The curious case of Andre Drummond

Andre Drummond
Photo: Alyssa Blayney

NOTE: The views expressed in this EDITORIAL do not necessarily reflect the views of Detroit Sports Nation or a majority of its writers and should not be misconstrued as such. The views contained within are the views of the author and the author alone.

It’s only every so often you come across a player in any sport that is as talented as they are physically imposing. You probably rattled off a few names of players who fit the bill, but think about why they stood out. They usually can’t be matched in any capacity. They overpower their opponents and earn the undying love of the city they represent. That’s what Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond is…. when he wants to be.

There is no question about Drummond’s talent. He’s a constant 20-point, 20-rebound threat that stands at 6’11, 280 pounds, and can jump and run with any center in the league. So then why does his play seem so inconsistent, and why is he not loved by the fans like a superstar center should be?

His play seems inconsistent because his talent level is so high, but his effort and energy almost never match it. To be fair, he averages 14.7 points, and 13.4 rebounds per game. You can’t get much more consistent than that. The biggest problem with Drummond, aside from his historically bad free-throw shooting, is his demeanor on the court. He appears inconsistent because his attitude is. He’s not always engaged, not always focused, and while it doesn’t have a huge impact on his numbers, it does impact his play and importance, mainly on the defensive end.

Generally, the games in which you can tell Drummond has his mind elsewhere are the games he’s slow to rotate, not in the right spot, not closing out on his man, etc. That, along with his free-throw shooting, is undoubtedly where the frustration of the fans comes from. However, it’s begun to create a false narrative surrounding Detroit’s literal centerpiece. What I have heard from fans, and what I even started to believe was that Drummond’s inefficiencies really showed up against the cream of the crop at his position. Whenever Drummond was matched up with a better center, he would just get worked over. I dove into the numbers expecting that to be the case, an it’s not… at all.

I took the games the Pistons have played this year where Drummond was matched-up with consensus top ten centers in the league. I took his averages against Brook Lopez (Nets), Dwight Howard (Hawks), Marc Gasol (Grizzlies), DeAndre Jordan (Clippers). Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves), DeMarcus Cousins (Kings), Hassan Whiteside (Heat), and Al Horford (Celtics).*

*I initially wanted to add Rudy Gobert (Jazz) into the mix, but the Pistons have yet to play Utah this season.

What I found shocked me. Drummond has played 11 total games against the eight centers listed above and has averaged 15.3 points, and 14.5 rebounds in those contests, both above his season averages. The opponents combined to average slightly higher scoring at 15.9 points per game, but significantly lower rebound totals at just 9.5 per game.

What does that tell us? Those numbers indicate that Drummond actually plays better against those considered to be the cream of the crop. So his performance against the best of the bets in the NBA shouldn’t be an issue. What is much more fascinating however is the issue of Drummond’s maturity. First things first, he’s only 23 years old . If an NBA players enters his prime around 26-30, Drummond still has at least three years to find his ceiling. That’s scary. The flip side to him being 23 though, is that he’s already five years into his NBA career. While he still has all the time in the world to figure it out, fans become impatient when a guy doesn’t make much of a mental jump from 18 to 23.

It’s incredibly easy to blame Drummond for not wising up by now, but it must also be stated he’s never really had a veteran big man to show him the ropes. Last year was Drummond’s best and not only was he more seasoned as a pro, he also had Anthony Tolliver around as a guy that could offer both advice and experience, that’s not nothing. In former Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups’ “Letter to my Younger Self” published on The Players’ Tribune, he cited the influence of Sam Mitchell who averaged less than nine points and one assists in a 13 year NBA career. Obviously Chauncey and Andre are different people, but it goes to show how far that mentor or that voice can go for a guy, especially one as young as Drummond.

So where does the hate come from? Is it only his shooting? Are you willing to overlook all of his other talents and his massive potential because you wrongfully believe that you can do one single aspect of his job better than he can? I sincerely hope not.

Do you believe Drummond can’t be the best player on a championship team? That’s a fair argument, but it offers an easy counterpoint. Drummond doesn’t have to be the Pistons best player. This year, he is, but that can change. Just because you can’t build a championship team around Drummond doesn’t mean he can’t be part of a championship team.

Trade him for assets? Depends on the haul, and whether or not you’re really willing to give up what looks like a minimum of another seven years of dominance from a player that’s never really had a concerning injury to speak of.

The reaction and aura to Drummond is fascinating because he’s not the most loved or easiest to root for, but he does perform, and performs well on most nights. The unlike-ability of Drummond sort of clouds that and has fans grasping at straws that really aren’t there in order to justify their displeasure with Detroit’s star. If you take a step back and evaluate Drummond for what he is, and what he has the potential to be, you might find a different and more accurate reality.