Following years of getting pushed around and playing soft interior defense, the Detroit Pistons finally got tired of being the little guys.
By adding two defensive-minded centers, the Pistons suddenly look much more imposing in the lane. They were thrilled that Connecticut freshman Andre Drummond slid down to the No. 9 pick in the June draft. Then, they pulled a surprise early in free agency by reaching a multiyear agreement with Ukrainian 7-footer Slava Kravtsov.
For a team that ranked No. 25 in defensive field-goal percentage and 26th in shot-blocking last season, a frontcourt upgrade was the top priority. Creaky Ben Wallace led the Pistons in blocks at 0.82 per game. Drummond, listed at 6-foot-10 but closer to 7 feet, and Kravtsov are both adept at swatting shots, and they bring unusual athleticism to the position. Centers who can guard pick-and-rolls effectively are also at a premium, and the Pistons feel as if Drummond and Kravtsov will tighten up their defense on those plays.
Drummond, 18, averaged 2.7 blocks in his lone season at UConn and gave the Pistons a glimpse of his talent in their first Orlando Summer League game, collecting four steals and two blocks against Utah. Drummond also made a favorable impression by hitting two mid-range jumpers, though he airballed two free throws.
"From an athletic standpoint, he's off the charts at his position," coach Lawrence Frank said. "His ability to protect the rim, his ability to be a deterrent for the other team attacking the paint, his ability to rebound and run the floor and finish strong around the rim is a great starting point."
With Jason Maxiell deciding to stay put rather than opting out of the final year of his contract, Drummond probably won't start right away. If he develops the way the Pistons project, he could be an ideal partner to 6-11 Greg Monroe, who led the Pistons in scoring (15.4 points per game) in his second season. Monroe mostly played center last season, but he'll move to power forward when Drummond, who has already signed a rookie contract worth $4 million in the first two seasons, is ready to play steady minutes.
"Greg is not an above-the-rim, high-flying, shot-blocking athlete," president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said. "(Andre) is not a skilled, see-everything type of big man (like Monroe). They complement each other in that way."
Kravtsov, who will be 25 next season, averaged 10.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks playing in the Ukrainian Superleague last season. The Pistons view Kravtsov, who is expected to receive a two-year, $2 million contract, as a 15- to 20-minute player who can be their defensive anchor on the second unit. With the Pistons over the salary cap, Kravtsov is a more cost-effective pickup compared to a veteran NBA free agent such as Chris Kaman, whom the Pistons were expected to pursue.
When the Pistons made two consecutive trips to the NBA Finals in 2004 and 2005, they had menacing rim protectors like Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Elden Campbell and Antonio McDyess. There are no assurances Drummond and Kravtsov can make that kind of impact, but at least the Pistons don't look like pushovers any longer.