Maybe the problem with Andre Drummond was that he always made it look too easy.
Dummond entered the 2012 draft with the type of measurables NBA general managers dream about. He checked in at the pre-draft camp a quarter of an inch away from 7-foot and 279 pounds, with 7.5 percent body fat. He elevated above the rim to dunk and sprinted down the court from end-to-end with an effortless grace preposterous for a man his size. Even as an 18-year-old, he projected as the type of player who would have a physical advantage over almost anyone in the NBA.
There was only one problem: his production didn't match his profile. Drummond averaged just 10 points per game in his only season at UConn. Even worse, he earned a reputation there as someone who didn't give 100 percent effort.
NBA teams have a history of losing games on purpose just to increase their lottery chances at a talent like Drummond, yet by the time the 2012 draft rolled around, Drummond's name had become toxic. He might as well have worn a scarlet letter on his suit. Days before the draft, ESPN's Chad Ford had this to say about Drummond:
He doesn't always play hard. He takes off plays and sometimes entire games. His skill level (highlighted by his awful 29.5 percent free throw shooting) is a major work in progress. He doesn't always work hard off the court to improve his game. And when you talk to him, he sounds more like a 16-year-old trapped in the body of a 28-year-old giant.
It all contributed to Drummond falling to the Detroit Pistons at No. 9 overall, selected after an undersized shooting guard who didn't start in college, a point guard from the Big Sky three years older than him and a power forward who couldn't get off the bench for two different teams as a rookie. There's supposed to be a premium on size in the draft, but apparently not when that size reportedly comes with enough baggage to fill an airport hangar.
If Drummond needed any more motivation to have a successful NBA career, he had found it. And after just one season, it already looks like almost every team who passed on him will grow to regret that decision.
As a rookie, Drummond played only 20 minutes per night, but put up the type of adjusted stats that can't be ignored. He was absurdly potent offensively, finishing with the sixth-highest effective field goal percentage in the league for qualifying players. He was a monster on the offensive glass and, as SB Nation's Tom Ziller pointed out earlier this summer, rarely turned the ball over.
Drummond is far from a perfect player when it comes to skill, but he was smart enough to stick with what he was good at: standing right next to the rim and finishing with force. He tried to dunk on 36 percent of his field goal attempts. Over 81 percent of his shots came at the rim. He hit one of two three-point attempts, but otherwise, outside of 10 feet, he didn't make a shot all season, only trying 11 times.
Detroit brought Drummond along slowly as a 19-year-old rookie last season for a reason. There are real concerns with extending those hyper-efficient numbers across starters' minutes. For one, Drummond only made 37 percent of his free throws last season after making 29 percent of his free throws as a freshman on UConn. That's 16 percent worse than Shaq's career average from the charity stripe. He also doesn't have Shaq's passing gene, as he finished the season with just half an assist per game.
Still, 19 minutes? The biggest head-scratcher might be how little the Pistons played Drummond and power forward Greg Monroe with each other. The presumed starting frontcourt next season played just 9.4 minutes per game together in 48 contests. If that's the frontcourt of the future, why not show it off more from the start?
This season will be the start of a new era in Detroit. The Pistons drastically rebuilt this offseason, opting for big-name veteran acquisitions over tanking for a loaded 2014 draft class. Josh Smith now slides in at small forward next to Monroe and Drummond to form one of the biggest and most athletic frontlines in the NBA. Brandon Jennings' flaws have always received more publicity than his strengths, but he's very likely to be an upgrade at point guard over Brandon Knight.
Still, the Pistons' future will only be as bright as Drummond's. If he can make moderate gains defensively and retain most of his offensive efficiency, there's no reason he shouldn't turn into one of the league's most valuable big men before long.
In an age when the league is constantly getting smaller, the Pistons are getting bigger. Quickness and shooting ability are wonderful attributes, but nothing compares to a monster in the paint who can get easy buckets. Drummond might be the biggest and most athletic basketball player in the world. That's a good place to start.