AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — After three seasons with the Detroit Pistons, Andre Drummond has experienced plenty of frustration.
He’s had enough.
"I hate losing. I can’t stand it. It’s the worst feeling," he said recently. "People laughing at our team, that’s not a good feeling. I want to rub it in somebody’s face that we’re a great team."
If the Pistons are going to make good on Drummond’s hopes for this season, the 22-year-old center may need to take another step toward stardom. Detroit hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009, and last season’s 32-50 record was actually the team’s best since then. Now the Pistons have to move on without big man Greg Monroe, who departed via free agency, leaving Drummond as the team’s only remaining force under the basket.
The 6-foot-11 Drummond is certainly capable of lifting the Pistons with a big season. He’s averaged 12.1 points and 11.8 rebounds through three seasons, but his shooting dipped to 51 percent last season. Detroit needs him to be even more productive on a consistent basis.
The Pistons did make moves this offseason that could help. They traded for forwards Ersan Ilyasova and Marcus Morris and signed point guard Reggie Jackson to a long-term contract. Detroit also used its lottery pick on forward Stanley Johnson.
Coach Stan Van Gundy made mild progress in his first season with the Pistons. The team played well in stretches after a 5-23 start.
But Detroit has been eyeing a return to the playoffs for a while now and hasn’t really come any closer, so the burden is on the Pistons to show that this season will be different before fans around the Motor City really start to get excited about this team again.
Here are a few things to watch with the Pistons this season:
Detroit’s most encouraging span last season — a seven-game winning streak that began in late December — coincided with a terrific stretch of basketball from Brandon Jennings. He then went down with an Achilles tendon injury. The Pistons later traded for Jackson, and they’re clearly committed to him going forward, but if Jennings comes back healthy and effective, Detroit could have a dynamic 1-2 punch at the point.
The Pistons shot 34 percent from 3-point range last season — better than in 2013-14 but still in the lower half of the league. Guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope improved a bit in his second season, and if he continues to make strides offensively it would be a big help. The 6-foot-10 Ilyasova can also be effective from the perimeter.
The Pistons could at some point field a starting lineup of Drummond (22 years old), Ilyasova (28), Johnson (19), Caldwell-Pope (22) and Jackson (25). So there’s clearly room for growth, most significantly in Drummond’s case. Drummond’s offensive game could use more polish, and if he can improve his free throws (39 percent last season) then he’ll be even harder to defend.
Last season was the first time Van Gundy finished under .500 in his coaching career. When he arrived, the Pistons had three big men (Drummond, Monroe and Josh Smith) they were trying to build around, but now only Drummond is left from that group. This roster should be a better fit for the style Van Gundy’s teams have played, with one talented big man surrounded by outside shooters.
Drummond is an intimidating shot-blocking presence and a terrific rebounder, but the Pistons have not been a great defensive team lately, and that’s another improvement Van Gundy can hope to see in his second season with Detroit.