NEWARK, N.J. – Andre Drummond is a great draft pick. He’s not a great player – or even necessarily a good player – and he might never become one.
Welcome to the NBA, where a team in a market like Detroit has few opportunities acquire elite talent outside the draft. Drummond is an elite talent, and in a six-player draft,* the Pistons got a premier prospect at No. 9.
*Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, Thomas Robinson, Harrison Barnes and Drummond
Of course, that comes with no guarantees – and if forced to make a binary success-or-failure call to day, I’d bet on Drummond busting. But nobody is forcing me, or anyone, to determine Drummond’s fate right now. I have no idea how this will play out. How could I?
Drummond, stylistically, fits the exact profile of an ideal Greg Monroe complement. Drummond has the size and athleticism to protect the rim, defend post-ups and sky for dunks in ways that Monroe simply can’t.
The potential of that pairing made Drummond a no-brainer pick once he fell to No. 9, much the same way Monroe was a steal at No. 7 two years ago and the Pistons thought Brandon Knight was a steal at No. 8 last year. Greg Monroe is off to a great start, and the Pistons think Knight is too.
So, there was no way – as they told Drummond after his workout with the team earlier in the week – that the Pistons were going to stop their annual tradition of taking the player who slips from the high end of mock drafts to the middle of the lottery.*
*That the Pistons coveted Drummond was an open secret. “They had established that if Drummond dropped, they were going to pick him,” John Henson said. “If not, they were going to pick me. So, I knew it was coming up.”
Drummond, sitting at his green-room table, tucked his head toward his lap as David Stern began to announce the Raptors’ pick at No. 8. Once Stern declared Toronto had take Terrence Ross, Drummond lifted his head, leaned back and grinned. And then he started crying.
“My mom was holding my hand throughout the whole draft,” Drummond said. “’She was like, ‘We’re here, so just be patient. Your name is going to be called soon.’”
Once it was, Drummond mixed tears and that silly smile as he took the stage and shook David Stern’s hand. It was a genuine moment of joy from someone who has probably faced more questions than anyone in this draft.
From there, Drummond did everything possible to impress.
After drafted players leave the stage, they go through a tedious circuit of interviews. First ESPN, then radio, on-site reporters, Craig Sager, more radio, a conference call with hometown beat writers and more television. Plus, for someone like Drummond who played at nearby UConn, questions as he walked from station to station.
NBA workers escort each player throughout the process, at times handing off the player to another worker who handles the next step. To many players, the workers are anonymous signs to silently follow. Not Drummond. He exchanged introductions and handshakes with each one.
One woman introduced herself to Drummond and said that she’d be his bodyguard. As they waited together for yet another radio interview, she told him she could remove any pesky media (me) who was bothering him with questions between official stations. For his part, Drummond never took up the offer, and after completing the radio interview, he stood up.
“Where we off to, bodyguard?” Drummond asked.
It’s a question Drummond could ask the Pistons – though, not only are the Pistons charged with protecting him, they must challenge him. Drummond, at least based on what he said last night, is game.
“All the talk about my motor and not being able to play hard,” Drummond said, “will be put to rest immediately. I know that I’ll have my teammates – or my brothers now – to push me.”
Are you listening, Pistons? Detroit failed to properly develop players like Arron Afflalo, Amir Johnson and Carlos Delfino while they were here – and those are just the players I can safely list, because they thrived elsewhere. It’s impossible to tell whether players like Darko Milicic and Rodney White would have gone onto different career tracks if drafted elsewhere.
As, I spoke with Drummond, he gave polished answer after polished answer. He wasn’t angered or seeking revenge on the teams that passed on him. I asked Drummond whether it told him him anything that he went at the bottom of his draft range.
“Not at all,” Drummond said. “All I know is that I’m a hard worker. Like I said before, wherever I go, I’m going to work hard. So, it doesn’t matter – two, four, five – it doesn’t matter where I’m going to go. I’m just going to work my hardest.
“I’m trying to win games. It don’t matter what number you go. That’s all it is.”
As Drummond spoke calmly and clearly, proving himself a more mature orator than many professional athletes, it was easy to forget that Drummond is just 18 – except when sounded like a kid while chatting with Sager before their interview. Sager, in a pink jacket that only he could or would wear, said his shoes were made of ostrich.
“Ostrich?” Drummond gasped, in total awe of Sager’s worldly style.
A minute later, Drummond was back to sounding like he had everything together while Sager interviewed him.
At one point, flabbergasted by how different the Drummond I was seeing was from the Drummond I had heard about, I asked where all the questions about him came from.
“I don’t know,” Drummond said. “If I knew, I’d tell you.”
Then a thought occurred to me. Is Drummond a draft-night specialist in the way someone interviews well for jobs but doesn’t necessarily do jobs well? Had he been preparing for this night or preparing for an NBA career?
Drummond lost a lot of weight leading up to the draft, which he said improved his game. But if winning were as important to him as he said, why not put in the work to lose that weight while at UConn?
I’m not complaining. After all, I wrote too many posts explaining how the slightest rumblings in the top eight picks would affect Drummond’s availability at No. 9 to turn back now. I fully support this pick. It’s just a concern.
Shortly before leaving the Prudential Center, Drummond and his family and friends gathered behind the draft stage, an area where many drafted players were celebrating with their loved ones. As Drummond and his mom made arrangement for their group’s bus – perhaps, the bandwagon is already full – Drummond put on a pair of sunglasses.
For the record, I have zero issue with Drummond’s choice in eyewear. It’s silly to suggest that a humble and hard-working person wouldn’t wear sunglasses inside at night, and I’m not doing that. Drummond is entitled to dress how he wants in his own time. I’m just saying that image of Drummond wearing those sunglasses in the backstage area doesn’t mesh with the professional image he gave off earlier in the night. Maybe the Pistons’ future with him is a little dimmer than it appeared for most of the evening.
Or maybe the future is just too darn bright.