NOAH TRISTER,AP Sports Writer
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Earlier this week, Joe Dumars began to suspect that Andre Drummond might actually be available when it was Detroit’s turn to pick in the NBA draft.
So on Tuesday, the Pistons’ president of basketball operations hopped on a plane and headed to New York for what Dumars called a “clandestine workout” with the Connecticut big man.
Sure enough, Detroit was able to pick Drummond with the ninth pick Thursday night, adding another young big man to go along with Greg Monroe inside. The 6-foot-10, 270-pound Drummond averaged 10 points and 7.6 rebounds last season as an 18-year-old freshman.
He will join Brandon Knight and Monroe — Detroit’s last two first-round picks — as part of a young nucleus the Pistons hope they can build around. Detroit has missed the playoffs the last three seasons.
“We have two young big men now. Greg is 22 years old, and Andre is obviously 18,” Dumars said. “Brandon is 20 years old. … We feel good about the young core of guys we’ve drafted the last few years.”
The Pistons took Knight last year at No. 8 when some of the top big men were already taken. Now they’re adding another inside presence who may be able to make an impact down low alongside Monroe — or take some of the attention from him.
“I’ve been watching Greg since he was at Georgetown,” Drummond said. “He’s a great player, and he’s definitely a student of the game.”
Detroit had already made one big move this week, trading guard Ben Gordon to Charlotte on Tuesday along with a future first-round pick for forward Corey Maggette. That move cleared Gordon’s contract off the books and left little doubt that Knight and Rodney Stuckey are the team’s top backcourt options. Tayshaun Prince remains in the fold, so the biggest remaining need was in the frontcourt.
While Monroe has shown promise offensively with his skill around the basket, the Pistons are trying to become the type of smothering defensive team they were when they won championships in 1989, 1990 and 2004. Drummond could help in that regard. He was 14th in the nation and third in the Big East with 2.7 blocks per game in 2011-12.
Big men like John Henson and Tyler Zeller, both of North Carolina, and Kentucky forward Terrence Jones were expected to be available around the time Detroit was picking. Drummond’s availability was a bit more of a surprise, and the Pistons nabbed him.
Drummond still has some maturing to do at the offensive end — he shot under 30 percent from the free throw line last year — but the Pistons may not ask him to score much, at least at first. Drummond could give Detroit somebody who can protect the rim.
“Greg’s not an above-the-rim, high-flying, shot-blocking athlete like that,” Dumars said. “They complement each other that way. They cover for each other’s weaknesses.”
The 6-foot-11 Monroe averaged 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game last season.
Of course, any time Detroit drafts a big man, it brings back memories of the 2003 draft, when the Pistons — picking second overall — took Darko Milicic, a center from Europe who never made an impact with the Pistons. Dumars says that was a lesson learned.
“The background on that was about 20 percent of what we do now,” Dumars said. “With Darko, I may have had two sources of information. With this kid — 10, 12. We’ve talked to everybody. (Director of player personnel) George David talked to his sixth-grade teacher.”
Detroit went 25-41 last season, playing better toward the end of the lockout-shortened schedule. Owner Tom Gores has been upbeat since taking over the team just before last year’s draft, and that didn’t change Thursday.
“Patience with progress. We have to make progress,” Gores said. “I’m a pretty patient guy, believe it or not. We’ve made a lot of progress in a year.”
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