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Andre Drummond: Glue guy extraordinaire

If you ask Andre Drummond his role on the Detroit Pistons, his answer may come as a surprise.

The 6-foot-11 center doesn’t look at himself as the up-and-coming star that many see. Actually, he doesn’t even look at himself as the top dog for the Pistons.

“I’m just the glue guy, you know,” he said in Orlando last month. “I just grab rebounds, block shots, dunk everything I get my hands on. So it’s just fun … I just do all the small things, the things that will help win basketball games.”

Whether you want to buy that or not — and for what it’s worth, I think he truly believes that — Drummond’s glue-guy play has been this team’s lone constant.

He’s still learning how to play basketball, but he’s doing so while casually gobbling up 12 boards and adding 12 dunk-filled points a night. His offensive game is still effortless yet short on tools, but when you really can rebound and, of course, dunk everything you get your hands on, who needs a low-post game right now?

The common idea is that young big men take a little more seasoning than young guards, and maybe that’s true. Drummond’s good traits — effort, rebounding, help defense — really make up for his obvious faults.

He really is far from being a polished, finished product, but he still averaged 15 points and 15 rebounds during the Pistons’ west-coast trip. That feat is made more impressive considering his opposing bigs included DeMarcus Cousins, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. Not a bad group to out-play, right?

Obviously that kind of sustained success is great to see, but there are still going to be the nights like he had in losses to Oklahoma City and Indiana — combining for 10 points and 12 rebounds.

That’s life in the NBA. You hope for mostly good-to-great nights while having a short memory when it comes to the inevitable bad ones.

Drummond knows his limitations, and that’s good. He’s self-aware, knowing he’s young and knowing he’s probably one of the fastest and most athletic big men in the league. He said it himself, “It’s been said since I got here. I can do certain things that most players can’t do.”

It’s too bad that isn’t enough to make up for his team’s faults. For the Pistons to shake off their slow start, he and the rest of his frontcourt mates, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe, need to find a way to make all of their roles jive on both ends of the floor.

“We all can pretty much do the same thing,” Drummond said. “Josh obviously shoots the 3, but can bring the ball up the floor and create for other players. Greg, passing the ball, he can create for people off the block. Same with me, I can create for people off the block as well.”

Nailed it.

Creating for others, that’s the one commonality. Aside from the nights where Smith has fully embraced his (hopefully) destined point-forward role, these big men aren’t really used to create for others.

Monroe is a gifted passer, and that’s something the Pistons haven’t exploited enough this season. Smith is at his best when he’s slicing into the lane and looking for others and cutting himself — he sometimes appears to forget that.

And for all of the cute, cosmetic statistics that Brandon Jennings has piled up this season, it just doesn’t feel like he’s thinking ahead when he comes barreling around a screen from one of those three big men. Seriously, if Will Bynum can occupy an entire defense as he runs off a screen-and-roll from Drummond, so should Jennings.

It’s November, though. Nothing in sports is decided in the first month, and this team hasn’t even had a preseason to work together. It’s not time to panic.

Maybe these first 10 games of the year have served as a de facto preseason. I’m not even going to bore you with all of the semantics of what the Pistons’ big core lacks, but it’s not something Drummond’s oblivious of either.

“Is it tough trying to figure out our spots? Yeah, absolutely, I mean we’ve never played with each other before,” he said. “Even for me and Greg, this is our first time really playing together at the same time for an extended period of time.”

Drummond has a good head on his shoulders. He’s completely erased all the commitment and effort doubts that haunted him during the pre-Draft process.

He’s proven to be the exact opposite of what scared off eight other teams in June of 2012.

The common misconception is that, if you’re young and good, you’d better make the jump to greatness ASAP. That’s unfair. It just isn’t always the case. Not every bright youngster is going to make the leap to NBA stardom before he can make the leap to the stool at the hotel bar. Players develop at different rates.

Even if Drummond’s role for this season does end up as simple as being the glue guy, that’s still a pretty darn good role — especially when the kid’s still getting comfortable.

“Last year, it was tough for me when I first got here, I didn’t really know what my role was, what I needed to do,” Drummond said. “That’s with anything, anything you step into new. You just got to figure yourself out. So, it took me a little bit to figure it out. Now that I have a place and know my role, I’m excited for what’s up and coming.”

And so is everyone else.

Chauncey Billups eager to aid in Pistons’ revival

ORLANDO | Slowly but surely, Chauncey Billups made his way through pregame warm-ups.

It’s a routine he’s probably done night after night for over a decade. Walk out, get some free throws up, transition into a set of turnaround jumpers from the mid-post and, of course, wrap things up with a round of shots from downtown.

He didn’t even play against the Magic that night, and he only played in three preseason games.

But even at 37, Billups doesn’t just walk off the court in anonymity. He stops to take a photo with a couple in the stands, two clad in No. 1′s jersey. He makes his way to the other side of the court, stopping for more photos with more fans before signing autographs for every fan draped over the edge of the tunnel.

This is a guy who’s on his last legs; a shell of the Mr. Big Shot that most Pistons fans remember. There’s just an aura about him, and those fans have always gravitated toward it.

