By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Oct 16 2012 2:28PM
There's a new big man in town for the Detroit Pistons. If the initials to which he answers stand for "Andre Drummond," all should be well in president Joe Dumars' and head coach Lawrence Frank's blueprint for their young, promising team.
If "A.D." starts to stand for "Another Darko," though, look out. The Palace of Auburn Hills will find itself stormed by torches and pitchforks, brandished by irate Pistons fans determined not to repeat that miserable chapter in franchise history.
The name Darko Milicic is borderline profanity to Detroit diehards, who are still seething about how little he developed in his two-plus seasons there. Even if it was a blatant overreach when Dumars snagged the Serbian center with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 Draft -- Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony and a cast of dozens still were on the board -- Milicic surely possessed the skills and potential that so dazzled the Pistons' front office in the first place.
But when he got to Motown, Milicic was planted on the bench and had to learn the NBA ropes much like a season ticket holder, watching rather than doing. The Pistons had championships to chase -- winning one at the end of the young fella's rookie season -- and Milicic played a total of 413 minutes his first two years. That's not even half of a college season for your typical lottery pick.
Compare that to Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins, another so-called "project" who, like Drummond, was 19 when drafted and 20 as an NBA rookie. The No. 5 pick in 2010, considered raw and risky (for demeanor and maturity), played in 81 games, started 62 and averaged 28.5 minutes, 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds for the Kings in 2010-11.
Then there's DeAndre Jordan, another developing big to whom Drummond has been compared. A second-rounder (No. 35 overall in 2008) as judged by potential, Jordan averaged 14.5 minutes for the Clippers in 2008-09, along with 4.3 points and 4.5 rebounds. That team was headed nowhere in the standings, same as the Kings with Cousins. Same as the Pistons for at least another year, which makes it imperative that Drummond get some hard NBA lessons drummed in.
The kid's gotta play.
Set aside the reservations about Drummond's heart and motor that dogged him coming out of UConn last spring. The Pistons benefited from the slide to No. 9 that might have inspired, and it's on them to get the most out of their budding asset.
Drummond's gotta play for three reasons. First and foremost, he has talent to size and size to flaunt, with the ability to rebound and protect the rim that comes with standing 6-foot-10 and 270 pounds. In practices and scrimmages so far, Drummond has impressed Detroit coaches and players with his aggressiveness and eagerness to learn.
Another reason Drummond needs to play is, whatever concerns scouts had about his weight coming into the league, sitting on the side isn't going to help. After a summer of hard work, the rookie needs to maintain his body and that means game shape, not pedaling a stationary bike after a bunch of CD-DNPs.
Third, the more Drummond plays -- along with import Slava Kravtsov -- the sooner Frank and the Pistons can get on with Greg Monroe's full-time shift to power forward. The 6-11 Georgetown product has a knack for smart passing that could make him the focal point of Frank's offense, especially if he's able to operate more from the high post.
Monroe has worked on his handle and honed a midrange jump shot over the summer. Freeing him from center duties and fast-tracking some frontcourt chemistry with Drummond would be good for both of them and the rest of the Pistons, too.
This is a young team, with only Tayshaun Prince (10) and Corey Maggette (13) showing more than seven years of NBA experience. It's been four years since Detroit won even 40 percent of its games and, though pieces such as Monroe, point guard Brandon Knight, still-young Rodney Stuckey, Jonas Jerebko and five rookies (including Drummond) suggest better days, they're more likely months or years away rather than weeks. More time for the big fella now might mean less time waiting later.
"He's young and still very raw," Maggette said of Drummond in the Detroit News. "He has a lot of potential. We have great coaches, another great young big in Greg Monroe. He's been doing a great job, even in the pickup games."
The coaches have had Drummond using a bullhorn in practices to get him comfortable calling out switches and other defensive keys. "For a young guy like that ... you have to come in and be assertive, be a sponge, take everything in," Maggette said. "If a coach wants you to tell, talk, hold a microphone, carry somebody's underwear, you just do it."
Just so Pistons fans don't need a megaphone to demand more playing time for A.D.
1. When Frank says "the strength of our team is that you don't know where it's going to come from every single night," he was talking about the Pistons' offensive options, which come from an ensemble rather than a superstar. But he could have been talking about Detroit's need for consistency and punch at that end, too. It ranked near the bottom in both scoring and shooting percentage, with Frank spending much of his time in Year 1 on defense. He's hopeful that extra familiarity with the staff and with each other will help some Pistons scorers flourish.
2. Austin Daye is one of several players with expiring contracts. The lanky shooter would rather be part of the solution by sticking around, not cleared off the salary cap. But he's in a make-or-break season. He came to camp heavier and stronger, which in Daye terms is like hanging a couple ornaments on a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. But the days of trying him as a 6-11 shooting guard apparently are over. "Austin will be in the fray with contact," Frank told reporters. Then again, the Pistons have a crowd at power forward.
3. Speaking of which, Charlie Villanueva is running out of time in Detroit, too. He might not even get the flattery of being traded away a la fellow disappointment Ben Gordon -- the Pistons could opt to simply amnesty Villanueva away before next season. We won't bore you with details of the UConn product's latest resolution to do better. He might find motivation in all the folks who keep doubting him but most of us find veracity in that.
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LAST YEAR: 25-41, 4th in Central
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2011-12 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2011-12 Stats|
BRANDON KNIGHT, POINT GUARD
12.8 PPG | 3.2 RPG | 3.8 APG
Promising rookie season has created hopes high for this slashing guard who was the second-best rookie scorer in the league last season.
RODNEY STUCKEY, SHOOTING GUARD
14.8 PPG | 2.6 RPG | 3.8 APG
Premature expectations made Stuckey seem more disappointing than he's been, but he's carved out a steady role as a dependable starter in Detroit.
TAYSHAUN PRINCE, SMALL FORWARD
12.7 PPG | 4.5 RPG | 2.4 APG
One of the last links to the Pistons' glory days, Prince may see his minutes dip as Corey Maggette and rookie Kyle Singler play more.
JASON MAXIELL, POWER FORWARD
6.5 PPG | 5.1 RPG | 0.6 APG
Rugged-if-unpolished big man will be challenged for his usual minutes by energetic reserve Jonas Jerebko and rookie big man Andre Drummond, too.
GREG MONROE, CENTER
15.4 PPG | 9.7 RPG | 2.3 APG
Big man took a big leap forward stats-wise last season. Now, coaches want to see him at power forward where he can use his passing skills.
|Will Bynum||6-0||185||G||Fierce backcourt competition in camp.|
|Jonas Jerebko||6-10||231||F||Energy player with finesse who sticks nose in on D.|
|Andre Drummond||6-10||270||C||The East's version of 2006-09 Andrew Bynum.|
ADDED: C Andre Drummond, G Kim English, C Vlacheslav Kravtsov, F Corey Maggette, G Khris Middleton, F Kyle Singler
LOST: G Ben Gordon, C Ben Wallace, G/F Damien Wilkins
GREG MONROE, CENTER
Heading into his third year, Pistons big man Monroe hopes to make some statistical leaps this year similar to the ones he made after his rookie season. Detroit is in the midst of a youth movement. Monroe is steadily evolving into the anchor.
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