A Dominant Drummond

26-rebound night trumpets the potential of Pistons’ 20-year-old phenom

Andre Drummond
Andre Drummond has strung together a string of impressive performances.
Ronald Martinez (NBAE/Getty)
The game wasn’t a minute old when Andre Drummond blocked Tyson Chandler’s dunk attempt in Monday’s win over New York. Pretty good bet that was in the back of Chandler’s mind about eight minutes later when he absorbed a hard foul by Greg Monroe and did a little aggravated jostling with Drummond in the aftermath.

It could have escalated but for Amar'e Stoudemire’s intervention.

“Amar'e came over to me and said, ‘It’s gonna be a battle tonight,’ ” Drummond said after the game. “That made me cool down and made me realize what I was up against. Guys are really starting to respect me now and they’re talking to me on the floor. It was pretty cool to have him give me input to calm me down.”

Stoudemire might be rethinking his strategy for next time against Drummond. His emotions appropriately settled, he turned in one of the most dominant games of his brief career with 17 points, 26 rebounds – most by a Piston since Ben Wallace a dozen years ago – and three blocked shots.

“Andre played with a high motor,” Will Bynum said after the 96-85 win snapped a four-game losing streak and stayed three games out of the No. 8 playoff seed in the East, currently occupied by Atlanta. “It’s tough to stop Andre when he’s playing like that because he doesn’t need the basketball to score. He dominated the glass. On the defensive end, he protected the paint. His ceiling is so high, man, you never know what he’s going to end up with.”

The Knicks were clearly intent on clogging the lane and making the Pistons – the NBA’s 29th-ranked 3-point shooting team – beat them from the perimeter. That squeezed Drummond’s lanes to go get lob passes for dunks or crash the offensive boards, making his 26 rebounds all the more remarkable.

But it spoke to a few other things: Drummond’s increased conditioning level, which enabled him to stay on the floor for all but 106 seconds, and his greater awareness as a rim protector.

Drummond’s defensive instincts are gradually sharpening. He’s a half-step quicker to leave his man to cut off dribble penetration now than he was a month or two ago. The Knicks shot just 40 percent inside the 3-point line Monday night, which accounted for 51 missed shots – and 51 rebound opportunities. Drummond grabbed 19 of them, better than one-third of all available rebounds on the defensive end.

“It comes down to a trust thing,” Drummond said after Tuesday’s practice. “In the beginning of the year, we were a new team and we had a lot of new defensive schemes, so it was kind of tough for me to leave my guy and know somebody was going to be there behind me to help me out. But now it’s later in the season and we have it kind of figured out, so it got to a point where I can just leave and somebody’s going to have my back.”

He got to halftime with 13 rebounds Monday but just five points and two shots. He scored nine points in the third quarter, nine straight points in a stretch that began with the Pistons ahead by just two and ended with them in control of the game, and scored on consecutive possessions via stunningly quick and assertive low-post moves. On the first, Drummond drove the left baseline and scored with a right-handed reverse layup, converting the free throw on top of it. On the next, he wheeled under the basket off of the right block and scored with a left-handed reverse layup.

“I’ve been working on that since the summer,” Drummond said. “It’s good that I got the opportunity to showcase it in the game and it came out effectively and I finished both the layups.”

As Drummond grows more comfortable with the ball in his hands, all bets are off. His quickness, strength and explosiveness will make him extraordinarily dangerous.

“He made two or three moves where he hadn’t gotten the ball in those spots and been that aggressive – more power to him,” John Loyer said. “I think you see bits and pieces of what he’s going to become, but right now Andre understands where he can score from and he finds a way to score from there every night.”

If Loyer calls his number more down the stretch – of if teammates whose eyebrows were raised by his offensive burst against the Knicks grow more comfortable – Drummond would welcome the opportunity.

“They had a lot of faith in me last night, giving me the ball with 10 seconds on the clock to make a move and finish a play and I did it both times,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting more touches in the post and being able to create for my teammates.”

For now, he’s proving wildly effective even without a sophisticated post game.

“He’s been working. He definitely works on his game a lot,” Brandon Jennings said. “But he’s not a guy you have to run plays for. He’s going to find a way to get his points. That’s one thing I do love about him. As a point guard, you have to love a big that just wants to run, rebound and score on his own.”

As for the 46:14 of playing time logged, Drummond said he came in to practice on Tuesday and “felt great. It’s a good thing to have my body in shape. I took the time to take care of my body this year. I know if I did play the minutes I played last night last year, I’d be hurting.”

Now he’s laying the hurt on others. And the best is yet to come.