “This year, I’ve seen games where he’s struggled with an aspect in the first half and figured out how to correct it in the second half. Rasheed has done a great job of helping him with that.”

That also goes to Drummond’s thirst to acquire the tools that can lead him to greatness. Openness to instruction and the willpower to spend time working on weaknesses unlocks potential. Those who see Drummond’s day-to-day demeanor have no worries that he’ll fall short of maximizing his physical gifts.

“One of the things you learn is that it’s easier to wait on skill development when you see the positive character of a player as opposed to hoping that you get character development, which may or may not come,” David said. “When you start seeing the special character that we’ve seen so far in an Andre Drummond and (rookies) Kentavious (Caldwell-Pope) and Peyton (Siva) and Tony (Mitchell) and our young players, that does carry weight.”

Drummond, though younger than even his rookie teammates, is eager to grow into a leadership role with the Pistons. He’s helped the rookies’ NBA assimilation by sharing his first-time experiences from a year ago. He revealed another step in his maturation after Wednesday’s loss to Cleveland, a bitter defeat in which the Pistons led for 46 minutes and came that close to carrying a four-game winning streak into the All-Star break.

“That stretch in the fourth quarter, I’ve got to be better down the stretch and make that final box out,” Drummond said in the locker room after a 16-point, 17-rebound night. “That’s what really got them going. I’ve got to put that on my shoulders. That’s on me.”

What else figures to be on him: future All-Star game jerseys for years to come.