Is Andre Drummond better than Dwight Howard?

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Back before the regular season began, I posted an article that discussed how Andre Drummond’s play as a rookie might compare to how Dwight Howard performed in his first season (2004-05). At that point all we had to go on for comparisons was Drummond’s preseason play (9 points and 5.9 rebounds in 16.5 minutes per game). While he was impressive, we couldn’t be confident about how well any of those numbers would translate into the regular season. But for his first 17 games (Oct. – Nov.) Drummond’s playing time was about the same (17 mpg), and he posted slightly over 6 points and 6 boards an outing.

Before we look at his play in December, let’s pause to compare Drummond’s early stats to Dwight Howard’s performance. Howard became the first player in NBA history to come directly from high school and start all 82 games of his rookie year. He’s also the youngest player to ever average a double-double (12 points and 10 rebounds). He achieved those marks logging 32.6 minutes per game. That level of playing time is very unusual for such a young big man. Of all the 19 year old rookie bigs who have been top 10 picks since 2001, the only ones who have averaged over 30 mpg are Howard, Chris Bosh and Anthony Davis.

For 2004-05, Howard’s Per36 rookie numbers were 13.2 points and 11.1 rebounds. By comparison, Drummond’s Per36 numbers through November were 12.8 points and 12.7 rebounds. So Andre was already more productive per minute than Howard. Still, I think most of us would agree that we can’t project that Per36 stats will always hold up with more playing time. The only sure test is to see how a player actually produces when their playing time increases.

Fortunately, we have seen increased playing time for Drummond in December. He averaged 22 minutes per game for the month. While all of us would like to see him play even more, this is a significant increase of 5 mpg over his first month. So how has his productivity held up with the increased playing time? It’s gone up! For December, Drummond’s Per36 averages were 13 points and 13.5 caroms! Given that his actual production for December was over 8 points and 8 boards per game, it’s not unreasonable to think that he can start averaging a double-double if his playing time gets up to 27-28 minutes per game.

It’s unlikely that Drummond will finish the season with Howard’s 12 & 10 averages, because he’d have to average 15 & 12 from here on out. It’s doubtful that he’ll get enough playing time or offensive touches to produce points at that level. The rebounding total is more within his reach, because Drummond has been more effective on the glass than Howard was as a rookie.

In my preseason post, I looked at how consistently Howard played for the Magic in 2004-05 by separating out his 16 best performances from his 16 worst ones. Here is how those games compare with his overall stats:

Games Minutes Rebounds Reb./Per36 Points Pts./Per36
All 82 32.6 10.0 11.1 12.0 13.2
Best 16 36.1 14.2 14.2 18.9 18.8
Worst 16 30.0 6.4 7.7 6.4 7.7
Best/Worst Diff. -6.1 -7.8 -6.5 -12.5 -11.1

Now let’s do the same with Drummond’s play to date – dividing his first 33 games into the top 16 and the bottom 16 (I’ve intentionally omitted his first game in which he played only 6 minutes), and comparing them with his overall stats:

Games Minutes Rebounds Reb./Per36 Points Pts./Per36
All 33 19.5 7.1 13.1 7.0 13.0
Best 16 23.0 9.7 15.2 9.9 15.5
Worst 16 16.8 4.8 10.3 4.5 9.6
Best/Worst Diff. -6.2 -4.9 -4.9 -5.4 -5.9

What stands out to me is that playing time is what mostly separates Drummond’s "best" performances from his "worst." Per36, his best averages are 15.2 rebounds and 15.5 points. That production is certainly close to Howard’s bests of 18.8 and 14.2. But when you compare the Per36 averages for their worst 16 games, Drummond remains at a respectable level of 10.3 boards and 9.6 points. Whereas Howard’s averages dip to 7.7 rebounds and 7.7 points.

The biggest edge in production for Drummond is in rebounding. Since this was the area we were most concerned about going into the season, Pistons fans have to be especially encouraged. Again comparing their rookie years, Howard’s Total Rebound Percentage was 17.3%; Drummond’s is 20.7%. When we compare their Offensive Rating, Howard’s was 111; Drummond is at 115. Defensive Rating? Howard’s was 104; Drummond is 98. For Win Shares/48, Howard was .131; Drummond is at .185.

Based on their statistical production, I think a strong argument can be made that Andre Drummond is a better player than Dwight Howard was as a rookie. If the Pistons did not already have an accomplished starting center in Monroe, Drummond would certainly be starting. If he’d been selected by any of the teams that drafted prior to the Pistons nabbed him at #9, Drummond would probably already be their starting center. Like it or not, we Pistons fans will have to be patient waiting for the inevitable. But what has become increasingly clear is that when it comes to the original hype that Andre Drummond was a Dwight Howard-like talent, he IS as good (if not better) than advertised.

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