It's happening again. Andre Drummond had another career-high game against Golden State, and Pistons fans are calling for the 19-year-old rookie to join the starting line-up. Drummond's first career-high moment came against the Oklahoma City Thunder on November 9th when the 6'11" big-man scored a career-high 22 points playing alongside Greg Monroe. The "start him" calls were loud after that game. On Wednesday night against the Warriors, with Greg Monroe on the bench due to foul trouble, Andre Drummond found himself playing a career-high 31 minutes. Drummond made good use of the extra time, posting a 15 point, 12 rebound double-double on an "at the rim" 6-for-8 shooting night. As the "start him" calls have now turned to deafening social-media screams the question must be asked. Is it time for Andre Drummond to start?
In one word, "no."
Most of the Detroit media believes that 20 games into a rookie season is too early for Drummond to assume a starting role, and I tend to agree with them. True, I don't see this team as one capable of making a playoff push despite how wide-open the Central Division is right now. But I'm not yet ready for the grade of play to dwindle down to a rookie showcase where sloppy basketball isn't stopped but rather allowed to be "played out." It may get to that point this season, but not 20 games in. Player development and simply playing a rookie are not necessarily the same thing.
Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press talked to Lawrence Frank about the issue of starting Drummond. Here's what Frank had to say:
"Just because you throw a guy out there for 30 minutes could be the worst thing you do for a guy, because it may reinforce all the wrong habits," Frank said. "If he's not doing what he should be doing and he's not giving the effort, he's not following your principles, he's not following the game plan and you're playing him, how can you look at your other guys in your locker room and say you're about the right things? You can't. You can both develop players and try to win. That's the name of the game."
Frank makes a good point with his comments. Right now, the most consistent option for the Pistons, the player who gives effort all the time, follows the game plan, and keeps up good habits, is Jason Maxiell; a player having his best year as a professional. But not starting Drummond over Maxiell isn't about Maxiell deserving more playing time— Maxiell does deserve more though —it's about Lawrence Frank setting and reinforcing a standard for the young foundation the Pistons have right now. The standard being that a player is judged on his entire body of work, rather than flashes and bursts of high-level play.
Andre Drummond has been impressive, and has definitely put the nix on any worries about him ending up like Kwame Brown, but there are games where Drummond looks tired and is slow to his spot on defense. Frank has been fair with Drummond, managing his minutes with game-to-game decisions. In games where Drummond has played well on both ends, like Wednesday night, Frank has had no problem leaving Drummond on the floor for extended periods and late fourth quarter moments. But in games where Drummond has played lazy or sluggish, such as his 12 minute performance against Dallas, Frank has limited the rookie.
Fans calling for their team's "sexy" draft pick to start during a re-building period is nothing new. Neither is a head coach knowing better than to hand the rookie more responsibility than he's ready for. Over the first 20 games this season Andre Drummond has done things that reveal his potential superstar quality, he also has done things that highlight his true rookie colors. Drummond deserves more minutes, just not in a starting role.