Is the NBA Leaving Detroit's Historically Versatile Big Man Behind?

Is the NBA Leaving Detroit's Historically Versatile Big Man Behind?

Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons gets called for a foul in the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 5, 2018, in Philadelphia.

SourceMitchell Leff/Getty

Why you should care

Because this hasn’t been done since King Charles. 

The 2018 NBA All-Star Game starting lineups were revealed last week, and while perennial stars like Stephen Curry, LeBron James, James Harden and Kevin Durant topped the list of vote-getters, some interesting developments were revealed through the association’s new selection system. Fan voting used to decide the entirety of All-Star rosters, but this season the NBA added player and media votes to the scrum. And apparently those three parties perceive some players differently.

Take Pistons center Andre Drummond, for instance. If it were only up to players and the media, Drummond would be an Eastern Conference All-Star. But the fans voted Drummond the ninth-best front-court player in the East, likely pushing the 2016 All-Star out of contention for this year’s game. Drummond is certainly less offensively skilled than many of his stretch-forward contemporaries, but the fan votes raise the question: Is our current fascination with run-and-gun basketball diminishing the value of players who don’t possess a silky jump shot? And further, can Drummond still be a franchise player in today’s NBA? When making those assessments, remember to consider the total package.

Andre Drummond is averaging 3.9 assists per game this year. That’s the best mark by a player averaging 14-plus rebounds per game since Charles Barkley in 1986–87.

At present, Drummond leads the NBA with an average of 15 rebounds per game, the most since former Pistons center Ben Wallace snatched 15.42 per game in 2003. But Drummond is not a one-trick pony. He’s currently averaging his second-highest career scoring mark (14.3 ppg) and is the best player on a young Pistons team fighting for a playoff berth. Since being drafted ninth overall as an 18-year-old freshman out of UConn in 2012, Drummond has been viewed as a project — an athletic specimen long on potential but needing to improve many of the offensive skills necessary for survival in the now pervasive dribble-drive offense that dominates today’s playbooks.

Drummond’s game, which relies heavily on offensive rebounding, putbacks and basic low-post rim attacks, may not be as appealing to fans as the 3-point onslaughts of, say, Kristaps Porzingis, but Drummond’s increased assist numbers and his improved free-throw shooting (up 24 percent from last season) suggest that he is developing a game to fit these modern times. Drummond will never be a sharpshooter, but improved versatility and leading a playoff push might just earn him more respect from the masses.

According to former Boston Celtics legend and current ESPN analyst Paul Pierce, the Pistons “should have been in the playoffs” last year (they finished 10th in the Eastern Conference). But Pierce says Detroit lacked a key attribute that Drummond may not yet possess: veteran leadership. So, last July the Pistons acquired guard Avery Bradley from the Celtics, allowing Drummond to focus on making those desperately needed improvements to his game without having to lead the young team. “Hopefully, Avery’s presence, leadership and his defensive mentality can help them get over that hump this year,” says Pierce.

Nearing the All-Star break, Detroit sits one game under .500 and a game behind Milwaukee for the eighth — and final — Eastern Conference playoff spot. Bradley has played well, but, much like their massive man in the middle, the Pistons remain an inconsistent, often lackadaisical team on defense that has failed to live up to expectations. After sprinting out to a 14-6 start through November, the Pistons dropped seven straight games to begin December. Now, they’re middling. According to Detroit native and ESPN analyst Jalen Rose, the team needs top draft picks who have been with the organization, like Drummond, to mobilize the franchise’s comeback. “I know Andre Drummond has potential,” Rose said via conference call. “You need players like him to graduate to an All-Star level — that’s how it works.”

Given Drummond’s size and athletic abilities, there’s no excuse for his tendency to appear as if he’s not always trying. And there’s no denying that the 6-foot-11 athletic specimen who has demonstrated masterful anticipation — to the tune of 15 rebounds per game — should rank higher than 19th in the NBA in blocks per game (1.2). Drummond has clearly worked to improve his game this season, but if he wants the public to recognize his historic versatility — and avoid being lost in the annals of the 2018 sports almanac — he should stop giving voters any other choice.

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