Drummond’s backboard dominance borders on astounding: ‘It’s pretty phenomenal’ - SVG

Steph Curry, reigning MVP, is playing so well and scoring at such a clip that teammate Harrison Barnes – maybe only half-jokingly – says he should be the front-runner for Most Improved Player. He’s averaging 33.7 points, comfortably ahead of James Harden in the scoring race.

But for a little perspective on Andre Drummond’s dominance as a rebounder, Curry would have to average more than 40 per game to have the same relative cushion over Harden that Drummond holds over Dwight Howard in the rebounding race.

“You never see a gap like that,” Stan Van Gundy said. “He’s six rebounds ahead of the next guy. Six rebounds a game! They were giving him a hard time in the locker room (after Tuesday’s win over Cleveland) because he only had 18. He was below his average. They were giving him a hard time about that, actually. It’s pretty phenomenal what he’s done to this point.”

Drummond goes into Friday’s game at Minnesota averaging 18.9 rebounds through the season’s first 11 games. Howard has moved ahead of DeAndre Jordan into second place with 13.4. Drummond also leads the NBA in both offensive rebounding (6.4 to Howard’s 4.6) and defensive rebounding (12.5 to Jordan’s 10.2) by considerable margins. In fact, if you wiped away all of Drummond’s offensive rebounds, he’d still rank fourth in the league in rebounding.

What’s gone into Drummond’s spike? He’s been an elite rebounder since he entered the NBA as an 18-year old, but even his per-36 minute totals are up significantly. From year to year, his per-36 rebounding numbers have gone from 13.2 to 14.7 to 15.9 to this year’s 18.2.

“I don’t think you ever see a guy averaging 19 rebounds a game,” Van Gundy said. “You just don’t see that. But we saw him getting better, for sure. He worked. He got in better shape.”

Drummond took his off-season conditioning work more seriously than ever, spurred by a conversation with Van Gundy as last season ended. They talked about the future with Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as the backcourt and knew they had to play to their strengths – athletic, defense first – and that would require Drummond to get up and down the court more than ever. He took a few weeks off, but started training hard again in early May. The Pistons sent assistant coach Malik Allen and assistant strength coach Jordan Sabourin to Connecticut, where Drummond took classes, and they followed him later in the summer to the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based P3 training facility, as well.

As a result, Drummond is averaging 37.4 minutes per game, sixth in the league. No other center ranks in the top 25 and only Kevin Love, tied for 24th at 34.8 minutes per game, is on the list among power forwards.

“Am I leery of (Drummond’s minutes creep)? A little bit,” Van Gundy said. “I’m always watching. Not only looking at the minutes, but I’m watching guys, too. I saw some evidence of fatigue in Marcus (Morris) on the West Coast trip. We’ve tried to get his minutes down. Saw some evidence in (Caldwell-Pope). We’ve tried to get those down. Andre, not so much. Haven’t really seen it. I know the minutes are high. It’s something to watch. But I haven’t seen real evidence of it.”

One other thing has allowed Drummond to play big minutes: He’s not getting himself into foul trouble, a problem especially early last season when he seemed to pick up a silly foul – a reach on defense, a moving screen on offense – early in most games. His fouls per-36 minutes are a career-low 3.4 per game despite the heavy playing time. Players often pick up careless fouls as fatigue sets in, reaching instead of moving their feet.

“Improved maturity and intelligence,” Van Gundy said. “He’s played a lot smarter. He’s been more solid and disciplined in what he’s doing. That’s an improvement and a maturity.”

And he’s all of 22 – with plenty of areas where improvement is still not only possible but almost certain.

“There’s still areas he’s got to improve,” Van Gundy said. “He knows that. There’s a long way to go still.”

There might not be a matter-of-fact statement all year made in the NBA that sends shivers down the rest of the league’s collective spine quite like that one.