So, Andre Drummond is 22 years old. This is an unthinkable concept. Like, the most physically assertive player on the planet was about to celebrate his fifth birthday when Mase and Puff dropped "Lookin' at Me." He wasn't even 5! It's all so difficult to process.
Drummond is averaging over 19 points and 19 rebounds per game right now, something that hasn't been done for an entire season since 1969, when a 32-year-old Wilt Chamberlain capped off an incredible 10-year run with a 20.5 points, 21.1 rebounds campaign (Jerry Lucas, Elgin Baylor, Bob Pettit and Nate Thurmond are this particular club's other four members).
What are we even staring at? Is this history in the making? The breakout campaign from a physically dominant big man who's the standalone reason the Detroit Pistons are 5-1 with a top-six defense? Statistically, Drummond's least impressive game came against the Utah Jazz -- landlord to the NBA's thorniest defensive frontcourt -- with an 18-point, 10-rebound, two-block sledgehammer. And his best games have been, well, great.
Sunday night, facing the Portland Trail Blazers, he scored 29 points and grabbed 27 rebounds. Last Tuesday, against the Indiana Pacers, it was 25 points and 29 rebounds. These numbers are make believe. (Including the three times Drummond's done it, the league's only seen 30 individual 25-point, 25-rebound performances since 1986. The guy now has two of them in a season that's two weeks old.)
Drummond's net rating going into Monday night's game against the Warriors was higher than Blake Griffin, LeBron James and Kevin Durant -- three of the five best living players -- and the Pistons allow 29.3 points per 100 possessions when he sits.* In other words, they're the basketball equivalent of a Mortal Kombat fatality. Drummond is their brawny safety net; he resuscitates hopeless action by crashing the glass and following up close-range misses with easy putbacks.
Two things: Why didn't anyone see this coming? And how is all of it possible? As far as box score numbers go, the explanation is quite simple. Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy is playing Drummond eight more minutes per game this year because the big man has learned not to foul everything in sight. It's sort of like if a Godzilla movie lasted six hours instead of two. Basic math says more cities would get smashed to bits.
The contextual makeup of Detroit's roster is also a factor. Instead of Josh Smith and Greg Monroe crowding the frontcourt, Detroit is loaded with stretch fours. More than half of Ersan Ilyasova's field-goal attempts have been threes this season, and he's nailing 41.7 percent of them. Anthony Tolliver has yet to find his stroke, but his 3-point rate is an absurd .826. And in super small lineups that flash Detroit's newfound versatility, Marcus Morris, who's somehow averaging 17 points per game, is an extremely complicated cover.
But some of Drummond's success is just kudos to good old-fashioned evolution. Drummond's back-to-the-basket footwork may never be the most fluid and natural movement in the world, but he's doing a better job creating for himself. Just fewer than 44 percent of Drummond's baskets in the restricted area were unassisted last season. That number has increased by 10 percent this year. Per SportVU,* he's shooting 60 percent after two dribbles. Last season, he shot 41.6 percent.
Want to read something that will make you think about building a bomb shelter? Drummond still has serious room for improvement. He's only averaging 0.72 points per possession on post-ups (20th percentile, per Synergy Sports), but bursts of dominance, like the one seen below, are popping up more and more.
Drummond won't contend for Defensive Player of the Year, but his presence alone is a huge deterrent in the paint: 27.9 percent of opponents' shots are in the restricted area when he's on the court, and that number rockets up to 35.5 percent when Drummond isn't in the game. The trickle-down effect expands to the 3-point line, where opponents are 18.8 percent more accurate from downtown when he's on the bench (and 9.7 percent better overall).
We're dealing with a six-game sample size, but Drummond is not protecting the rim as well as most of his colleagues. Opponents are shooting an unacceptable 58.8 percent there when he's the nearest defender, per SportVU. That's worse than Enes Kanter, Kenneth Faried, Zach Randolph, Kevin Love, Greg Monroe and so many others. Not great.
Drummond is also shooting just 42.3 percent from the free-throw line, which is gross. And he has 10 more turnovers than assists. (Registering three assists in six games is probably the most impressive part of his season so far.) He is severely limited as a scorer outside the paint, too, though you can't ignore him completely or he'll just grab every single missed shot.
Most of these numbers will normalize (a bit) as the season goes along, and general criticism of Drummond's game should be treated as bluster right now. All in all, he's been tremendous, with the fifth highest PER and fifth most Win Shares in the league. Drummond leads just about every rebounding category in existence, too; the Pistons are the very best offensive rebounding team in the league when he's on the floor, ninth worst when he sits.
If an All-NBA team based on this season's early going were assembled, Drummond would be its center. Easily. He was awarded two straight Eastern Conference Player of the Week awards, opposite Stephen Curry -- whose jump shot is now more devastating than Cyclops's eyesight -- and James Harden in the West.
Big picture, it's too early to tell if Drummond's ceiling should be raised off such a small sample size. But at this moment, he's definitively one of the five most valuable players in the league. Unless you want to make your ears bleed, don't imagine what will happen if he ever develops a consistent post game. Did anyone mention that he's only 22?
*Stats will be updated on Tuesday morning.