Published On: Fri, Aug 26th, 2016

Pistons' Van Gundy: Expects Drummond, Johnson to make 'biggest jumps'

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Raj Mehta / USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons are looking to build on a promising 2015-16 campaign that saw them make the playoffs for the first time in seven years.

To continue that positive momentum, president and head coach Stan Van Gundy expects continued development from his still-green core (the Pistons were the second-youngest team to make the playoffs last season), in particular fifth-year center Andre Drummond and sophomore swingman Stanley Johnson.

“(Those) 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,” Van Gundy told Keith Langlois of Pistons.com.

Drummond, a first-time All-Star last season, spent the majority of the summer working at the P3 sports science facility in Santa Barbara, focusing on strength and conditioning. Van Gundy’s chief goal for the 23-year-old this coming season is to show marked improvement as a rim protector.

“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.”

Drummond is a terrific athlete, rebounder, and shot-blocker, having averaged 15.3 boards and two blocks per 36 minutes across his first four NBA seasons. But that raw ability hasn’t quite translated into rim-protecting instincts, as Drummond is often so eager to swat a shot or snag a rebound that he overcommits, and gets juked out of position or off his feet. Last season, opponents shot 62.4 percent against Drummond in the restricted area, one of the worst marks among all qualified centers.

“I thought in the Cleveland series (in which the Pistons were competitive, but still got swept), he played with that attitude of challenging shots and making it tough around the basket and he sustained that pretty much throughout the four games,” Van Gundy said. “If he does that, then he makes a big jump with our team.”

Naturally, Drummond is also still trying to sort out his longstanding free-throw shooting woes, after a season in which he shot a career-worst 35.5 percent from the stripe and forced Van Gundy to frequently pull him in crunch time to avoid his being intentionally fouled.

Van Gundy said last month that Drummond had “found something” that might help him change his fortunes at the line, though that something apparently doesn’t include shooting his free throws underhanded.

“I think he’s taken a different approach to his free-throw shooting,” Van Gundy told Langlois. “He’s really worked hard on some of his other areas.”

For the 20-year-old Johnson, the something seems a bit more straightforward. As Van Gundy sees it, Johnson has both the talent and the desire to be great, but needs to strike a better balance between his brash moxie and his ability to listen.

“It’s an ongoing challenge, for him and for us,” Van Gundy said. “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.”

One way to do it: Don’t poke a sleeping LeBron.



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