Andre Drummond has been a revelation. Not only is he playing like someone who should have been the second pick in the draft (instead of the ninth), but he has executives and coaches thinking he can be the best player from this class. Yes, better than No. 1 pick and national collegiate player of the year Anthony Davis.
But as amazing as Drummond has been, and as bright as the future looks in Detroit, there is still a huge learning curve for him to undergo if he is going to be an All-Star-level performer, which is absolutely in his wheelhouse. (That's what an 18-point, 18-rebound game as a 19-year-old will do for your projected future.)
Being as young as he is gives both the Pistons and him time to develop his game the right way. But if they want to get back into playoff contention sooner, Detroit will need him to improve faster and to higher heights than most.
So how can Detroit do that with Drummond? Here's a four-step manual:
ROOKIE 50 RANKINGS
We're keeping track of every NBA rook. Here are the latest Top 50 rankings.
Rank Player Stock
1 Damian Lillard
2 Andre Drummond
3 Anthony Davis
4 Andrew Nicholson
5 Bradley Beal
6 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
7 Jared Sullinger
8 Dion Waiters
9 Brian Roberts
10 Pablo Prigioni
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1. Improve conditioning and strength
The conditioning aspect of the game is typically as much a mental hurdle as it is a physical one. Being able to run, spring, push, pull, jump and shoot for three quarters of the game and still have the energy to produce late in games certainly takes a finely conditioned athlete. In time, Drummond can get to that level. But he must be able to think for that amount of time, too. And that is more often the problem with young players, and possibly a reason why he averaged only 22.2 minutes in January.
Bobby Knight once said concentration was the single most important thing for a basketball player. For Drummond to be able to handle 100 to 180 more minutes per month, he'll first need to prepare himself for that task. So incorporating better eating habits and off-day workouts will be in order. Concentration is impossible for tired athletes. Once he is in fine shape, he'll be better able to handle the increased mental workload, which also will improve with experience.
Increased strength is a necessity as well, as the more punishment he can dish out, the more energy he'll save; it takes less energy to dish out than to receive. I'd be wary of adding weight and instead focus on increased lean muscle mass. Think Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard -- lean and strong rather than big and bulky.
2. Value position on the floor
Earlier in their careers, LeBron James and Kevin Durant felt as though they could score wherever they first caught a pass. While they were right at times, they didn't score so efficiently when they started their offense far from the basket.
It's a lesson most players have to learn, including Drummond, if he ever wants to be a scorer. He loves to fly to the rim on offensive putbacks and lobs in transition, or catch a sweet dime from a teammate driving and dropping. But he typically doesn't even try to catch passes in the paint when he's being defended -- he either chooses to just walk away from the paint or allows himself to be shoved out.
As James and Durant learned, every step closer to the rim that they catch the ball increases their chances of getting to the rim, drawing a foul or both. When Drummond begins to punish guys inside, sealing them on his butt or pinning them to one side of his hips or the other, all while he's in the paint, his scoring numbers will soar. The prime real estate on a basketball court is the land directly under and around the rim.
Is Andre Drummond the next Shaq? Here's how the Pistons' rookie big man stacks up to the legend. Kevin Pelton
3. Have a post plan
Duncan attacks the middle repeatedly from the low post -- I once heard that he went middle on his post moves 175 consecutive times. Whether that's accurate, the point remains: Attacking middle is the best move for a posting player. By going middle first, the post player has passing options anywhere on the floor rather than only to the corner if he turns baseline first. It also means he has a counter to the baseline, where there is rarely help waiting, as opposed to countering middle into the teeth of the defense. Duncan knows this, puts it into his scoring plan and then executes it.
Asking Drummond to finish shots at a high rate when he's being defended well is not fair at this point in his career, but asking him to understand the best way to attack a defender is. His plan can change from game to game and possession to possession, but it should include things such as: attack middle, use quick attacks, show shot fakes, take sharp angles, build one counter, then add a second.
Once Drummond creates his plan of attack from the post, he will give himself a better foundation to read and react to the defense, and even the ability to dictate his offense, which is the key to any great post scorer. As he adds moves to his arsenal he can edit his plan, but it should begin with being simple yet powerful. Being indecisive or making a baseline move initially are recipes for turnovers and missed shots. Because of that, Drummond does not hunt post position as he could.
4. Play with balance
Picture this: A center grabbing the ball inside off of a rebound or a pass, shot-faking violently while staying in the exact same spot, then exploding straight up and dunking the ball powerfully straight down. It's something we've seen Shaquille O'Neal and Howard do countless times.
