Pistons’ Van Gundy expects big jumps from Andre Drummond, Stanley Johnson
After finally getting back to the playoffs in 2015-16, the Detroit Pistons are looking to take another step this coming season. Despite a quick playoff exit at the hands of the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers, the Pistons proved their mettle by handing the Cavs a few close games. They were also the second youngest team in the postseason.
At the center of this new Pistons core is Andre Drummond. The dominant center has become one of the best rebounders and defenders in the paint in the NBA today. His only weakness, like DeAndre Jordan, is his free throw shooting.
Another pivotal player on the roster is swingman Stanley Johnson. He played 23.1 minutes per game as a rookie, averaging 8.1 points and 4.2 rebounds. His three-point shooting will need to improve if he wants his role to grow in the coming few seasons.
Head coach Stan Van Gundy expects improvement from everybody, but his highest expectations are held for the two aforementioned players.
“… (Andre Drummond) and Stanley (Johnson) are the guys who can, I think, based on their age and what they’ve done and what they’re capable of doing, who have the potential to make the biggest jumps.”
Drummond, who recently turned 23, has already become a higher-end All-Star caliber player, but Van Gundy believes he has more talent to tap into. The good thing: he’s putting in the work. But will it come from a mental standpoint? Van Gundy believes it can, in time:
“He’s still so young, but he’s been in the league long enough,” Van Gundy said. “He’s got to really just do what it takes on the mental level to get himself ready to play every night and get himself focused at that level and that hasn’t quite happened yet. Now, it’s improved every year, which is good. But he’s not quite there all the time to where he’s ready to go.
“Andre’s worked really hard. I think he did a pretty good job last summer; I think he’s added to that this summer in terms of being disciplined in his approach and working hard. I think he’s taken a different approach to his free-throw shooting. He’s really worked hard on some of his other areas.”
Van Gundy also elaborated on Johnson, who doesn’t lack confidence. But, at times, that makes coaching him up more difficult:
“It’s an ongoing challenge, for him and for us. But the strength Stanley has is he’s got a tremendous passion for the game and tremendous desire to be great. He’s as good a competitor as you’ll find in this league, as young as he is. What goes along with that is a stubbornness, to some degree. At times, I’ll be honest – working with him can be a little bit frustrating because of that. He thinks he knows the way to do it.
“But also what goes along with that is a guy who just doesn’t give in easily in games, either. He’s just not going to give in. He’s a tough guy. I’d rather have it the way he is than a guy who let’s say is 100 percent compliant but doesn’t get out there and really fight like he does on the court. Everybody’s a little bit different and everybody’s got different strengths and different weaknesses. His tough mind is his greatest strength and at times can be his … I won’t even say his greatest weakness, but it makes him a challenge to deal with. But he’s a tough guy out there and we’re happy to have him.”
Last year, the Pistons made a considerable jump from 32 wins to 44. Behind the continued improvement of Drummond and Johnson, the ceiling for Detroit basketball hasn’t been higher since the Chauncey Billups–Ben Wallace–Rasheed Wallace–Rip Hamilton–Tayshaun Prince era.