NEW YORK – The day before the draft, and it’s impossible to get away from the center showdowns.
Andre Drummond vs. himself. That was the case for most of an underwhelming freshman season at Connecticut, and will continue up until the Draft begins Thursday night in nearby Newark, N.J. On talent alone, he’s the second-best prospect, behind only Anthony Davis. With concerns about his mindset to reach that potential, though, Drummond could easily land out of the top five, and it’s not hard to see a scenario, given team needs and knowing how some front offices feel about him, of a slide all the way to the Pistons at No. 9.
When I asked him to assess his 2011-12 at UConn, Drummond said, “It wasn’t my best and it wasn’t my worst. There’s a lot more things I could have done to better myself. I believe that since I left, I’m working that much harder to prove to myself that I know I can be good and that I can be a great player in this league.”
What could he have done better?
“Play a little less passive,” he replied. “I was playing a little passive. It was like a new stage for me and things like that. As a team, we weren’t really clicking as well. We had a lot of weapons, but we didn’t put it in the right areas.”
The honesty will appeal to teams. The last thing the personnel bosses will want to hear is a lot of excuses — the team had issues, the media only focused on the negative, the refs called bad games — but Drummond taking ownership is an important step.
Tyler Zeller vs. Meyers Leonard, meanwhile, is better than ever, in contrast and unique circumstances.
An intriguing decision in the making as soon as it was set that both were in the draft, the head-to-head advanced with a workout schedule that included auditioning for teams at the same time despite having the same agent. A lot of representatives don’t like the idea of one client succeeding while hurting the stock of another, but Zeller and Leonard saw a lot of each other the last few weeks.
The outcome? What we already knew.
Zeller, a senior from North Carolina, is more NBA-ready and good enough to start for a lot of teams on opening night, including Portland, his destination in the latest NBA.com mock draft at No. 11. Leonard, a sophomore from Illinois, is projected to have the chance for a better career, but a longer road to get there. He is No. 9 to the Pistons in the mock.
“I think it kind of depends what you’re going for,” Zeller said, acknowledging the contrast. “I think I’m more of a developed than him, I think he’s got a lot more potential. It’s something that you’ve just got to make sure you compare the two. It’ll be interesting to see where we end up.”