Former Detroit Pistons general manager Joe Dumars will never live down taking Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in the 2003 NBA Draft, but his track record for finding young talent is generally sound. He picked up Tayshaun Prince, Arron Afflalo and Rodney Stuckey with mid-to-late first-round picks and nabbed Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight in the lottery.
None of those players are in Detroit anymore, and neither is Dumars. Still, the Pistons can still credit their former GM for laying the groundwork for the franchise's future when he nabbed Andre Drummond the ninth pick in the 2012 draft.
When Stan Van Gundy took over for Dumars as coach and team president after the 2013-14 season, Drummond, 22, was the perfect player to build around. The pieces didn't always fit in that first season with Monroe and Josh Smith also vying for playing time in the frontcourt, but a year later, Van Gundy has pulled off multiple moves to put Drummond in the best position to succeed.
Van Gundy spent this summer building a team more to his liking: one with a strong big man (Drummond) surrounded by shooters and playmakers like Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, rookie Stanley Johnson and floor stretching power forwards in Ersan Ilyasova and Marcus Morris. It's a similar formula to the one that led his teams to success in Orlando.
Drummond is the key. He needs to be a dominating presence for the Pistons, whether it's anchoring the defense or rolling to the rim offensively. Splitting time with Monroe last season -- Smith was waived in December -- Drummond averaged 13.8 points, 13.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 30.5 minutes per game in his third season in the NBA.
Now with even more responsibility, the question is whether Drummond is just a big man with potential or one who can lead a team to the playoffs.
Is he the next Dwight Howard?
Drummond draws comparisons to Howard not only because of his freak athletic ability and entering the NBA at 19, but also because he's a protegé of Van Gundy. But to say he's going to be the next Howard -- who won three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards -- puts a lot of pressure on Drummond.
Still, there's reason to believe he can become a star. Howard truly broke out in his fourth season, averaging 20.7 points, 14.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 37.7 minutes per game. On top of that, he led the Magic to the second round of the playoffs and they were in the NBA Finals the next season.
Without an offensive arsenal to match Howard's, Drummond doesn't appear ready to make that jump. But there is some hope. Guess who took over as the Magic's coach before Howard's phenomenal fourth season? Stan Van Gundy.
This will be Drummond's second season with Van Gundy, but it will be the first season he's a part of a roster Van Gundy built to fit his system. For Van Gundy's system to work, however, he needs Drummond to be the star. Drummond may never be the player Howard was, but if he can get close, it will still make a huge difference for Detroit.
Drummond's weaknesses can be fixed
Drummond's biggest strength is grabbing rebounds. He averaged 15.9 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, good enough for tops in the NBA. But he's still rough around the edges. He can't shoot a free throw for the life of him (he's a 39.7 percent shooter for his career), he gets into foul trouble easily (he averaged 3.5 fouls per game last season) and he doesn't have great touch, shooting only 51.4 percent in his third season after making more than 60 percent of his shots in the previous two. That's despite taking almost all of his shots around the basket.
The biggest strength for Drummond offensively has always been his high-flying athleticism for put-back dunks and pick-and-roll alley oops. Van Gundy and the Pistons' coaching staff is working on Drummond's post game, though, which could lead to a breakthrough season.
Drummond is working hard to build that game. Last season, Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated took an in-depth look at Drummond's development, especially his offensive arsenal. Drummond told Mahoney that because he is still a slasher and rebounder, he only needed to perfect three post moves: "a basic jump hook off of two crab dribbles, a similar setup leading to a counter spin, and a head-and-shoulder fake to throw defenders off his timing."
He added those moves to his repertoire last season, but he failed to convert on many of the looks -- as evidenced by the aforementioned 51.4 field goal percentage. If Drummond can start to hit those jump hooks at a higher rate, he just might become a dominant big man.
Is the breakout coming?
The last two years are tough to count -because Drummond was hindered by a lineup that didn't fit him and he had to split time with other big men. This will be the first year that he's in a system where he could really thrive. Plus, the East is wide open with multiple teams capable of making a push for the playoffs. The time is now for Drummond to make the jump, and with a roster fit to his needs and even more time to rid himself of his offensive flaws.
There is some wiggle room for Drummond, however. He has never averaged more than 33 minutes per game (which can be explained partly by foul trouble and his inability to shoot free throws), something Howard did every year of his career until this season. Howard made the jump from good big man to dominant force in his fourth season, while other historically great big men like Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon went from great to even better between their fourth and fifth seasons. But they were 26 and 27 years old. Drummond has time to turn into a star, but he shouldn't get lackadaisical either.
This Detroit Pistons team is capable of making the playoffs, especially in the weak Eastern Conference. Drummond has the ability to take them there, too. He must continue developing his offensive arsenal while maintaining his energy and rebounding ability on the defensive end.
Drummond still has a little bit of time to grow, but the Pistons are ready for him to be the go-to guy now.
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