Drummond makes impression on Thibodeau, Pistons assistant Malik Allen

Andrew D. Bernstein (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

CHICAGO – The last time Tom Thibodeau laid eyes on the young man now trying to win a spot on Team USA’s roster, Andre Drummond thumped his Chicago Bulls for 26 points and 26 rebounds.

That came in the final week of the 2013-14 season and reminded Thibodeau of just how far and how fast Drummond had come in his two NBA seasons.

“He’s gotten better and better,” Thibodeau, Mike Krzyzewski’s defensive guru on the national team’s coaching staff, said after Thursday’s practice on the city’s west side. “He’s done a great job here. There’s a lot of things he does you really can’t teach – great instincts around the basket, his ability to react to the ball and protect the rim. You can see that he’s growing offensively, getting more comfortable.”

Indeed, you could see that in just the brief glimpse of the scrimmage the media was allowed to view Thursday. Drummond played about five minutes, playing first alongside Anthony Davis and then Kenneth Faried. Going mostly against Mason Plumlee – the player he’ll likely have to beat out when the roster gets pared from 16 to 12 sometime before the August 30 start of the FIBA World Cup in Spain – Drummond had three nice moments in a guard-dominated scrimmage.

First he blocked Plumlee’s shot near the rim and sprinted the court in transition, eventually finishing in the lane and drawing a foul on Plumlee, swishing the free throw to complete the three-point play. Barely a minute later, he ran a beautiful pick and roll with James Harden, finishing with a crushing two-handed dunk.

“The pick-and-roll thing got me really excited,” said Pistons assistant coach Malik Allen, representing the staff in support of Drummond here. “Set a great screen, great roll, great finish. He had a good day today. He was at the practice facility on Monday and Tuesday, had two good days, made sure that stuff translates to here and just ran up and down the floor as hard as you can and let the chips fall where they may after that.”

Thibodeau has seen Drummond get more sure of himself, less hesitant, in guarding the pick and roll and knowing when to come off of his man to challenge shots.

“The more you do it, the better you’re going to get at it and I think he’s got a better knowledge of the league, too,” he said. “The more times you play against somebody, you learn what their tendencies are, then it’s building the trust of when you do leave, your teammates are there. That comes with experience and he certainly has improved significantly.”

Thibodeau deeply admires Stan Van Gundy and harbors no doubt that he’ll hasten Drummond’s learning curve.

“It won’t be any one particular thing, it’ll be how he runs his entire program,” Thibodeau said. “He’s a great coach. He’s a great leader. It’ll be the way they practice, the way they have their meetings, the way they conduct their off-season workouts. He’ll figure out how to play to guys’ strengths, cover up their weaknesses. They’ll play as a team and his teams always improved as the season has gone along.”

One other area where Thibodeau believes Van Gundy was the ideal choice to coach the Pistons: his experience coaching Dwight Howard and building a team around a center not unlike Drummond.

“Stan’s been involved with a lot of great teams, not only as a head coach but certainly as an assistant, as well. It’s not easy to coach a dominant big. The spacing is a lot different and I think that’s one of Stan’s great strengths. The spacing will be terrific. They’ve added a lot of shooting – I know firsthand with (D.J.) Augustin can do and they’ve added a lot of other shooting to their team.”

Drummond will be back at it on Friday when the national team practices again here, then takes on Brazil on Saturday night at the United Center. No matter how it turns out for him, Allen is certain the Pistons will benefit from Drummond’s exposure to the process.

“This atmosphere, being around the coaches, being around the other great players and how they work and how they prepare and how they do it day to day, the opportunity can only benefit him,” Allen said. “I watched him on the sideline – he’s just watching, very intent, and he’s been really good. I’m excited for him to be a part of it. It’s great for him as a player.”