Returning to Detroit doesn’t seem like a token victory lap for him. He doesn’t have a ton left in the tank, but you can tell that seeing the franchise return to relevancy is kind of an end-of-career pet project.

Chances are he’ll be a cog in starting a Pistons’ revival — how big of one is another question — but maybe, with success, the fan buzz he’s garnered will gravitate back to the team, too.

“It’s fun,” Billups said after the Pistons’ 87-86 loss in Orlando. “We have generated a little bit of excitement — Piston basketball again — and I’m just happy to be a part of it. I’m a lifetime Piston, I feel, so I’m just happy to be a part of us kind of getting back to respectability.”

Maybe seeing familiar faces like Billups or assistant coach Rasheed Wallace helps to block out a forgettable stretch of failure.

For a franchise that hasn’t been respectable since Billups and Wallace were running pick-and-pops against the Celtics in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals, it’s not a shock that a couple of diminished or retired fan favorites have rekindled some of the fire.

Those two aren’t what will make this team go, though. That starts with figuring out how to put together this team of odd-fitting pieces. The team’s top point guard, Brandon Jennings, is out with a broken jaw and the top backcourt reserve, Rodney Stuckey, out with a broken hand.

Neither played much, if at all, in the preseason. So, that whole, “Let’s figure out what guards are going to make this unbalanced roster roll” experiment is going have to happen early in the regular season now.

“There’s nothing really you can do in the preseason about it. You’ve got a lot of key guys out; people haven’t really seen what our team is really going to look like yet,” Billups said. “They will when Brandon (Jennings) gets back, and (Rodney) Stuckey gets back and I’m playing all the time. It changes a little bit. You’ve got playmakers out there to go with these big guys, so I’m looking forward to seeing what it is, as well.”

At times in Orlando, the team looked good. Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith all had moments where things clicked. But, there were also times where — without those starting-caliber guards — the product looked like an absolute mess of tall, confused men with no room to operate on the floor.

It’s impossible to say what will fix the ills of this team because, like Billups said, no one has seen the full product.

Maybe it’s the guy that most of the Pistons’ fans have given up on, Stuckey. Billups was traded with the idea of Stuckey being the next in line, ready to step up. Well, that didn’t quite happen, but even after a disappointing stretch from Stuckey, the vet is excited to work with his former protégé.

“I’ve had some conversations with him, and that’s another one of the reasons why I’m happy to be back is I get to get him back under my wing again,” Billups said. “He’s back focused. Man, I really hate that he got hurt because he’s back focused, and he was playing great. Just him being able to attack and get people in foul trouble and just be able to go out there and score is going to be big for this team.”

Energy the key for Tony Mitchell at Orlando Summer League

ORLANDO - There may not have been a more interesting Pistons rookie in Orlando last week than second rounder Tony Mitchell.

Maybe that’s because most of us don’t know a ton about him. He went to the University of North Texas — not your traditional college hoops powerhouse — and he’s a big, athletic guy who has proven to be able to dunk, rebound and swat his fair share of shots into the stands.

The lanky forward showed flashes this week — most notably, his put-back jam with 1.7 seconds to go on Thursday gave the Pistons a victory over Miami— but that talent is why he was considered a probable first-round pick in 2012.

He’s a big-time athlete from a small-time situation at North Texas. Now, he’s learning first-hand that, even in summer league, the NBA game is bigger, faster and stronger.

“Yeah, it’s different, it’s so different,” Mitchell said on Tuesday. “Especially the physicality, everybody’s athletic out here, everybody’s strong, fast; so it’s different. Something to get used to, I’m just trying to play hard and get used to it.”

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, either. The speed of the game is something that catches all young players, most recently Andre Drummond last summer.

There are times when Mitchell is all over the court, though in a good way. There was a stretch against the Thunder where he stole the ball at half court, drawing a clear-path foul and then just a few plays later, pinned an opposing layup clean on the backboard.

The dude’s a freak athletically, that’s why he’s such an appealing prospect. But there are also concerns about his motor and effort on the court — something that did seemed to come and go at times during the week.

From just talking to him on the sidelines during the Utah-Houston game, I think he knows what his biggest criticism was coming out — he mentioned playing hard and effort multiple times during our conversation.

“It’s just go out there and play your game. Do what you can now,” he said. “Everything else is going to come at the end of the day and you’ve just got to work hard, give a full effort, so that’s what I’ve been trying to do since I’ve been out here.”

He averaged a modest six points and seven rebounds along with a block and steal this week, and he probably wasn’t even the best guy named Tony Mitchell playing at the Orlando Summer League.

Defense and rebounding are going to be the reason he’ll earn playing time this season because there’s still work to be done on his offensive game. He gets cute and tries to handle the ball — but hey, so does Drummond — and he is a little too fond of the long two-point jumper and his pump and stampede toward the basket move can use some refining.

But when he’s got the effort cranked to 11, he’s the kind of pest that can affect the opposing offense in short doses. He and Drummond had similar reputations coming out in that they both had their effort questioned.

