Andre Drummond just turned 22, and he’s already become the face of the Detroit Pistons franchise.
This year, though, he also intends to become its leader.
Drummond began working himself into that role this summer, staying in daily contact with Detroit’s starting backcourt – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Reggie Jackson – and having rookie small forward Stanley Johnson move in with him.
“Just being here and seeing what I saw, my experiences as a Piston, I needed to take a role and help guys,” Drummond said at Monday’s media day. “I felt like now is the time for us to do what we set out to do every year.
“I feel now it’s our time, we’re on the rise, and we’re going to do it.”
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy doesn’t want Drummond to take on more than he can handle, but he’s pleased with his young star’s attitude.
“You would hope all of your players hate losing,” Van Gundy told MLive.com. “I think Andre’s in a good place, he’s put in more time this offseason than he ever has before. He’s been committed to what’s going on.”
Drummond’s first three seasons haven’t been a pleasant introduction to the league. He played for four different coaches and the Pistons posted a combined 90-156 record.
Last year, Van Gundy’s arrival as team president and head coach was supposed to change things, but saddled with a dysfunctional roster, they got off to a 5-23 start and were never able to work themselves back into the playoff hunt.
From his first day on the job, though, Van Gundy has made it clear that, while he has made major changes to the rest of the roster, he intends to build his franchise around Drummond. As a 19-year-old rookie, Drummond averaged 13.8 points and 13.2 rebounds per 36 minutes, and he moved that to 15.1 and 14.7 as a sophomore and 16.3 and 15.9 last season.
On a per-game basis last year, he averaged 13.8 points and 13.5 rebounds, including 5.3 offensive rebounds – stats that only three other players have matched in NBA history, and no one as young as Drummond. Moses Malone did it six times, starting at the age of 22, while Charles Barkley and Anderson Varejao have done it once each.
He also developed a strong pick-and-roll partnership with Jackson, but one that was much more effective with backup power forward Anthony Tolliver on the floor instead of the more talented Greg Monroe. The difference was that Tolliver – a stretch four – pulled a defender away from the rim, while Monroe doesn’t have the shooting range to do that.
Van Gundy had already been planning to remake his roster in a way that would spread the floor away from Drummond and Jackson as much as possible, which is why he was happy to let Monroe leave in free agency and to replace him with another stretch four – Ersan Ilyasova. With Ilyasova and Tolliver splitting the power-forward minutes while Caldwell-Pope and either Johnson or Marcus Morris hitting 3-pointers from the wings, there should be ample room for the pick-and-roll attack to work.
That’s not as easy as it sounds—Jackson is going to his first season as a full-time starter, Johnson hasn’t played a game yet and Caldwell-Pope and Morris aren’t going to be challenging the Splash Brothers any time soon—but Drummond believes in the potential of the group, and is willing to do what he can to help.
That’s why he gave Johnson a place in his home, especially knowing that the rookie lost his mother to cancer this summer. Drummond lived with his own mother at the start of his career, and knows the importance of a support network during the jump to the NBA.
He, Jackson and Caldwell-Pope also organized a late-August trip to Las Vegas for several Pistons to do a week of MMA training – a move sparked by an invitation from the fighters when they made a summer visit to the Pistons training facility.
“I thought that’d be a great idea,” Drummond told MMAJunkie.com. “They did some of our workouts; we should try and do some of their workouts. The idea kind of sparked, and we all went for it.
“A lot of funny bloopers have been recorded, a lot of guys don’t know what they’re doing—I don’t know what I’m doing. So we’re outside of our element right now, having fun with it, gaining confidence. We’re bonding a lot.”
The last part is what made the trip important for Drummond, who desperately wants to be a part of a winning team in the NBA.
“I can’t stand it, it’s the worst feeling,” Drummond said Monday. “People are laughing at our team — that’s not a good feeling.
“I want to rub it in somebody’s face that we’re a good team.”
Andre Drummond Media Day quotes via Pistons Media Day Live Stream