Depending on how you look at things, Andre Drummond is either the best meaningless-exhibition game player in the world or the worst.
He proved that again Thursday night in the Blue vs. White game that finished off USA Basketball’s three-day minicamp, putting up 27 points and 16 rebounds against a team that included players like Klay Thompson, Blake Griffin and DeMarcus Cousins. His team lost 134-128, and he did miss five of his six free throw attempts, but he led both teams in points and rebounds.
Drummond has history with this kind of performance – it’s only been 18 months since he put up 30 points and 25 rebounds while picking up the MVP trophy in the 2014 Rising Stars Challenge. While everyone else is goofing around, Drummond is hammering the offensive glass and getting himself easy dunks.
That trophy is probably right next to Drummond’s 2014 FIBA World Cup gold medal in his man cave, and there’s no question that he’s made room for another medal – this one being an Olympic gold.
He might get one – remember that he only turned 22 on Monday – but it’s almost certainly not going to be next summer in Rio. Drummond’s much more likely to be a member of the 2020 Dream Team in Tokyo.
The problem for Drummond is that, while he takes exhibition games seriously – everyone else Thursday night was trying to avoid a repeat of Paul George’s horrific broken leg sustained in last year’s game – everyone takes the Olympics seriously.
At the World Cup, Drummond was the last man off the bench, averaging 3.0 points and 2.5 rebounds in 5.7 minutes per game, and even picking up a DNP-CD against Turkey. That was a very good roster, led by James Harden, Anthony Davis and the Splash Brothers, but it was nowhere near as loaded as the 2016 Olympic team is expected to be.
That group is expected to include LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and possibly even Kobe Bryant. Those are the guys (outside of Kobe) who stopped by the mandatory minicamp to say hello, and weren’t about to bother sticking around for the Blue-White game.
To make the roster in Rio, Drummond will have to win the last post spot against players like Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge and even Kevin Love – a player whose court vision and passing are perfect for international play.
Right now, Drummond isn’t at that level. He’s the best offensive rebounder in basketball, even when both teams are trying, and he can both protect the rim and finish at it.
An Olympic center has to be able to do all of that, plus play man defense, hit free throws and pass the ball, and that’s where Drummond falls short. Given Stan Van Gundy’s ability to teach young big men – just ask Howard – it’s very likely that Drummond will be closer a year from now than he is now, especially with a Pistons roster built specifically to revolve around him.
There’s still a long, long way to go, though. Drummond has never even played in an All-Star Game, so asking him to jump into the league’s top 12 players before his 23rd birthday isn’t a realistic hope.
He’ll be turning 27 during the Tokyo Olympics, though, and a lot of players on this year’s roster won’t be around for that game.
So he should probably keep that spot available in the trophy case for a few more years. He’s probably going to need it, even if it isn’t quite as soon as he’d like.