The problem isn’t that the Pistons 2015-16 season ended in a sweep to presumptive Eastern Conference Champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers. While many of us thought Stan Van’s crew could take one from the Cavs, some (me included) thought this series could go 6. The feeling at the start was that Cleveland had no answer for Andre Drummond, the Pistons do not fear the Cavs or LeBron, and Stan Van Gundy is a playoff-tested head coach who has a history of getting the best out of his players. The Pistons, surely, were not more talented than the Cavs, but you don’t need to be more talented to steal a couple playoff games.
Stan seemed to motivate and have the team ready. The Pistons played a fantastic opening 3 quarters of Game 1, until LeBron & Company did what talented players do. No one expected a Detroit victory in Game 2 – the Cavs would not play poorly or get outplayed in both home games. The trouble came in Game 3 – more specifically, the trouble manifested itself in the Pistons 7’ center and league’s leading rebounder. Andre Drummond pulled down 4 boards in Game 2 and followed it up with only 8 in Game 3 at home. To put this in perspective, Tristan Thompson (the guy who could not possibly counterpunch Drummond) hauled in 8 offensive rebounds in Game 3. Thompson didn’t need to counterpunch – he was initiating the fight – and the Pistons’ big man failed to respond.
The problem all year – and for his short career – is his record-breakingly poor free throwing shooting. It’s gotten so bad this year that Van Gundy has pulled his best player down the stretch in many games (including games in this series) to avoid the “Hack-a-Drummond strategy that puts the Center at the line. But with big men, you often get poor FT shooting; albeit, Drummond’s is beyond poor – but you tend to take the good with the bad. Poor shooting from the stripe, but you know he’s giving you 15 to 20 nightly. What is most troubling, though, is Andre is giving much more than that. Don’t be fooled by the double-doubles he puts in the stat sheet – alley-oops and offensive rebound put backs count just the same as any other bucket, but they can’t be all you rely on. And therein lies Drummond’s most egregious flaw: his inability to have developed any sort of post presence on the offensive end. If he’s pulling down double digit boards a game and is a force inside the offensive paint, then you REALLY can look the other way with his missing 7 out of every 10 free throws. But he’s not, so we can’t. And thus, the Pistons need to seriously reflect on what the future holds here for the 7 footer.
Owner Tom Gores loves Andre. And a big man his size that does what he does doesn’t come around too often in this league anymore – it seems like centers who hunker down in the paint have disappeared since Shaq and Yao left. We know 2 things – (1) Gores will give Andre the max deal he wants this summer. People can talk about Miami and Boston and Atlanta as possible landing spots for the star, but the Pistons will not get outbid for his services. The second thing we know is that Stan Van Gundy knows the type of team he wants and knows the types of players that will comprise that team. His rocky relationship with Dwight Howard while in Orlando is one example of Stan’s indifference towards the star player if he doesn’t think that star player fits into what he wants in his team. I’m not sure I would have thought this before this series with Cleveland took place, but Stan’s comments after games 2 and 3 were not of the “politically correct” variety. He swung at Drummond and landed the right hook square on the big man’s jaw.
What this comes down to is does Stan see this all as part of Andre Drummond’s learning process. On the road to becoming a star center in this league and the cornerstone of your rebuilt franchise, is this all necessary? Did Andre have to go through this? Did Stan have to bluntly lash out about Drummond to the media? Is this all just part of what happens on the way to improving and re-dedicating yourself to the aspects of your game that require attention? If that’s the case, then great – Drummond will remain a Piston and will enjoy a max contract. And in turn, will grow from this experience and turn into a force both on the defensive and offensive ends of the court.
But. But, if this is more. If Stan Van Gundy looks at the last 3 months of the season and looks at this incredibly underwhelming playoff series, he may re-think whether Andre Drummond is the guy he can have here, making the kind of money he is certainly about to demand. Stan Van will not be hustled. He will not be swindled. This head coach knows what he wants and expects nothing less. You can believe that the team Stan Van Gundy puts on the floor next Fall will be the best collection of players who fit his vision, can make a move up the Eastern Conference standings, build upon this playoff appearance. We soon will know exactly what Stan Van Gundy thinks of Andre Drummond.