Go up strong, big man!
The reason that image is ingrained in our minds is that most big men don't make that play enough. Many bigs just twist while off-balance to get a shot off quickly or quick-jump back up as opposed to gathering and powerfully going up.
But Drummond is a physical force. If he were to hold the ball tightly, use his body and arms to shield it from prying hands, then lift off the way a rocket takes off from a launching pad, he'd be mostly untouchable as he dunked or finished over the rim. He'd probably earn more free throws as well.
Drummond makes less than 45 percent of his shots close to the rim, a number certain to rise when he starts his shot with a better foundation -- legs spread, knees bent, ball protected. It's one reason why I like shot fakes for players inside -- it slows them down and helps them gather before they make their move.
In time, Drummond should have improved strength and power to play with more balance even on quick action plays. He will be even more dangerous if he adds a violent fake because the defender will be hyper-aware of Drummond's ability to finish that first move.
With his enormous upside, Drummond has drawn comparisons to Howard, who has dominated thanks to the same formula that made O'Neal into a legend: (1) incredible agility with a huge body; (2) great power and balance inside; and (3) the disposition to dominate the paint.
Drummond has the first box checked off. And he has shown flashes of the other two. Still, hundreds of talented men have shown glimpses and now reside on benches in the NBA or on rosters in Europe. Drummond is no longer seen as a risk of a prospect, but he needs to make progress in those latter two areas to be the best player he can be. Following the four-step plan above will help him reach stardom sooner rather than later.
When evaluating players, there are dozens of variables to consider. But the one that tends to be forgotten the most by fans -- yet treasured strongly by NBA executives -- is the player's age.
Teams consider age for two main reasons: (1) It helps explain the player's success in college, and (2) it shows how long the player has to make big jumps in production. The top targets are always young players who are big producers. After that, teams value young players who are solid but have the physical/skill trajectory of a much better player -- their youth provides them with more time to develop.
As has been discussed in these reports numerous times, a player's trajectory -- his upside -- is best realized when he's in his best environment for growth. The team may or may not be good, but the opportunity for development must be there. Many times, of course, it is not. So when we project how a player is going to perform over time, that has to be taken into account.
However, we can still rate a player purely on the level of his ceiling, how good the player can ultimately be if given the perfect situation. And that's what we'll be doing over the next several weeks as we rank the rookies by age. Up first, the guys who typically have the highest ceilings, the 19-year-olds.
1. Andre Drummond, Pistons
There are many ways to define talent. But for the sake of this report, I like to define talent as "production minus mechanics." That is, someone who is very productive and efficient without really knowing what he's doing is extremely talented. Like Drummond.
Last April, I wrote that Drummond could be an All-Star in his second or third season, if he developed according to plan, because there are so few men on earth who can move like he can at his size and length. But he's even better than I projected. There is no one else in this age group who has his collection of tools. The fact that he's doing so much without understanding the game suggests he can truly dominate beginning as early as next season and lasting over a decade. When you can own the paint on both ends, you become a superstar, and Drummond has that in his reach.
If he can develop just an average free throw stroke, he can become a multiple-time All-Star -- yes, even without any kind of reliable post move. And that is the beauty of being just 19 years old -- he has years to develop more than just his free throw shooting. As he begins to read and anticipate while also crafting his game, he'll improve even more than he has since high school.
2. Anthony Davis, Hornets
If the draft were held today, it's absolutely possible -- maybe even likely -- that Drummond would go No. 1 overall. But Davis would certainly not fall below No. 2. He's proven to be every bit of the can't-miss prospect we thought he would be, combining elite athleticism and timing with a better set of offensive skills than we saw in the NCAA championship game.
I never saw Davis as a future Tim Duncan, as others have, but if Davis and Drummond were stocks, I'd probably allocate most of my money on Davis. Drummond has a higher ceiling on paper, but Davis is more likely to reach a higher level, thanks to his more polished game and his elite quickness for the position.
He is also going to get stronger, and his game will jump a few levels when that happens, making him an elite defender possibly by next season and helping him become a multiple-time All-Star.
3. Bradley Beal, Wizards
I never understood the Ray Allen comparisons, other than they each have sweet-looking strokes. Beal is more like a less-quick version of Eric Gordon, but a better shooter. That alone makes him good enough for third on this list.
As the NBA has evolved on defense -- flooding ball-side action and making teams make the extra pass to the opposite side -- great perimeter shooting has become more valuable than ever. Take a look at the top six 3-point-shooting teams by percentage: Golden State, New York, Oklahoma City, Atlanta, Miami and San Antonio. All six are playoff teams, including the top two seeds in each conference.
