The Right Stuff

Pistons convinced Drummond the right fit with Monroe, Knight

The sum of Andre Drummond’s season is there in his middling statistics: 10 points and 7.5 rebounds a game. The way those modest numbers were reached was often spectacular. On a handful of plays in most Connecticut games last season, Drummond would come from out of the screen to snare an offensive rebound and dunk, bolt from one side of the basket to the other to swat away a shot or streak past guards to finish a fast break.

“What we saw were impressive moments with him,” Pistons personnel director George David told me Friday morning, about 12 hours after the Pistons ended Drummond’s draft-night slide by taking him ninth. “If we saw more than that, you wouldn’t be looking at him in a Pistons uniform at No. 9. Somebody would’ve taken him where we had originally projected him going into the season, which was two.”

The Pistons won’t go into the season expecting Drummond to suddenly emerge as a skilled scorer with an array of back-to-the-basket post moves. They’ll work diligently on his offensive package, of course, but the emphasis will be on drawing out consistency from Drummond in those areas where he already flashes such immense promise.

“When you’re 7 feet, 260, you don’t have to become a super-skilled guy to be an impact player,” David said. “You’re not focusing on taking all of the things he’s below average at and trying to get him to average. That’s great, but there are always going to be people who are exceptional at what you’re average at. What you’re trying to do is take the two or three things he’s gifted at and see how we can develop a consistency with that.”

And what Drummond is gifted at are getting his hands on the basketball, getting from Point A to Point B with breathtaking ease and blocking shots.

“The first thing he has going for him is great hands,” David said. “He’s really good at catching the ball. The second thing is he has tremendous athleticism – tremendous athleticism from baseline to baseline and tremendous athleticism from the floor to above the rim. The third thing he has is a natural knack for blocking shots.”

The physical gifts and the incredible size – Drummond’s wing span of 7-foot-6¼ was tops at the Chicago draft combine, nearly a full inch longer than that of Anthony Davis – were apparent to the Pistons. In order for Drummond to become the easy choice for them at No. 9 – and when Toronto took Terrence Ross eighth, there wasn’t the hint of a dissenting voice in their draft room or a moment’s hesitation in phoning Drummond’s name in to NBA draft headquarters in Newark – the Pistons needed to be sold that Drummond would pursue greatness as diligently as Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight.

They’d had a positive experience with Drummond in Chicago, where Joe Dumars, David, Lawrence Frank and others spent about 30 minutes interviewing him. Drummond said he felt a vibe at that meeting, which was intensified for him when Dumars and David met with him Tuesday night in New York at a hastily arranged individual workout set up by Drummond’s agent, Rob Pelinka.

“We felt we made a very strong connection in Chicago, but on the second visit that Joe and I made to New York, we had a more serious conversation with him about if this were to happen,” David said. “We wanted him to know how much he’s wanted by the team at nine, not only from Joe and myself, but from numerous players. Greg Monroe asked me about him back in February about getting the chance to play with him and some of our younger players had asked about him.

“I think at that point, I felt as though he immediately got a comfort level with coming here.”

The Pistons wanted to be assured Drummond wouldn’t be crestfallen or embittered by dropping to nine. When Toronto took Ross and Drummond immediately knew he would be a Piston – even before the announcement was made – he broke down and started to cry from happiness, he said.

“For us to be able to have that meeting, two days before the draft, I think that’s part of why you saw the reaction in him when he heard his name at nine as opposed to a reaction of disappointment at slipping.”

The Pistons did an incredible amount of leg work to dig into Drummond’s past and his psyche, as well. Among the many recommendations, David especially took to heart one from Kevin Ollie, former UConn and NBA guard who is now an assistant at his alma mater.

“One of the guys who was instrumental in getting him to UConn and helping him at UConn was Kevin Ollie,” David said, “and we always put a little more of a premium on the opinions of those guys in college who have experience in the NBA. Kevin said, ‘Know that you’re getting a really, really high-character kid, a smart kid.’ You’re starting off with a really good foundation with somebody who is about all of the things we’re about in terms of his professionalism, in terms of how he carries himself, and that came through in some of his interviews yesterday. Kevin talked to us about how bright he was.”

Drummond taught himself to tinker with computers and how to install software. When he went to Portland, owned by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, he requested to meet the owner to talk computers with him.

If the Pistons could have built in a factory a player they see as the ideal complement physically next to Greg Monroe – an athletic, above-the-rim defensive presence – that player would have looked exactly like Andre Drummond. David thinks Monroe and Drummond will also mesh from a personality standpoint.

“Very similar,” he said of their makeup. “No. 1, they’ve both very intelligent. No. 2, they have similar personalities in terms of they’re both somewhat reserved off the court. Off the court, from a draft standpoint, it was important for Greg to show people that he deserved to go higher than where he went. In Andre’s case, there is a common bond.”

David spent a full week at UConn over the winter watching every Huskies practice and two games and saw Drummond interact with his teammates and coaches. He scheduled Dumars to see him play, but it came on a night UConn coach Jim Calhoun was out.

“He was just OK in that game,” David said. “We decided it would be important for Joe to go back and see him under better circumstances.” Dumars saw Drummond play twice more in person, at Villanova and again at the Big East tournament.

It didn’t take any more convincing from a physical standpoint. Dumars saw the athletic big man that an NBA team might have a chance to land once in a generation. The meetings in Chicago and New York a few weeks apart in June convinced Pistons brass Drummond had the stuff to one day realize his enormous potential. They know it won’t happen overnight.

But a core of Drummond, Knight and Monroe – the fruits of three trips to the lottery, ages 18, 20 and 22 – has energized the franchise at 6 Championship Drive in a way it hasn’t experienced since the peak of the Goin’ to Work era that saw the Pistons rip off seven straight 50-win seasons. If this thing works the way they envision it, those days aren’t far off.