The Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas’ star has been rising with his team’s as the young center is off to the best start in his brief NBA career. Andre Drummond, on the other hand, is still putting up numbers that are comparable to his encouraging rookie year as the 5-21 Detroit Pistons could only wish this season was as good as last year’s disappointing campaign.
Drummond’s stock fell in the 2012 NBA Draft to ninth overall as no one was quite sure if this physically gifted center was going to have the work ethic necessary to succeed in the NBA. Those worries were quickly dispelled. The Pistons were terrible (29-53 in 2012-13), but Drummond wasn’t. The big man averaged 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and a steal in just over 20 minutes per game. The only fly in the ointment was his beyond ugly 37.1 percent shooting from the free throw line and a back injury that rose concerns and shortened his season to just 60 games.
The Raptors drafted Valanciunas fifth in 2011, but he stayed in Lithuania before coming to the NBA as a rookie in 2012. The big European arrived with an armload of honors from the Euroleague and international tournaments and expectations were high. Valanciunas averaged 8.9 points, 6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just under 24 minutes per game and started 57 times. The most dramatic differences between the two players was Valanciunas shot 78.9 percent from the free throw line and Drummond collected more rebounds, blocks and steals – at least that was the biggest difference until one dug a little deeper.
The two teams had little to brag about during the players’ rookie seasons, however, head-to-head over 4 games Valanciunas averaged 13 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3 blocks to Drummond’s 10 points, 7.3 rebounds and 0.8 blocks – a personal rivalry in the making?
However, it was impossible to ignore Drummond’s season stats on a per 100 possessions basis of 20.2 points, 19.4 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2.5 steals. On this basis, Drummond’s advantages over Valanciunas stand out with 6.1 more boards and 1.2 more blocks.
Things changed between the two teams the next season as Detroit remained bad and Toronto became a solid playoff team. The Raptors took all 4 games from Detroit last year and Valanciunas averaged 14 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 27.3 minutes. Drummond wasn’t overshadowed as he averaged 12 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks in 33.3 minutes per game against Toronto, but he still couldn’t hit his free throws.
In year two, Drummond largely held pace with his rookie production with small gains in scoring and rebounding per 100 possessions and a significant drop off in blocks. However, Valanciunas started to figure things out and improved his rebounding from 13.3 boards per 100 possessions to 16.4 and matched Drummond’s small improvement in scoring. The Raptors center had shown steady improvement over the year.
The Pistons are currently having a terrible season and there were big concerns being raised about Drummond during his first dozen games, however, those concerns were premature. Drummond is back to his old self and his scoring and rebounding rates are now actually up slightly from last year. If Detroit had a better record, Drummond would be getting a little more attention. 12.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 30.3 minutes per game are good numbers for a center, even if Drummond is still a bricklayer from the charity stripe.
Valanciunas is on a team outperforming their own high expectations and Head Coach Dwane Casey is still using the early hook on his young center when he doesn’t like the matchup or Valanciunas isn’t giving him what he wants. 11.8 points, 9 rebounds, 1.2 blocks in 26.8 minutes represent another step up in scoring but more importantly in rebounding. Valanciunas leads the Raptors on the boards this year and he has been averaging 12.7 points and 12 rebounds over his last 6 games.
This season’s first head-to-head matchup between Drummond and Valanciunas couldn’t have come at a better time. Drummond is averaging 15.8 points and 13.3 rebounds over his last 14 games and is playing markedly better than earlier in the season – even if Detroit is 2-12 during those games. Valanciunas has put together some monster games of his own lately.
Bring on the battle of the young big men. No one expects the Pistons to put up much of a challenge for the 20-6 Raptors, but the chance to watch these two young studs going head-to-head makes this game worth catching.
“He’s a lot stronger this year that’s for sure,” Amir Johnson said. “It’s hard for guys to box out a 7-footer, especially when you are in the paint. He has been able to hold his ground and grab boards for us which we need him to. He’s our big man in the paint and he’s been getting the job done for us and that’s all you can ask from a starting center. He’s been doing well.”
“One play you can make a mistake, but you know what to do next play,” Valanciunas said. “I am trying to learn from my mistakes and do better next time. You can’t think about your mistakes (during the game). Now (post game) is the time to think about your mistakes, fix things and do better tomorrow.”