Beal has the game to be a strong starter for a contender, and he is capable of being a career 40-plus-percent shooter from deep. As a gifted ball-mover and a willing defender, he's going to be in consideration for future All-Star berths if he's on contending teams. He can also be his team's leading scorer, depending on the offensive game plan, and his talent as a shooter should help his teammates have productive seasons simply because of the attention he'll draw.
4. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bobcats
Kidd-Gilchrist shouldn't be viewed as a 19-year-old for the simple reason that his body is far beyond most his age. So he won't change as much physically as the other rookies on this list. But that's not to say he won't get better, because he will.
We can assume he will be at least an average shooter, perhaps even a solid one. And we know MKG projects to be the best player on his team in one category: defense, which is where his talent lies. His overall feel and effort rank high, as well. (Each of the three guys above him on this list can be the best player on his team in at least two categories.)
However, offense carries more weight than defense -- the top five teams in this league right now are also the top five offensive teams, and the past four title teams were all top-four offenses in the postseason because they feature dynamic offensive players. MKG is a step behind Drummond, Davis and Beal on that end.
5. Tony Wroten, Grizzlies
Wroten has the biggest range between his best-case and worst-case scenarios on this list. He is a superbly gifted and willing passer, with special vision and anticipatory skills that help him find buckets for teammates. He's also a big guard who has the potential to be tough to defend off the dribble. His size and quickness enable him to have big defensive potential, too, with the added bonus of being able to guard 2s and give his team the ability to play two point guards in crunch time. Coaches love that option in today's game.
All of this sounds great until we factor in his downside: poor decision-making, very little reading of the game along with lots of wildness, and an inability to shoot perimeter shots and free throws. If I was ranking the players who were most likely to reach their potential, Wroten would finish last on the list. Talentwise, though, he's got the rare tools to be a long-term starter as a defensive ace and a passing wizard.
To Be Determined
Moe Harkless, Magic
I don't know what to make of Harkless as of now. He's long and relatively athletic, but as a nonshooter and a nonscorer I can't tell what he can become yet. He looks to be effective in the paint, thanks to his length, and he had experience playing more as a big forward than a small forward at St. John's.
I see some Thaddeus Young in him, which should make Orlando smile, and I think he can be a better perimeter defender than Young is. If Harkless can learn to make 15-foot jumpers, he could be a solid bench player for a good team, at the least. Adding a reliable 3-point shot would give him a higher ceiling, but few guys learn to shoot it well when they never have before, except for guards.
Marquis Teague, Bulls
We've barely seen Teague on the court this season, which is somewhat surprising considering Derrick Rose has been out. Perhaps Teague's weak frame and lack of defensive IQ are what's keeping him on the bench. But we know his quickness is at an elite level, and his brother, Atlanta's Jeff Teague, took a few years before he arrived.
I think Teague has a bright future in this league. His ball skills and quicks are rare. So seeing him start at point guard one day in the NBA would not be surprising, though it would be surprising in Chicago. I expect him to play great in Vegas this coming summer, giving us a better chance to evaluate his upside. Like the other guys on this list, he's just 19 years old and has time to develop.
I don't have all of it but I have one from a Pacers board
4. Steve Nash to the Indiana Pacers
Indiana Pacers receive: Steve Nash, Metta World Peace, Jordan Hill and Steve Blake.
Los Angeles Lakers receive: Danny Granger, George Hill,Lance Stephenson and Ben Hansbrough. The deal in Trade Machine.
It’s just too painful to watch Nash’s talents go to waste inside the ongoing circus in Laker Land. Dwight Howard appears to be allergic to running the pick-and-roll with Nash, which is a basketball crime of the highest degree. Not to mention, Kobe Bryant is now splitting ballhandling duty, which strips Nash of his wizard-like talents with the rock.
Indiana would be a brilliant landing spot for the two-time MVP, even aside from the obvious fact that Nash looks like he could step in right away for a “Hoosiers” remake. The Pacers rank 24th on offense and sorely need an injection of offensive creativity. Nash hasn’t penetrated the paint as he has in the past, but he may just need a change in scenery. And Granger becomes a bit superfluous with Paul George’s ascension. Metta World Peace’s return to Indiana is a whole separate matter.
