Coming out of the University of Connecticut before the 2012 NBA Draft, big man Andre Drummond was viewed as something of an enigma, one of those prospects with a really high ceiling … or potentially, a really large crater.
A 6-foot-10, 270-pounder, Drummond played one year at Connecticut before opting for the draft—even though that one year with the Huskies wasn’t all that spectacular.
In 34 games, he averaged 28.4 minutes, 10 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks on 53.8 percent shooting and left many scouts with the impression he could have done so much more.
The knock on Drummond was that he played passively and didn’t physically dominate the way he was capable of. The Detroit Pistons rolled the dice on Drummond when they picked ninth overall.
They brought him along slowly—after all, he was only 19 when his rookie season started—but he showed flashes, even with a back injury that cost him 22 games in February and March.
There were the dunks. There were nights like a 22-point, eight-rebound performance in just 21 minutes against the Thunder in just his sixth NBA game. Near the end of the year, he posted a 29-point, 11-rebounds masterpiece in 34 minutes at Cleveland on April 10.
He shot 60.8 percent from the floor, averaging 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and a steal in just 20.7 minutes a game in the 60 games he played.
And why not? His per-36 minute numbers looked fantastic—13.8 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.8 blocks. Why would that be a risk?
Because per-36 minutes have an inverse tendency when the actual minute count gets smaller; i.e., the fewer minutes a player actually records, the larger the margin for error when attempting to project the numbers out.
Drummond, however, has exceeded even the per-36 projections and the expectations.
He leads the league with a 64.8 field-goal percentage. He’s in the top five in rebounding. And Drummond’s actual numbers so far, through Tuesday night’s stunning victory over the defending champion Miami Heat in Miami, 12.9 points, 12.5 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and two steals … and that’s in 32.4 minutes.
Projected out to per-36 minutes and you find: 14.4 points, 13.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 2.2 steals. Fewer blocks than expected, but the scoring and rebounding is actually ahead of last year’s pace.
His coming out party happened Sunday against the 76ers, when Drummond went off for career-highs of 31 points, 19 rebounds and six steals in 32 minutes.
Against the Heat, the scoring was down—just 10 points—but he ripped down 18 more boards despite being limited to just 22 minutes because of foul trouble (he did eventually foul out, the first time this season he’s done so).
If there’s an Achilles heel to Drummond’s game it is his shooting. That gaudy field-goal percentage is a by-product of almost never shooting outside of about four feet from the rim.
You can see that by his free-throw percentage: A rather pungent 32.2 percent, down even from last year’s unacceptable 37.1 percent.
That’s 32.2 percent after going a (for Drummond) Mark Price-like 12-for-28 in the last three games.
It makes Drummond a huge liability in late game situations and some might argue (me included among them) that it also limits his offensive aggressiveness. Sometimes Drummond doesn’t take the ball up strong in traffic because he doesn’t want to get fouled. Of course, it you had clanked, clunked and otherwise bricked 40-of-59 free-throw attempts, you might not want to go to the line, either.
Andre Drummond has shown signs that Joe Dumars’ gamble two summers ago was a good one. If he can figure out how to even make 60 percent to 65 percent of his free throws, he might be at the forefront of the next generation of great NBA bigs.