A more attuned Drummond key in pushing Pistons up NBA’s competitive ladder

(Editor’s note: Pistons.com today concludes a five-part series looking at the biggest questions looming over the Pistons as they prepare for training camp to open this month. Today’s question: Can Andre Drummond take the next step from fringe All-Star to become a dominant big man and the anchor of a playoff team at age 24?)

Reggie Jackson’s health, Stanley Johnson’s development and a wholly expected boost to their 3-point shooting will be enough to get the Pistons back on the path they were on in 2015-16 – a 44-win season and a playoff berth to snap a six-year postseason drought.

If all of that happens and Andre Drummond pulls together those many parts of his game that have been put into evidence but never fully realized, then the Pistons can think about the next step beyond dipping their toes into the playoff waters.

He’s the only player on their roster with an All-Star appearance on his resume, turning the trick as a 22-year-old during that 2015-16 playoff campaign. He’s the pre-eminent rebounder of his era, on track to smash the Pistons franchise record held by Bill Laimbeer by the time the five-year contract he signed last summer expires after the 2020-21 season – when he’ll be 27.

In every other area, the sense is that Drummond has vast room for improvement and the physical ability to get there.

If Stan Van Gundy could choose any single area where he’d like to see that improvement realized this season, it would be in defensive focus and intensity. Hand in hand with that would be more consistent effort overall in running the floor and fully exploiting the huge edge in athleticism Drummond holds over 98 percent of his opponents.

Drummond, to his credit, has addressed those issues head on at nearly every turn since last season ended. He’s accepted responsibility for last season’s disappointment and taken steps to correct his perceived deficiencies.

It started with spring surgery to repair a deviated septum that he saw become a greater burden last season after dealing with it since his lone season at Connecticut in 2011-12. Drummond said his inability to breathe through both nostrils affected his endurance last season and noticed an enormous difference in scrimmages over the summer.

After experiencing initial success with virtual reality to remedy his foul-shooting woes last season, Drummond tailed off at the line following the All-Star break. This summer he partnered with a new shooting guru who reworked his stroke – it looks noticeably different, more fluid – to promising early returns.

Van Gundy’s blueprint for how he’d like Drummond to approach the season is the role held by DeAndre Jordan with the Los Angeles Clippers. Jordan is widely considered the league’s best defensive big man, a player who consistently challenges shots at the rim and generally dissuades dribble penetration because of that track record.

Drummond has more offense in him than Jordan and Van Gundy has given him latitude to probe the boundaries of his post repertoire. But Drummond’s post touches proved inefficient last season at just 0.73 points per possession, which placed him in the league’s bottom fifth.

But he’s better if he catches the ball with his feet in the paint, able to score near the rim with either hand. And Van Gundy wants to make use of Drummond’s ability to pass and use one or two dribbles to get to a handoff on the perimeter, which can lead to opportunities to crash the rim and receive lob passes or have lanes to clear offensive rebounds, where his power and leaping ability prove devastating.

There’s a lot there to work with – a whole lot to work with – and weeding out what doesn’t work, refining what does and nurturing Drummond as he strives to better his focus is the thing that can take the Pistons from a playoff team to a playoff force.

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