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Andre Drummond poised for breakout season

Even with his remarkable strides last year, Drummond is positioned to take even more steps forward in his third NBA season. Let's break down what to look for.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

A couple of weeks ago, Matt Moore of CBS Sports dove into the game tape to watch 700 plays by Brandon Jennings. This inspired me with the thought to do something similar, but less akin to self-flagellation: watch nearly every Andre Drummond field-goal attempt in his career.

I used the videos on NBA Stats, which is just an incredible free resource. It was easily the most fun thing I've done involving watching basketball in the past seven years. And in a summer filled with waiting for a resolution in Greg Monroe's free agency situation and Josh Smith trade rumors, focusing on Drummond's immense potential was a breath of fresh air.

The exercise brought to light a number of interesting observations. But two keys:

  • There are plenty of opportunities to get Drummond more touches, though not through post-ups.
  • Drummond is the motherlode of a gold pocket that could be mined with a leaf blower.

Drummond was an afterthought in the offense last year. There are plenty of figures in Drummond's Basketball Reference page that points to this fact, but it became even clearer after looking at the video.

While he saw a slight uptick in his field-goal attempts per minute, much of that came from his own doing as the percentage of his baskets that were assisted dropped from 62 percent to 57 percent. Seeing as how Drummond was in the midst of a breakout season and the team's most efficient player, ideally that number would have trended the other direction.

It's easy enough to see where the bulk of the unassisted shots came from, as Drummond had a prolific season on the offensive rebounds. He led the league with 440, 109 more than DeAndre Jordan had as the league's runner up.

NBA Stats offers a breakdown of each player's shot type, whether it was an alley-oop dunk, fadeaway jumper, running layup, etc. While this is terrific information, it's a bit too specific to immediately be able to make heads or tails of.

I sorted it out to three categories: one of plays that Drummond would have likely received assists from to create easy buckets like dunks and layups; skill plays such as hooks or jump shots; and one that would have came from offensive rebounds like tips or putbacks.

Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer were an incredible breed of incompetent.

From his rookie to sophomore season, his "easy shots" went from making up 65 percent of his attempts to 57 percent of his attempts. Meanwhile, his tips and putbacks went from 15 percent to a whopping 24 percent.

Taking these numbers from the box scores to the videos, it shows the story that Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer were an incredible breed of incompetent.

In Lawrence Frank's offense, the vast majority of Drummond's shot attempts came through the pick and roll. While we all remember the unstoppable Bynum and Drummond pairing, he was just as dangerous when he wasn't the roll man. With Stuckey or Bynum attacking the rim off the pick Drummond's man would often provide the weakside help, leaving him wide open for the easy basket.

Whether it was Moose, Drummond, or Charlie Villanueva setting the screen, it was almost too easy.


But the high screen and roll was where it was at. Much has been made of Bynum and Drummond's connection, but it was a thing of beauty - nearly impossible to defend. Thanks to Bynum's aggressive drives, he forced Drummond's man onto him. And Drummond routinely set fantastic picks while rolling with the guard on his hip and sticking with the roll until the end for wide open alley oops. You've seen the basic plenty of times:


While Bynum received more notoriety, Drummond also worked surprisingly well with Stuckey under Frank.

You can shut Drummond down on the high screen and roll, but that means that you've left a three-point threat wide open. Under Frank, the Pistons did a much better job of spacing things out so the ball-handler could dish off to Daye or Singler. But even when they stopped Drummond on the high pick and roll once, it caused enough commotion for the defense that they still weren't out of the woods:


Also with Greg Monroe as the key cog in the offense, things ran much more smoothly. There seemed to be little validation to the concern that the two suffered from a lack of spacing. Despite playing alongside each other only for 36 percent of Drummond's overall minutes for the season, Monroe still accounted for 18 percent of Drummond's assisted shots. Bynum and Rodney Stuckey accounted for the majority, combining for 60 percent.

Here's a great example of how difficult the pair was to defend, particularly off a screen and roll:


It's tough to find any rotation that Boston makes on that play that effectively covers both Moose and Drummond and doesn't leave a wing wide open for three.

Wasted opportunity last year

But last year, the pick and roll essentially disappeared in favor of an isolation and motion driven offense. When the players were committed to ball movement, this worked. They weren't often committed to ball movement, especially as the season progressed.

By the end of the year, Drummond was only touching the ball if he made it happen himself.

It didn't help that Drummond never seemed to develop the same chemistry with Brandon Jennings as he did with Bynum or even Stuckey. As a distributor, Jennings focused most of his attention on Monroe and Smith who accounted for nearly half of his assists. Drummond was closer to Kyle Singler on Jennings' list of priorities.

To illustrate the point, in the 1,899 minutes Jennings and Drummond played alongside each other, Jennings facilitated only 93 assists to Drummond -- or one every 20 minutes. In Bynum and Drummond's 633 minutes, Bynum facilitated 50 assists -- one every 12 minutes.

By the end of the year, Drummond was only touching the ball if he made it happen himself. It was a pretty incredible display of working his ass off for every single bucket. A sample:


Drummond did that about 187 times last season.

In the midst of a breakout season, Drummond's usage rate dropped.

