All is not right in the world of Motor City basketball. The Detroit Pistons have won only four of their last 15 games and finally managed to snap a four-game losing streak against the Orlando Magic last night. It’s not that their schedule has been exceptionally tough of late either. In those 15 games, the Pistons have only played six games against teams currently in playoff spots and of that group, only the Clippers and Raptors are currently top four teams in either conference. For a team that made big moves last offseason, recruiting Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith in free agency, missing out on the playoffs was definitely not part of the plan. The Pistons currently sit in the ninth spot in the East, half a game behind the Charlotte Bobcats, and tied with the resurgent New York Knicks. Taking all of this into account, Detroit fans could be forgiven for thinking that things couldn’t get much worse. With tension developing between head coach Maurice Cheeks and their young star center, Andre Drummond, the Pistons fortunes could yet take a further turn for the worse though.
There can be no real argument about it; Andre Drummond has been by far the Pistons player of the season so far. The 20-year-old is now in his second year after being drafted out of the University of Connecticut and has certainly found his feet in the NBA. In his rookie season, Drummond only averaged just more than 20 minutes per game off the bench and missed 22 games mostly due to a back injury, but still he managed to average 7.9 points and 7.6 rebounds a night. This season, the former UConn Husky is now a starter playing 32.5 minutes and as a result his productivity has jumped forward again.
Drummond is averaging 12.6 points and 12.7 rebounds per game while shooting 60 percent from the field. His defensive contribution is also impressive as he adds 1.4 steals and 1.8 blocks per game, good enough to have him ranked eighth in the NBA in defensive impact. At only 20 years of age, the Pistons have struck lucky with Drummond as he has the potential to become the sort of player who can become a franchise cornerstone. In reality, this should make him the only player who is almost untouchable in Detroit. The danger is with coach Cheeks eager for him to learn and develop further, he seems to be adopting a style of player management that doesn’t sit comfortably with Drummond.
In Sunday night’s loss to the Mavericks, Drummond was benched twice in quick succession by Cheeks as he had one of his worst games of the season so far. Benching a player only 11 seconds into a quarter is unlikely to do anything but cause conflict though. Sure, this sort of practice is commonplace among coaches when trying to blood rookies, but when a guy averages a double-double and is central to your chances of winning both now and in the future, a more measured approach is probably best.
Benched twice in the space of six minutes, Drummond cut a frustrated figure on the Pistons bench. When he was approached by assistant coaches John Loyer and Henry Bibby, Drummond looked far from interested in listening to what they had to say. This is a situation that will now need to be handled with extreme care by Cheeks and his staff. Effective management and coaching in any sport essentially boils down to knowing your personnel. Judging by Drummond’s body language, being hooked from the game is not what will motivate him to come back better. Sometimes young players need to be allowed to play through the mistakes they make and learn in the process and on a team that’s struggling to win anyway, where’s the risk?
The Pistons as an organization are right to want Drummond to progress as quickly as possible, but they need to find a method that will work for both parties during the development process. Drummond is the future of the Pistons, and at the moment that has the potential to be incredibly bright, but without communication and patience on both sides it could all go wrong.