Well, so far that’s proven to be quite the opposite for Drummond, and Mitchell chuckled, agreeing when I mentioned that he and Drummond are the team’s two bouncy, energy guys.

“(Drummond’s) experienced and I’m just now coming in to it,” he said. “I’m just trying to learn from those guys — in practice, shootaround, whatever we do — so it’s been helpful and they’ve been helping me, so it’s been real well.”

Russell Westbrook discusses competing against Rodney Stuckey and other up-and-coming young lead guards in the NBA

Let’s be honest. PistonPowered could use a little infusion of style. So periodically, former MLive It’s Just Sports Swag Consultant Eric Woodyard will stop by the site with some insight on the Pistons and the NBA. Woodyard has contributed at MLive, he covers the Pistons for SLAM Online, he files video reports on his YouTube channel and he writes for the Western Herald. You can also follow his Twitter updates. He covers quite a few games throughout the year, and he’ll send us a variety of interviews and interesting conversations he has related to the Pistons. Make him feel welcome here. — Patrick Hayes

As a team in transition, the Pistons are a team with young players who also need veteran leadership around to help mold them into professionals. Morris Peterson of the Thunder is respected around the NBA as one of the classiest players and a good locker room guy. He’s made a mark on several young guys around the league, including former Raptors teammate Charlie Villanueva.

Also, it’s tradition for me. Anytime Peterson is anywhere in my vicinity I have to catch up with him. Although he was on the inactive list, there wasnt any other player on the roster that I wanted to talk with more, not even Kevin Durant.

That’s how us Flintstones roll.

Eric Woodyard: Obviously you’re back home. How does it feel to be back home in Michigan?

Morris Peterson: It’s always good to be back home and see some familiar faces especially with the long season and being on the west coast. We dont get a chance to get home so it’s always good to come home and see some familiar faces and see your family.

EW: I read something the other day where it talked about how the young guys on this team was blazing you because you were older than most of the players on this team, could you talk about how that’s been? (laughs) Do they still tease you about that?

MP: (laughs) Not as much, but that first week was rough. It’s a thing to go from being one of the youngest guys in the locker room, I remember those days, to now being the older guy but it’s all good that just means they like you.

EW: Last year when we talked, I asked you how was it to play with Chris Paul. This year you’re with another superstar in Kevin Durant, how fun is it to watch him?

MP: I think KD is a great player. He’s definitely ahead of his time. You don’t find too many guys his age doing the things he does. If you look at it, he’s a match up problem. Him being 6-10, 6-11 and being able to handle it and shoot over smaller guys or drive around big guys, he always has an advantage so it’s great playing with a guy like him. To watch him last year and see him do the thing he did was good but once we were in practice, I think he’s worked even harder so it shows out on he court.

EW: How are you feeling health-wise? I know you’ve been battling with injuries for the past seasons …

MP: I’m feeling great, feeling better. I’m just trying to get back into it and get in the rotation and hopefully just try and get out there.

Rodney Stuckey had one of his best games as a Piston last night, and with his strength and athleticism, he’s similar to Thunder guard Russell Westbrook who also wasn’t a natural point guard coming into the league.

Westbrook finished the 2009-2010 season with an average of 16.1 points and 8.0 dimes per game. He then followed this up in the playoffs against the Los Angeles Lakers where he averaged 20.5 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists over 6 games. This season he showed his performance was no fluke when he gave Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls 28 points and 6 assists in the season opener.

Stuckey talked in the preseason about wanting to take over the team as a leader from the point guard spot, something Westbrook has been able to do with the Thunder. I caught up with Westbrook in the midst of him eating a bag of popcorn in the visitor’s locker room at the Palace of Auburn Hills just before he prepared to battle Stuckey and the Pistons to get a look at how he prepares himself and gets ready for a game.

EW: Can you talk about your pre-game ritual a little bit. What do you usually do before the game?

Russell Westbook: I usually take a nap, grab something to eat and listen to music, nothing too crazy and just hang out, chill and relax.

EW: What type of music do you listen too to get you in the zone?

RW: You know what? I switch it up. It all depends, sometimes I listen to some Raggae, some Cameroonian music…yeah (laughs). Lil Wayne …

EW: I’ve never heard anybody say that before … (laughs)

RW: ... some jerking (Ed. Note: It’s a song/dance, get your minds out of the gutter), I switch it up. So it all depends on how I’m feeling that day.

EW: Do you usually get hyped up to go up against another up and coming point guard? Like tonight’s it’s Rodney Stuckey, do you try to go out and try to prove that you’re better?

RW: Not really, I just try to go out and prove that my team is better. I try to go out and put my team in the best situation to try to win the game.

EW: What were some of the things you worked on this off-season?

RW: Well in the off-season I was really busy with FIBA and USA basketball so with that it helped me become more physical and a better teammate.

EW: That first game against your Olympic teammate Derrick Rose and the Bulls was great battle! So to get back on that battling your peers, can you break it down how does it feel to compete against all these up and coming guards?

RW: It feels good! It’s a good thing for the league, it’s a lot of good guards in the league and to go against somebody who’s real good and real tough, there’s really no nights off.