With nearly half the NBA season wrapped up, it’s time to recognize that the Detroit Pistons, despite their irritating inconsistencies, are an improved team. And as much as it pains many Pistons fans to admit it, Andre Drummond deserves a lot of credit for the squad’s turnaround.
The sixth-year pro has been playing like a man determined to prove his doubters wrong. A legion of doubters emerged after a down season for himself during the 2016-17 campaign.
Going into last season, he was coming off a campaign in which he made his first All-Star Game appearance and posted career-highs in minutes per game (32.9), rebounds per game (14.8) and points per game (16.2). During the 2015-16 campaign, the Pistons also made their first postseason appearance since the only season in which Michael Curry roamed the sidelines at The Palace: the 2008-09 season.
Then, the ‘16-‘17 season tipped off, and the Pistons appeared to be a victim of the good-old “hype machine.” Many pundits, including myself, predicted the Pistons would win 50 games, and expected Drummond to take another step toward stardom.
Instead of those two things happening, though, the Pistons took a major step backward by finishing with 37 wins and failing to qualify for the postseason. And Drummond no longer looked like a big man capable of dominance on a nightly basis.
Drummond, dogged by free-throw shooting woes that reared their ugly head even during his All-Star campaign, logged only 29.7 minutes per game (his lowest MPG since his rookie campaign: 20.7), and experienced noticeable drop-offs in offensive rebounds per game (from 4.9 to 4.3), total boards per game (dropped to 13.8) and points per game (dropped to 13.6).
His Player Efficiency Rating, a measure used to determine a player’s per-minute productivity, also dipped to a career-low 20.9 last season.
Drummond was not the player that he was a season prior, and one didn’t have to crunch the stats to figure that out. He often played with a lack of energy, and didn’t seem worried about proving that he was worthy of the max contract he signed during the 2016 offseason.
It was not a good look for the 2012 first-round pick or Stan Van Gundy & Co., whom signed off on giving Drummond the richest contract in franchise history.
Deservedly, Drummond became a lightning rod for criticism, and the focal point of many fans’ frustrations when it came to the Pistons. They wanted SVG to rid the franchise of the “spoiled” 24-year-old. But SVG stayed adamant in his belief that “Dre” was a part of the franchise’s long-term plans, and it has paid off in a way so far this season.
Drummond has turned it around with arguably his best pro season. He’s averaging a career-high 15 boards a game, and his PER sits at 22.9, also a career-best.
The most significant difference in Drummond’s game, however, has been his much-improved free-throw shooting. After shooting a dismal 38.1 percent from the charity stripe during his first five seasons in the league, Dre has started to figure things out at the line. Currently, his FT-shooting percentage stood at 63 percent.
The “Hack-a-Dre” tactic deployed by opposing coaches — fouling Drummond intentionally and away from the ball in the final minutes of games — has largely become ineffective.
At the beginning of the season, no one could have predicted that Drummond would shoot as high as 50 percent from the charity stripe. There were even some pundits and fans that considered Drummond a lost cause, with a divorce between him and the Pistons inevitable.
The 24-year old has responded to that negativity. He has become the player that he was during the ‘15-‘16 campaign: an ultra-productive big man and an All-Star in every sense of the word.
For those that “Forgot About Dre”, it’s time to start paying witness to him again.