As with the Boston scenario above, the Lakers would have be on board with the idea that building for the future is more valuable than a slight chance at a first-round exit this season. In the short term, Hill would give the Lakers a much stronger defensive presence on the ball, and Granger (if and when he’s healthy) could help buoy the offense without Nash. A 2013 playoff push wouldn’t be ruled out, and Granger becomes a free agent just in time for the 2014 free-agent sweepstakes. This a deal that probably won’t happen, but Nash’s leading the Pacers against the Heat would be fantastic postseason theater.
So yeah, I assume it's that type of "quality" from Haberstroh
Mike Haynes being traded from the Patriots to the Raiders in 1983. Charles Haley's trade from San Francisco to Dallas in 1992. Deion Sanders signing with the 49ers in 1994 and then agreeing to terms with the Cowboys in 1995.
What do all of these moves have in common? They were the rare types of personnel acquisitions that, although quite costly, were worth every penny because they turned those clubs from contenders into Super Bowl champions.
Roster opportunities of that caliber don't come around very often, so when they do, it behooves the top teams to do all they can to close the deal.
That should be the mindset of many organizations when it comes to acquiring the services of unrestricted free-agent wide receiver Mike Wallace. This might seem like hyperbole because Wallace didn't even finish in the top 30 in the league in receptions or receiving yards last season, but the facts are that he has an extraordinarily rare skill-set level that can vault a passing offense into the statistical stratosphere.
For proof, consider where Wallace was in early October 2011. At that time, there was a strong metric case to be made that he was every bit as good as, and possibly better than, Calvin Johnson.
As noted in that article, Wallace had a significant metric lead over Johnson in a wide variety of categories that extended not just through the first six games of that season, but also through the entire 2010 season. That means for a 22-game stretch, Wallace statistically bested arguably the best wideout in the NFL.
That hasn't been the case since then, as Johnson has improved to the point that he is breaking all-time records and Wallace has regressed to well below his former metric apex.
So what happened to cause Wallace to falter? It's a combination of factors.
First on the list is the litany of injuries to Ben Roethlisberger. He hurt his foot in Week 4 of 2011, broke his thumb in Week 11 of 2011, injured his foot three weeks later, and damaged his shoulder in Week 10 of 2012. He even got banged up during training camp in August 2012, at which time ESPN AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley noted, "It's gotten to the point it's news when Roethlisberger isn't hurt."
Big Ben's long history of injuries are likely part of the reason Pittsburgh changed offensive coordinators prior to the 2012 season, moving from the vertically inclined passing attack of Bruce Arians to a system under Todd Haley that was focused more on short-to-intermediate throws -- a change that required Roethlisberger to face a pass rush less often but also did not mesh well with Wallace's downfield receiving talents.
There was also the matter of Wallace's contract situation that turned quite contentious and caused him to miss the Steelers' offseason workouts, mandatory minicamp and training camp.
All of this seemed to weigh heavily on Wallace last season in the form of drops (nine, including seven vertical targets) and being somewhat out of sync with his quarterbacks. The latter led to five incompletions where a Steelers passer missed a wide-open Wallace, with three of those throws on vertical routes.
As bad as Wallace's 2012 campaign was in many facets, it still goes a long ways toward showing just how much of an impact he can have on a club.
An interesting insight along these lines can be found by looking at some of Tom Brady's 2012 yards per attempt (YPA) figures by route depth and comparing them to Wallace's 2012 YPA figures when he was on the receiving end of passes thrown by Roethlisberger.
Just about everything that could have gone wrong went wrong for Wallace last season, and yet his YPA numbers were roughly equivalent across the board to Brady's. That means the worst-case scenario for New England would be that signing Wallace would give them the same level of productivity as last year.
The more likely scenario is that the Patriots would find the optimal way to use Wallace and the improved schematic fit would offer a ton of upside to this deal. That could be just the tonic Brady needs to overcome some of his recent on-field woes and finally get New England back over the championship road bump that has been in its way the past few seasons.
Wallace could have a similar impact on the Denver Broncos, something noted by ESPN AFC West blogger Bill Williamson in his list of "dream free-agent pairings."
The Chicago Bears also could go this route, and if they were successful in signing Wallace, the wide receiver battery of Wallace and Brandon Marshall arguably could be the best in the NFL (which is one reason Wallace tops ESPNChicago.com blogger Jeff Dickerson's list of free-agent wide receiver targets.
Potential Super Bowl contenders are not the only teams whose fortunes Wallace could help turn around, which is why the Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers both are rumored to be strongly considering him.
No matter how one views the situation, however, it is clear that Wallace has the power to choose a path that could alter NFL history -- and drastically improve the passing game of whatever team he is on next.