Lawrence Frank is learning to live with Andre Drummond’s mistakes, and I’m learning to live with Lawrence Frank’s

WASHINGTON – No single issue dominates Lawrence Frank’s relationship with Pistons fans – and, perhaps, his bosses, but more on that later – than Andre Drummond’s role.

Drummond has played very well this season, I think. I don’t mean well for a rookie projected to be very raw. I don’t even mean well for a rookie. I mean well for anyone.

Frank has also frequently praised Drummond this season, but Frank is in a position where his words on the situation mean little. Frank has the power to play Drummond more or less, and that counts a whole lot more.

That doesn’t mean I was going to pass on an opportunity to ask Frank about Drummond, though. Specifically, I asked Frank about the times Drummond is out of position but still makes a positive play – the situations I thought were at the root of our divide (I, like most fans, want Drummond to play more than he has.). Frank’s answer, well, surprised me.

“The key is, it’s not the mistakes you make, it’s how you react to them,” Frank said. “Last night was a prime example. He wasn’t perfect from a coverage standpoint, not that any of our guys were. But his ability to then make up for it – we don’t have a lot of guys who can do that. That speaks of his effort, his athleticism, his speed, his quickness, his agility. As long as you see that, you can live with the mistakes.

“You just want to teach him to get better, because ultimately, in order to become the highest-level player, not only do you need to have your athleticism, you need to have proper technique, know-how, understanding tendencies. That will come over time.”

That sounds, well, totally reasonable.

We all want Drummond to improve his “coverage” in the long run, because that will make him only more effective. But in the short term, when Frank insists the Pistons are trying to win, Drummond deserves plenty of playing time. Plus, that playing time will only help Drummond improve his coverage.

“When we drafted Andre, we had a very good feel for how we wanted to pace him along. He’s doing some really good things. We’re very, very proud of him. At the same time, the experience, the know-how with it is, we want to understand how to build this up.”

Drummond ranks 14th among rookies and 230th overall in minutes per game – numbers I consider way too low. But considering it initially appeared Drummond would be a project and considering his playing time trending upward, I won’t continue to harp on what I consider past mistakes.

By all appearances, Frank is amending for them by playing Drummond more. I don’t quite agree with all the caution, but I understand it – as does Frank.

"The thing that’s especially for the PER and all that is what you can never judge is when those minutes are extended,” Frank said. “You could project what those numbers are going to be, but it’s very hard to sustain those numbers consistently if you’re playing those minutes. It’s not rotisserie basketball. It doesn’t work quite like that. There are a lot of variables with it. Plus, you may be playing against different type of guys.”

That’s another totally reasonable argument. If Drummond played more, his efficiency would likely drop. So far, the Pistons have mostly played him in favorable situations, and that boosts his numbers, most of which don’t account for quality of opposition. I can see why, considering their plan has so far produced excellent results, they want to build slowly.

I say “they,” not “he,” because Drummond’s situation clearly doesn’t fall on just Frank. It’s an organizational issue. One thing Frank said especially stood out:

“The thing that’s been most impressive is his positive, positive spirit and character,” Frank said.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because Joe Dumars basically said the same thing earlier this month:

He has an infectious, great spirit about him that makes you root for him.

Shortly after Dumars said that, Frank said something, that while not directly contradictory to Dumars’ statement, didn’t exactly mesh:

"When we don’t play Andre 18 minutes, the reporters (who cover the Pistons regularly) have pictures of me up all around town — and the fans, too," said Frank, who used that benchmark because Valanciunas played 18 minutes in the Raptors win Tuesday at Cleveland. "But the thing is, there are certain things that we’re privy to things that maybe the general public isn’t.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Frank used the same word, “spirit,” as Dumars when complimenting Drummond. I’d guess Frank was told about getting on message re Drummond. I’d guess Frank has had a lot of internal discussions about Drummond.

As I’ve said many times, Drummond is the Pistons’ most important player because he could develop into a great or so-so player or anywhere between. After talking with Frank, I’m hopeful the Pistons are on the right track with Drummond, regardless of how they handled him previously. I doubt they expected this much from him, either, and that has created a challenge.

I’ll leave you with one quote from Frank that I’m sure we can all agree on.

"It’s great that he’s exceeding expectations,” Frank said. “What other way would you want it?”

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