Andre Drummond is a huge, young, and supremely athletic center, one of the most valued commodities in the NBA. He also led all rookies last season in PER.
These statements would seem to be at odds with each other, but given the current nature of the league, both from an on-court perspective and a financial one, there are plenty of reasons for Joe Dumars to look into such a move. The major on court reason, of course, is spacing. While Drummond could eventually become the rare big man who is able to create spacing from the inside out (we’ll get to this a bit later), he currently is a spacing liability, and adding Smith to the mix will make it difficult to breath for the Pistons frontcourt featuring Greg Monroe along with Smith and Drummond.
Nonetheless, Drummond is a rare talent who could be a game changer in the league for many years or the next Andris Biedrins, depending on how things fall. Let’s look at where he’s at now, and lay out the path for how he could wind up at both of these extremes.
Usually when profiling a player I like to start with their offense, but Drummond is a special case. His raw physical talents lend themselves well to this part of the game, and during his rookie season there were a lot of positive markers, chief among them strong block numbers – he was top 10 in blocks per minute among guys who played over 500 minutes.
Most of these blocks don’t come from flying in out of nowhere from the weak side; no, he is usually guarding the post or taking a step or two across the paint to disrupt the shot. This has a few different effects. First, the ball usually stays in play because he doesn’t feel the need to send the ball flying into the 15th row, and ensuring that either he or one of his teammates has a chance to grab the ball and start a fastbreak.
The second benefit of Drummond’s blocks coming from around the rim is more of a long term one; either he will keep getting these blocks, or offenses will start avoiding the paint when he is on the floor. Either of these outcomes is great for the defense, but the latter would have the extra benefit of saving Drummond a few fouls. A high foul rate was one of the few issues he faced last season, but it wasn’t astronomically high and will likely decrease as he learns more about how to position himself and offenses begin showing him the respect he is in the process of earning.
Away from the basket Drummond is almost as dangerous. He posted very solid steals numbers, mostly by using his length and anticipation to attack passing lanes. When a shot does go up chances are he will corral it, as he was in the top 10 in defensive rebound rate as well.
The tools are all there for Drummond to be very, very good, if not elite, when the other team has the ball. Given that, it’s somewhat surprising that he was ranked as a middle of the pack defender by Synergy, and his on-off numbers show no difference in Detroit’s defense whether he was on the floor or off it last season. There could be a lot of reasons for these on-off numbers, but this wasn’t exactly a roster replete with defensive talent to skew the data.
Most likely these mediocre rankings are a result of Drummond’s lack of experience and small sample sizes, but it bears watching over the next few years.
Let’s go ahead and tackle the elephant in the room – in order for Drummond to become anything approaching a star in the league he will have to improve his free throw shooting. The 37% success rate he managed in his rookie season was somehow an improvement over the sub-30% mark from his lone season at UConn, giving hope that if he can add 8% to his percentage each year he can become passable by the start of the 2015-16 season.
At 37% any Hack-a-Drummond strategy (someone please come up with a better name for this) will yield about a .74 offensive efficiency rating (it could be higher factoring in rebounded misses, but with Drummond at the line the team will be much smaller on the boards). To put that in perspective, running a pick and roll for Kendrick Perkins carries the same success rate.
Drummond will only need to improve his shooting to “meh” levels in order to remove the value in fouling him. At, say, 55% intentional fouling him as soon as he touches the ball would give his team slightly better than a 1.10 offensive efficiency, which is Miami or Oklahoma City territory.
Without an improvement in this area Drummond runs the risk of becoming a DeAndre Jordan (or the aforementioned Biedrins) clone offensively. He would be forced to sit for long stretches at the end of games and could run the risk of having savvy coaches hack him at all times to force him from the game, limiting his minutes to the mid-20s.
Now that that’s out of the way, time for the fun part of Drummond’s offensive game – everything else.
It can take years for a post player to learn the intricacies of the pick and roll, but Drummond is already highly effective setting a pick, rolling to the basket, and finishing. He has a knack for maintaining the same level on the floor as the ballhandler, selectively speeding up or slowing down to keep passing lanes open while simultaneously finding creases in the defense to slip into.
When the ballhandler wants to find Drummond, all he has to do is toss the ball into the general area of the basket and let Andre do the rest. Obviously a better pass will more often lead to a desirable result, but Drummond can reel them in from anywhere. Having a better on-the-move point guard in Brandon Jennings should help him get the ball in better position, but it doesn’t totally matter where the pass is so long as it is within five feet of the basket.
It’s performing this action that can eventually give Drummond the rare ability to drag the defense in around him every time he is the roll man. Tyson Chandler has this ability, as does Dwight Howard, and it can give a team a ton of interesting options. The biggest obvious benefit is that the ballhandler has open passing lanes to the perimeter and can use fakes and simple dribbling tricks to scare a defense into overplaying Drummond. From a broader team strategy perspective it will be easy to force a defense into compromising positions by using a Drummond pick and roll as a lead-in to another action.
Off ball work is a little trickier, but again Drummond demonstrated a talent for easing into open spaces and finding ways to get open or otherwise do damage by lingering around the basket. One of his big tricks last year was operating from out of bounds to create space, but with the rule change preventing players from standing out of bounds he’ll have to find new ways to stay out of the way when he isn’t part of the primary action. Finding space will be tough with Smith and Jennings around, and not being able to hide out of bounds will definitely make it tougher, but Drummond is an intuitive cutter and a very good offensive rebounder, both of which will come in handy cleaning up for the rest of the offense or flashing into the paint to catch the quick backdoor passes that can give a defense fits.
All in all, Drummond should be a plus on offense in spite of his lack of shooting, both from the field and the line. Defensively he could be a difference maker as soon as opening night. He has work to do, especially with his free throw shooting, but he has the potential to be one of the best centers in the game in very short order. In the meantime, the rest of us can just sit back and enjoy the show.