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NBA Daily: Motor City Giant

Blake Griffin still hasn’t been able to play this season, but the Detroit Pistons have been carried by their motivated big man who is putting up All-Star caliber numbers. Chad Smith writes.

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When the Detroit Pistons announced that Blake Griffin would miss the first couple of weeks of the regular season with hamstring and knee injuries, there was definitely cause for concern. The panic button wasn’t being pressed, but everyone was aware of its location. Without the face of the franchise, would Detroit be able to compete in the East?

Andre Drummond could become an unrestricted free agent after this season if he opts out. That means he will be on a mission this year with something to prove. The big man taken ninth overall in the 2012 NBA Draft has spent his entire career in the Motor City. He has been a reliable piece for Detroit, especially when it comes to availability. In the past six seasons, Drummond has only missed a total of 10 games.

The injury bug has bitten the Pistons early and often this season. Aside from Griffin’s issues, the backcourt has suffered some big hits as well. Starting point guard Reggie Jackson is slated to miss at least the next four weeks after being diagnosed with a stress reaction in his lower back. Backup guards Derrick Rose and Tim Frazier have missed the last two games with hamstring and shoulder injuries.

With so many injuries, how has Detroit kept the ship above water?

Not only has Drummond taken on that responsibility, but he has also thrived in doing so. He has already joined Kevin Love and DeMarcus Cousins as the only players in the last 25 years to have three consecutive games with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds. The only other Pistons player to accomplish that was Bob Lanier. Even better, Andre joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only two players in NBA history to record at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in four of the first seven games to start a season.

After eight games, the 26-year old leads the team in points, rebounds, steals and blocks. All of those numbers are career-highs for Drummond. His 19.4 rebounds per game easily lead the league as he has more than four per game more than second-place (Love).  Detroit’s second-leading rebounder is Bruce Brown Jr, who has 4.3 per contest. Drummond has 20 blocks so far this season, which is the most in the league.

The most surprising statistic might be the total number of steals. The All-Star Center ranks tied inside the top five in the NBA, in the mix with defensive wizards such as Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Patrick Beverley, Matisse Thybulle and Ben Simmons.

Andre’s big numbers should only bolster even more this week, as they face the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers.

Drummond has feasted in the two games against the Pacers already this season, both Pistons victories. He posted 32 points, 23 rebounds, 3 steals and 4 blocks in the season-opener in Indy, then followed it up with 18 points, 18 rebounds and 2 blocks in the second matchup. Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis played in both of those games, but Indiana is without its two big horses at the present time.

The one glaring flaw in Andre’s game has always been his free throw shooting. He has drastically improved that area of his game this year as well. Taking out his one bad outing in Philadelphia, he has hit 27-of-35 attempts from the charity stripe. Unfortunately, Drummond has been sending opponents to the line as well. He has committed at least four fouls in seven games this year, including the game in Philly where he fouled out.

Other players have stepped up for Detroit, such as sharpshooter Luke Kennard. Markieff Morris, Christian Wood and Bruce Brown have also shown nice flashes early on during Griffin’s absence. Should they continue to fill their roles with Griffin back on the floor, the Pistons should be able to return to the postseason. Their 3-5 start to the season isn’t fabulous by any stretch, but taking into consideration all of the injuries, Detroit has done well. The evolution of Drummond’s game has definitely helped, but they will need more than that going forward.

Despite the monster rebounding numbers from Andre, the Pistons rank 27th in rebounding as a team. They rank in the bottom third of the league in assists and steals. Getting their guards healthy and back on the floor should help in those two areas, as well as the overall pace of their offense, which is one of the slowest in the league.

Griffin is reportedly very close to returning to action, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Over the next two weeks, Detroit will play New York, Indiana, Minnesota, Miami, Charlotte and Chicago. Only two of those games are at home, so they will need to capitalize on the favorable schedule while also getting Blake acclimated as he makes his season debut.

The ultimate prize for the majority of players is winning a championship. Odds are the Pistons will fall short of that this season. What is the next best thing for the player? A new contract, of course.

Drummond is going to continue to put up monster numbers, but it may not translate to wins for the Pistons. This is the conundrum they will be faced with when their season concludes.

Chad is a Basketball Insiders contributor based in Indianapolis.

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