Joe D: On Drummond

Consistency of rookie’s impact ‘pleasantly surprising,’ Dumars says

Joe Dumars spent all of last week scouring the talent pool for June’s NBA draft at various conference tournaments from Las Vegas to New York. So where would Andre Drummond go if he had waited for the 2013 draft instead of leaving UConn after an uneven freshman season?

“Let’s just say he would go really high,” Dumars said after a good belly laugh. “Really high.”

If the low point of the Pistons season was learning of the diagnosis of a stress fracture in the rookie’s lower back, it’s overwhelmed by the transformative effect Drummond’s emergence has had on the future of the franchise.

Drummond went through a full practice on Thursday for the Pistons and said he felt “great” afterward. “If you had seen practice today,” he said, “you’d never have known I was hurt.”

The difference in the defensive numbers with Drummond on and off the court have proven dramatic: 14 100-point or more games surrendered in Drummond’s last 44 games, 13 such games in the 19 he’s missed.

“He certainly changed the complexion of us defensively,” Dumars said. “It got to the point where I saw people starting to drive and have to pull up and pull back out. I think the numbers certainly bear that out. People talk about the lobs and the dunks, but just having that rim protector in there was significant.

“It wasn’t just always blocked shots, it was the impact of people not wanting to drive in there – shots not taken – and then having to move the ball around more, shot clock’s going down, they have to take a tough shot, we get a rebound and go the other way. Well, that’s because Drummond was in there, and that won’t show up, numbers-wise, in terms of him personally.”

It’s not entirely accurate to say Drummond’s impact exceeded expectations. The Pistons, starting with the immediate aftermath of his selection with the ninth pick last June, scrupulously explained their only expectations for Drummond were to play hard and learn well. They drafted him for the enormous potential they felt nearly certain would be realized, sooner or later, if he would do only that much.

The surprise, it’s fair to say, was in Drummond’s consistency of impact. Rare was the game when he didn’t help swing momentum to the Pistons.

“You don’t really expect a 19-year-old kid to come out and consistently impact games the way he did,” Dumars said. “For him to show up night after night, especially on the defensive end, and have the impact that he did, you just don’t expect that from your 19-year-old, youngest player on your team, least amount of experience in the NBA, to be able to do that. If I could just add one word to surprised, pleasantly surprised, I would say. We were happy with it.”

The alarm Dumars felt when the diagnosis – stress fracture of the fifth lumbar vertabra – was relayed to him was allayed as the medical team explained the prognosis.

“When you hear ‘stress fracture in the back,’ that sounds extremely serious,” he said. “And I don’t want to minimize what he’s had, because it’s a significant injury. But as the doctors explained how this works and how this is something that heals on its own, then we started getting more comfortable with what the process was going to be for him to start his way back.”

Dumars, naturally, hopes Drummond gets medical clearance to get back in uniform by season’s end for his sake, most of all. But they will proceed with all necessary caution, and then go a step past that point.

“His health comes first,” he said. “If you’re asking me that with the caveat that he’s fully healthy, well, absolutely. But only if he’s fully healthy. You can’t rush a kid back out there only because you want to see him play again. We’re going to make sure we’re all singing from the same page with Andre.”

With the season ending on April 17, assuming Drummond is ready to go at least by that point, the Pistons will have more than two months to work with him before the draft and their subsequent participation in Orlando’s Summer League. Given the progress Drummond made from the point of last year’s draft to the start of training camp, there’s reason for optimism that he’ll make another leap forward with a concentrated off-season ahead of him.

“Summer, especially for a young player, is a very important time,” Dumars said. “We want him to go into summer very healthy so he can work on everything that we watched this year that he needs to work on. What we don’t want is him having to pull back or adjust his workouts because he came back too soon the last month of the season. That would be completely counterproductive to that kid getting better and us getting better as a team.”

Drummond’s progress could go along a few paths simultaneously. What he gave them for 20 minutes a game this season could be extended to closer to 30 minutes next season as he becomes stronger and better conditioned. The other measure of progress would be incremental gains in areas beyond rebounding, running the floor, protecting the rim and converting lob passes into dunks.

“The first thing you have to do is show that you can do it, which he’s done,” Dumars said. “The second thing you have to do is do it consistently, on a nightly basis. And then the third thing is just start adding more and more to what you’re bringing to the court. He can be a game changer. The next step is you’ve got to do this 82 nights a year – just do it on a consistent basis.”

The Pistons still hope he gets to do it a few more nights this season – and after Thursday’s encouraging news, the odds of that spiked up a few levels – but the bigger picture is making sure he does it many nights into their future.

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