If you haven’t been paying attention to the Detroit Pistons, you might have missed Andre Drummond’s incredible start.
He has simply elevated his game to a different level this season.
His performance is old school with a dash of new: He’s not only a nightly threat for a 20-point, 20-rebound performance, he’s effectively playing some point guard role and doing a little bit of everything for the injury-riddled Pistons, who have been without Reggie Jackson, Derrick Rose and Tim Frazier, (their top three point guards), of late.
First, let’s talk about the old-school numbers, throwing back to the years when the number of rebound opportunities in a game ranged from the 50s in the 1970s to the 70s in the 1950s. Obviously, if there are more rebound opportunities, the league’s best board gobblers are going to feast more. Yet, Drummond’s doing something in 2019-20 that hasn’t been since then.
He’s posted 197 points and 167 boards through his first nine games.
According to Basketball-Reference, the last time anyone did that was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar back in the 1975-76 season. It’s only the 19th time the feat has been achieved overall, but all the others are from that high rebounding era. Wilt Chamberlain did it eight times, Bob Pettit thrice, Jerry Lucas and Nate Thurmond twice, and Elgin Baylor and Bill Russell have once each.
When you start tossing out names like those, you know you’re going old school (and All-Time).
And it’s probably worth mentioning that of all those listed, only Wilt Chamberlain’s 1968-69 season had a higher field-goal percentage than what Drummond’s been doing to start the season.
He’s been dropping dimes lately as well, to the tune of 28 on the season but 17 in the last three games.
And it doesn’t stop there.
It’s not fair to include block and steals numbers from before 1973-74 when you’re looking at the older guys (because those didn’t exist as stats), but Drummond has 15 swipes and 20 denials in the first nine games as well. That’s the 35th time that feat has been accomplished, and 26 of those occurrences were by someone with a Defensive Player of the Year Award on his resume. The list includes names like Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson.
When you combine the offensive and defensive aspects, Drummond’s numbers are more than rare. They’re unprecedented.
But the point here isn’t that he’s having the “best start to a season ever” or some such hyperbole. Rather, it’s just to point out that the kinds of numbers he’s having are more akin to the likes of Wilt Chamberlain than to the modern-day centers.
It’s worth pondering how it’s probably harder to post those kind of numbers today since, it that weren’t true, guys would have done it here and there along the way. That Drummond’s in this rarified of air indicates what a monster start this really is.
Is it sustainable?
Yeah, it’s a complete cop-out to say, “we’ll just have to see”, but the odds are certainly not in Drummond’s favor, contract year or no. That said, it’s the other new stuff he’s doing that seems both sustainable and highly valuable for a Pistons team badly needing every contribution it can get.
Drummond’s putting the ball on the floor a lot more than he did last year, based on data from NBA.com.
Last season, he attempted an average of 2.8 shots with at least three dribbles. This year, he’s nearly double that at 5.3.
He’s not just putting more of them up, he’s putting them in more efficiently as well. Last season Drummond shot 42.8 percent with three or more dribbles. This year, that number’s climbed to 58.5 percent. He’s averaging 5.2 drives per game this year resulting in 2.9 shot attempts compared to 1.2 drives and 0.7 last year. He already has 18 buckets on drives compared with 25 all of last season.
I’m not ready to call him a “point center”, a la Nikola Jokic, but there’s a lot more point guard in this Pistons star center than you’ve ever seen before.
Yes, this is Andre Drummond taking the ball up the court and then driving to the hoop for a reverse layup:
Here he goes around Al Horford:
This is definitely an element that is new to Drummond’s game this year, and it seems to be largely responsible for his jump in scoring. But that’s not the only aspect that’s more “point-guard” like. He’s averaging a career-high with 3.1 assists, too.
Again, those aren’t Jokic numbers, but just check out this outlet pass to Tony Snell:
Or this pretty dish to a cutting Luke Kennard:
Now, both the bulging numbers and the added ball-handling are, in part, due to the injuries the Pistons have faced. It’s a pretty safe bet that when Blake Griffin returns, he’ll be snatching some of the rebounds doing a lot more of the big-man ball-handling that Drummond is doing right now.
But this could be one of those blessing-in-disguise (apologies for the cliche, but it fits) for Detroit. Out of need, head coach Dwane Casey pressed Drummond into unfamiliar roles, and he proved he is capable of doing more.
Once the team is healthy, that should only serve to make them better. And whether Drummond keeps putting up historic numbers or not, he just may have unlocked some truly valuable skills he otherwise hadn’t had a chance to develop.
Not a bad way to build upon a (well-deserved) contract year.
Kelly is a TBW co-Founder and frequent contributor. He spent 4.5 years in the USAF before attending University of Minnesota, Bible college in Anaheim and 15 years in youth ministry. Basketball blogger-turned-NBA Featured Columnist with Bleacher Report, BBallBreakdown, Fansided, The Step Back, Hoops Habit, SportsNet, Vantage Sports, Dime and FanRag, among others, his work has been read over 25 million times. The former NBA Assistant Editor at FanRag (2016-18), he is an NBA Twitter staple who is well-connected and respected among today’s finest basketball writers.