In the midst of a breakout season, Drummond's usage rate dropped. I'm going to say that again: as the season progressed and Drummond was putting up 13 and 13 a night, racked up 30 points and 25 rebounds in the Rising Stars game, his usage rate dropped. From the All-Star break until April, his usage rate dropped from 16.6 percent to 15.6 percent.

As the season progressed, instead of looking for more ways to get Drummond involved, Cheeks and Loyer actually allowed him to become less involved in the offense and instead empowered their least efficient offensive players. They were truly awful head coaches.

So what should we be looking for next year under Stan Van Gundy?

We've heard a lot about the high pick and roll. D.J. Augustin in particular was singled out by Stan Van Gundy by saying, "He's one of the best high pick-and-roll players in the league." That's a real good thing.

Augustin as a three-point threat only adds an additional wrinkle that should make the play even more difficult to defend. Also noteworthy is that Augustin quickly developed a strong pick and roll connection with the Bulls' big men. Whether it was on a pop to Boozer, a cut to Noah, or either with Gibson, he showed the ability to create for each.

An interesting thing to watch will be how Augustin delivers to Drummond. He mostly sent the ball to his big men via the bounce pass, but Drummond seems to love the ball high.

But whether the pick and roll is starting high or low, initiated through a guard or forward, expect to see a lot of it this season.

There's also a tremendous potential for involvement from his fellow big men, whether it's Monroe or even that Smith fellow.

While Monroe's overall usage and passing numbers dropped as the offense shifted away from him as a facilitator, he was still able to hook up with Drummond relatively often. As a whole, either Smith or Monroe facilitated more than a quarter of Drummond's buckets -- and that was without a real offense. If Moose is able to return his passing numbers to his previous level and Smith is outlawed from poor shots (a much bigger if), Drummond stands to be an absolute terror on the weakside cuts.

Monroe and Drummond have always seemed relatively natural for these kinds of connections, particularly with Moose operating from the elbow:


But Smith and Drummond also worked early in the season as well, before these passes turned to forced/missed shots by Smith:


Both big men (and Smith especially) were also excellent with Drummond in transition opportunities.

It's easy to envision an element of the offense that focuses on Monroe or Smith attacking the rim, taking what the defense gives them. If no help comes, they can look for their shot -- and if it does, it means an easy dish to Dre.

And if the defense sags off to challenge either to take the mid-range jumper, it only means a passing lane opens up for a Drummond cut:


Also expect for Drummond's put-backs to remain an important part of his offense. These buckets earned him about three points per game last season, not even taking into account trips to the line.

Finisher, not a creator

But what should not play a role in the offense this year is the idea of Drummond as a back-to-the-basket player. The goal should be to facilitate touches for Drummond, not for him to create them himself.

He had some success with his hook shot, converting about 55 percent on them, but that's on a quite small sample -- and the goal should be to emphasize what he does extremely well, not what he does decently.

With Stan Van Gundy taking the reins for the Pistons, the natural comparison has been Dwight Howard. But Howard already had a usage rate over 22 percent when Van Gundy took over the Magic, eventually surging as high as 26 percent. Drummond's career high at this point is 17 percent.

Part of what helped Howard was his passing ability -- an area of Drummond's game that is pretty nonexistent at this point. He took a step backward as a passer last year. Granted, that's partly because of the terrible offense and how much traffic he had to deal with. Still, he finished with the third-lowest assist percentage in the league among regulars, behind only Bismack Biyombo and Chris Anderson.

That's an important point about the idea of a four out, one in system. In addition to not having the post skills to take advantage of the isolation, he also doesn't have the passing skills to pass out of trouble. And with his current strength as a finisher rather than a creator, a two in, three out system alongside a passing big man makes all the sense in the world.

Additionally if you're operating mostly out of a high pick and roll, surrounding Drummond with only shooters means that you're going to have all five players opening a set outside of the three point line. Instead of creating more space, the opposite is actually being accomplished.

In all likelihood, dumping the ball to Drummond and letting him go to work will only result in a drop in scoring efficiency and an increase in turnovers. And let's not even talk about him developing a jumper. According to NBA stats, Drummond shot only 8 of 66 on jump shots, good for a 12 percent field-goal percentage.

What Drummond does extremely well is run the pick and roll, both keeping the defender on his hip and staying with the play to its completion, filling the lane, timing cuts, and using his combination of explosive leaping ability and reliable hands to finish. These are the skills that the offense should be built around.

He'll almost certainly be flirting with 20 points per game to go along with his 13 rebounds

The important thing is that he doesn't need to put up shots in volume to post some fantastic numbers. Just implementing an offense that plays to his strength, it'd be a piece of cake to get him four or five more shots per game. If that happens, he'll almost certainly be flirting with 20 points per game to go along with his 13 rebounds. And that's with a rather modest shot attempt increase.

Last season he was already fourth in the league in wins produced, only two behind league leader Kevin Durant, despite being a forgotten man. Another significant jump this year could put him firmly in superstar territory.

For a guy who just turned 21, that's pretty damn good. Let's get there, then worry about expanding his game.

Since agreeing to take the Pistons job, Van Gundy has shined the spotlight on Drummond, which should, for the first time in his career, take full advantage of his tremendous talents. "The sky is the limit is a phrase" overused for prospects, but that's the case for Drummond this season.