Just past the quarter-season mark, the NBA has proven to be full of surprises. From the three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers sluggishly starting 5-7 to the perennially maligned Orlando Magic storming out of the gates with a record of 6-2, some early trends have already begun to revert back to the norm.

Cleveland has since embarked on a 12-game winning streak, while Orlando has dropped nine games in a row. The teams are now positioned more along the lines of last season, with initial dips and spikes in performance starting to flatten out as the season drags on.

However, not all early season revelations have petered out. In particular, the Detroit Pistons have continued to defy expectations. The Pistons currently have a 14-9 record and sit at No. 4 in the Eastern Conference, showing significant progress from their No. 8 finish last season. Much of this improvement can be traced to the development of franchise cornerstone Andre Drummond, whose progression in several key areas has propelled the Pistons to new levels of success.

The first, most noticeable improvement in Drummond’s game this season has been his free throw shooting. With a vertical jump measured at 38 inches, the seven-foot-tall Drummond is one of the most talented rebounders the NBA has seen in years. Naturally, his ability to grab boards has put the former University of Connecticut center at the free throw line frequently. In fact, Drummond attempts nearly five free throws per game, one of the top 30 figures in the league this season. After an offseason of intense and committed training, Drummond has managed to significantly improve his free throw percentage; he is now making 64 percent of his shots at the line, compared to 38.6 percent last season and 39.6 percent over the course of his career.

Drummond’s increased free throw percentage has not led to a major change in his scoring numbers, but Drummond is much more threatening for opposing defenders — simply sending him to the free throw line is no longer a viable means of defending against Drummond. As an added bonus, Drummond is no longer a liability later in games, when “Hack-a-Shaq” strategies would undermine his value to the team down the stretch.

Additionally, Drummond has demonstrated impressive defensive progress this season. Drummond is gobbling up 35.3 percent of defensive rebounds while he is on the floor, according to Basketball-Reference, ending opponents’ possessions without allowing them a second chance.

At the rim, Drummond accounts for 59.2 percent of the Pistons’ total blocks, but he has also shown more discipline when contesting shots. Instead of swatting at balls he has no chance of denying, Drummond has been more selective in his block attempts, leaving him in a better position to box out, rebound and defend possible second-chance shots.

Perhaps most importantly, Drummond has drastically improved his perimeter defense, moving farther away from the hoop and showcasing remarkable lateral agility for a player of his size. His newfound defensive abilities help keep opposing ball-handlers out of the lane and are essential skills in today’s NBA, where switching off your defender is the go-to strategy for defending screen actions.

To be clear, not all of the Pistons’ success this year is directly attributable to Drummond. Point guard Reggie Jackson is back and healthy, bringing more competent ball handling and impressive pick-and-roll chemistry with Drummond back to Detroit’s offense. Small forward Tobias Harris has had a breakout year, shooting an astonishing 46.4 percent from three-point range, as compared to his 34.7 percent career rate. Shooting guard Avery Bradley was brought in to replace the departed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as well, bringing an elite perimeter defender and deadly shooter into the mix.

However, Drummond is the definitive centerpiece for the Pistons. Detroit goes as Drummond goes, and the Pistons’ intense defensive scheme and multifaceted attack are all based on his core competencies. His continued progress in those areas, as well as a dramatic uptick in his free throw percentage, have made Drummond one of the most dominant and valuable players in the NBA this season.

If the Pistons are to continue defying expectations and stay near the top of the Eastern Conference, rest assured that Drummond will be at the center of it all.

Just past the quarter-season mark, the NBA has proven to be full of surprises. Some early trends have already begun to revert back to the norm, from the three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers sluggishly starting 5-7 to the perennially maligned Orlando Magic storming out of the gates with a 6-2 record.

Cleveland has since embarked on a 12-game winning streak, while Orlando has dropped nine games in a row. The teams are now positioned more along the lines of last season, with initial dips and spikes in performance starting to flatten out as the season drags on.

However, not all early season revelations have petered out. In particular, the Detroit Pistons have continued to defy expectations. The Pistons currently have a 14-9 record and sit at No. 4 in the Eastern Conference, showing significant progress from their No. 8 finish last season. Much of this improvement can be traced to the development of franchise cornerstone Andre Drummond, whose progression in several key areas has propelled the Pistons to new levels of success.

The first, most noticeable improvement in Drummond’s game this season has been his free throw shooting. With a vertical jump measured at 38 inches, the 7-foot-tall Drummond is one of the most talented rebounders the NBA has seen in years. Naturally, his ability to grab boards has put the former University of Connecticut center at the free throw line frequently. In fact, Drummond attempts nearly five free throws per game, one of the top 30 figures in the league this season. After an offseason of intense and committed training, Drummond has managed to significantly improve his free throw percentage; he is now making 64 percent of his shots at the line, compared to 38.6 percent last season and 39.6 percent over the course of his career.

Drummond’s increased free throw percentage has not led to a major change in his scoring numbers, but Drummond is much more threatening for opposing defenders — simply sending him to the free throw line is no longer a viable means of defending against Drummond. As an added bonus, Drummond is no longer a liability later in games, when “Hack-a-Shaq” strategies would undermine his value to the team down the stretch.

Additionally, Drummond has demonstrated impressive defensive progress this season. Drummond is gobbling up 35.3 percent of defensive rebounds while on the floor according to Basketball-Reference, ending opponents’ possessions without allowing them a second chance.

At the rim, Drummond accounts for 59.2 percent of the Pistons’ total blocks, but he has also shown more discipline when contesting shots. Instead of swatting at balls he has no chance of denying, Drummond has been more selective in his block attempts, leaving him in a better position to box out, rebound and defend possible second-chance shots.

Perhaps most importantly, Drummond has drastically improved his perimeter defense, moving farther away from the hoop and showcasing remarkable lateral agility for a player of his size. His newfound defensive abilities help keep opposing ballhandlers out of the lane and are essential skills in today’s NBA, where switching off your defender is the go-to strategy for defending screen actions.

To be clear, not all of the Pistons’ success this year is directly attributable to Drummond. Point guard Reggie Jackson is back and healthy, bringing more competent ball handling and impressive pick-and-roll chemistry with Drummond back to Detroit’s offense. Small forward Tobias Harris has had a breakout year, shooting an astonishing 46.4 percent from three-point range, as compared to his 34.7 percent career rate. Shooting guard Avery Bradley was brought in to replace the departed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as well, bringing an elite perimeter defender and deadly shooter into the mix.

However, Drummond is the definitive centerpiece for the Pistons. Detroit goes as Drummond goes, and the Pistons’ intense defensive scheme and multifaceted attack are all based on his core competencies. His continued progress in those areas, as well as a dramatic uptick in his free throw percentage, have made Drummond one of the most dominant and valuable players in the NBA this season.

If the Pistons are to continue defying expectations and stay near the top of the Eastern Conference, rest assured that Drummond will be at the center of it all.

Ryan McCoy is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. This is the final installment of GM’s CORNER.

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