To borrow a Stan Van Gundy-ism, the Detroit Pistons have finally just formed a fucking wall – and that wall’s name is Andre Drummond. In merely 22 years of life, Andre Drummond has already been a high school phenomenon, a hyped collegiate walk-on, an NCAA disappointment, a draft day steal and a promising young big man. Now, in his current form, he is a paint-demolishing supernova.
It was just a matter of time.
In May of 2014, Stan Van Gundy – and Stan Van Gundy’s endlessly amusing collection of aggrieved faces – was named the Pistons’ head coach and president of basketball operations. In simpler terms, he was declared the Grand Poo-bah, the creator and enactor of Detroit’s new, larger organizational philosophy. Since his hiring, Van Gundy has increased the size of the team’s front office exponentially, making it one of the largest and most comprehensive in the league; he even hired a quartet of scouts dedicated solely to watching practically every single minute of every single NBA game. He coldly and swiftly dismissed Josh Smith, paying him $26 million to be literally anywhere else in the cosmos. Most important, though, Van Gundy has managed to refashion the Pistons into a Rust Belt version of his late-aughts Orlando Magic juggernaut – and consequently, into a surprising success.
This is where Andre Drummond comes in.
Andre Drummond is currently averaging a borderline offensive .63 points per possession in the post, which places him in the 16th percentile league wide, behind one Plumlee and the Marcus half of the Morris twins. Drummond shoots 42 percent from the free-throw line and 53 percent from the field, the latter of which, initially, seems perfectly palatable until you realize that he has taken 95 percent – ninety-five! – of his shots inside of the lane.
Nonetheless, leaden touch and all, Drummond is scoring 19.1 points per game and improves the Pistons’ offense by just over five points per 100 possessions when he is on the court. As Van Gundy is wont to do, the Pistons run a steady diet of spread pick-and-rolls, pairing Drummond, an elephant in Moon Shoes – big, strong and holy hell, he jumped how high? – with Reggie Jackson, their talented-but-$80-million point guard and a raft of young wing-defending, 3-point shooters who eagerly wait around the arc. Moreover, Drummond is the NBA’s most prodigious rebounder, collecting 18.9 boards per game (6.4 of which are offensive) and scoring nearly twice as many points from put-backs as anybody in the NBA.
What’s more, on the defensive end, Drummond has further tuned his 6-foot-11 frame into a mechanism of destruction and, in the process, has buoyed the Pistons to the Eastern Conference’s pleasant middle. Oscillating between brutishly cruel (oof, Meyers) and delicately artful (rim-protecting is nothing if not an art), Drummond demonstrates a heightened awareness of defensive positioning and its many nuances. He still swats and swipes – he’s one of only nine players to average over both a steal and block per game – but, now more than ever, he contains. He controls.
Still, a mote of uncertainty continues to flicker despite the Pistons’s 6-5 start. Drummond, after all, has won more than 30 games in a season just as many times as he has been publicly shamed for being a bad kisser. To add anxiety to insult, Drummond is primed to become a free agent – albeit, a restricted one – in the most cash-flush offseason in NBA history and Detroit lacks the certain modicum of glitz that other markets possess. Too, the Pistons’ current flaws are frighteningly evident. They crater whenever Drummond leaves the floor. They’ve cooled down considerably since their 5-1 start. Steve Blake.
So, yes, the Pistons may be a fluke and their first 11 games may just be a random occurrence that has been twisted into a reductionist thread to fit a pleasing preconceived narrative about evolution and progress and all that other warm, fuzzy pap. But what if they’re not? What if Reggie Jackson really is worth his monster contract? What if the joyfully multisyllabic Kentavious Caldwell-Pope truly is budding into one of the most stifling perimeter defenders in the league? The Pistons are young, and they may very well be good. They built their wall. But how high is it?