Good Company

If Andre Drummond keeps showing up on lists populated by present or future Hall of Famers, he’s probably going to wind up there himself.

There’s the one where Drummond ranks first for players 20 or under in rebounding with his current average of 12.7 a game, slotted one ahead of Dwight Howard. When his streak of six straight games of six or more offensive rebounds was snapped as he sat out the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s game with Minnesota, he found himself in the company of Dennis Rodman.

He’s drawing notice for the consistent impact he has on games, but it should be remembered that Drummond is still not only frightfully young but truly in his infancy as a basketball player, more so, perhaps, than many AAU stars who identify themselves as elite players in their pre-teen years. That wasn’t Drummond, who had to catch up to his body, though it was a frame that had college coaches intrigued even when the production lagged well behind his potential.

Chauncey Billups caught only fleeting glimpses of Drummond as a rookie while playing in the Western Conference. He caught an eyeful of him over four days in July as a representative of USA Basketball during its July minicamp for prospective young national team players. And he immediately saw the potential of his young teammate in training camp.

But even he’s a little taken aback at the results through the season’s first quarter, the improvement week over week he’s seen in Drummond since early October.

“I am (surprised). He’s playing amazing,” Billups said. “I still think he hasn’t even scratched the surface of how good he can be. He doesn’t even know what he’s doing. He’s just got a gift and once he starts to get it, mature a little bit on the court – because he’s a mature kid off the court – but on the court once he starts to mature it’s going to be trouble for everybody.”

Mo Cheeks has begun to run a play or two for Drummond, which speaks to the development with his back to the basket over his rookie season. But that probably still will be the last part of Drummond’s evolution. What’s remarkable is the level of impact Drummond is able to reach already with so many areas where improvement is ahead of him. Even as a shot-blocker, where he’s already a force, Cheeks sees vast room for progress.

But there’s one area where Drummond is already elite: offensive rebounding. He’s the runaway league leader, with 117 total, 20 ahead of runner-up DeAndre Jordan. In Pistons history, Drummond might already rank behind only Rodman – as good as the game’s ever seen – as an offensive rebounder, a skill that dispirits opposition defenses.

“I think anticipation is one of the big keys to that, and activity,” Billups said of the traits great offensive rebounders share. “If there’s 80 possessions in a game, there’s a lot of opportunities for rebounds. You might shoot 45 percent, so half of those balls are reboundable and if you end up getting rebounds, you have to go like 20 times to only get six. So it’s easy to get frustrated when you don’t get ’em. The guys that continue to stay hungry and pursue those balls are the best in the league.”

“They’re relentless,” Cheeks said of elite offensive rebounders, and he played with two of them during his Philadelphia 76ers playing career, Moses Malone and Charles Barkley, noting one key difference between them and Drummond. “Those guys had offensive plays run for them. They were probably closer to the rim. We rarely run a play for Andre and he’s still around the rim. He chases the ball. He finds the ball. And that’s the most common trait for those guys that are good offensive rebounders – they are relentless going to get the ball.”

Drummond’s athleticism and young legs surely help him get to balls others can’t. But elite offensive rebounding requires tremendous mental discipline, too. There’s a tendency on offense to watch a shot as it arcs to the basket rather than to always do the work that leads to the opportunity to grab a missed shot.

“When somebody takes a shot, it usually comes off on the opposite side, so I usually make my way to that side or, if not I just get to the rim and try to push everybody back and box them out,” Drummond said. “And then I go up and tip it in.”

“It’s a mental game, as well,” Billups said. “You’ve got to think about positioning and be in good position to get the ball. When the ball is shot, there’s a lot of different things you have to go through your mind, I’m sure. I’ve never been a good offensive rebounder, but I watched and played with some of the great ones, and through watching, you see different things that you need.”

Rodman did more than rely on his freakish athleticism to grab rebounds. He studied shooters and would track the flight of the shot and adjust his path to the basket based on where he thought the ball would come off if it missed. Drummond does more than rely on his natural gifts, too. He watches videotape of the game’s best, he said.

“I watch film on guys back in the day like Bill Russell, Wilt, Shaq, Dwight, all those guys,” he said. “Mo always pounds in to my head, I’ve got to study the game and study guys at my position, now and before, too. So I’m always learning, each and every day.”

There are 29 other NBA teams who probably would find it sobering to know that Tuesday’s game with Minnesota was Drummond’s 82nd in the NBA – one complete season. To grasp how far he’s come over those 82 games is stunning. To think where he might be after another 82 is at the very core of the Pistons’ future.