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Andre Drummond’s broken post game could sink breakout season

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If Drummond continues to go to the post game at the volume of the past two seasons, it could undermine what looks to be a breakout year.

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Andre Drummond is the worst post-up player in the NBA. Perhaps there are less-skilled post-up players, but there's no one in the league who posts up more and produces less than Andre Drummond. Not even close.

Perhaps this isn't the lede you'd expect to an article during the breakout season for the Pistons' franchise player. Drummond's overall tremendous play this season includes his first Player of the Week honors, some terrific back-of-the-basketball-card numbers, domination of the boards, and some of the best defense the Pistons have seen out of a big man since Ben Wallace in his prime.

But, oh, that post-up game.

His struggles in the post up game could be what prevents him from being anointed the best center in the league. Wins produced per 48 minutes and win shares per 48 minutes both shrug at his improved numbers due to his big drop in scoring efficiency. This area of the game is single handedly and significantly torching his efficiency, and hurting his team on offense.

Drummond is currently shooting 49 percent from the field, a career low. Of his 63 shot attempts, 23 have come from the post. He's made only six. That's 26 percent. If he hadn't attempted one post up this season, he'd be shooting 63 percent.

He's scoring 18.7 points per 36 minutes (15 shots, 10 free throws). On five fewer shots per 36 and half as many free throws in 2013-14, Drummond was able to generate 15 points per 36. In other words, his three extra points this season are coming at a terrible cost.

Even worse, everyone on the floor knows these shots are doomed before they even leave his hand. They have been extremely ugly. While he's occasionally able to generate a decent look, the vast majority of his attempts have been rushed, low-percentage looks that are less shot and more flung toward the hoop.

It's almost like the goal is just to get Drummond as many touches as he can, and maybe he'll just figure out how to not stink at them anymore along the way. Which wouldn't be the most deliberate strategy for development.

But part of the problem seems to be with Drummond. Going back to a preseason article from Vince Ellis in the Detroit Free Press:

"Seated courtside, one could hear Van Gundy yelling for Drummond to pass when the Pacers aggressively sent a second defender when he caught the ball in the post. Drummond stubbornly drilled a hole in the floor with his dribble mostly, determined to get a shot up."

Part of it may be some selfish play, perhaps there's an eye toward a maximum contract coming up next summer, but there's also probably a lot of history at play with Drummond as well.

***

"If he develops a post game ... "

It's been a thought that has followed Drummond since he was the No. 2 high school recruit in his class, behind only Anthony Davis. When Drummond was 16 years old, Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress wrote:

On the downside, Drummond is still very much a raw prospect who would clearly struggle against high-level competition at this juncture. He has very little idea how to establish position in the paint and use his amazing body to his advantage, lacking a great deal in the ways of footwork and post-moves and struggling with basic concepts like passing out of the post and respecting the spacing of his team's half-court offense. He doesn't appear to be the type of player whom everything comes naturally for, sporting somewhat of an average IQ that is likely further accentuated by his lack of experience and all-around polish.

Three years later, that lack of offensive polish took a toll on his stock. After spending most of his time as a consensus top-two pick, his projected draft position dropped steadily during a lackluster freshman season at Connecticut.

Drummond finished the season averaging 10 points on 51 percent true shooting, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks. Scouts loved his rebounding, particularly on the offensive end, and he was one of the best defenders in the NCAA despite being only a freshman. But that offense ...

DraftExpress wrote:

When he did receive the ball with his back to the basket, Drummond was generally ineffective in post-up situations, converting just 22 of his 68 (32%) field goal attempts this season according to Synergy Sports Technology. Besides not knowing how to establish deep post-position, his footwork, countermoves and off-hand lack significant polish, while his jump-hook is not a consistent weapon at all yet, as he appears to possess just average touch. Drummond has an odd habit of trying to shoot an odd two-handed turn-around jumper instead of a traditional hook, which is easily blockable due to its very low release point.

Thankfully, the Pistons benefited from Jim Calhoun not knowing how to use Drummond at UConn. Drummond dropped to the ninth pick, behind such notable players as Dion Waiters and Thomas Robinson.

Drummond thrived with the increased spacing in the NBA, which helps most centers do their best work while facing the basket. Take Tyson Chandler, for instance.

***

Chandler entered the league straight out of high school as a big, skinny, versatile prospect. But he struggled in his early years in Chicago as part of the failed Baby Bulls experiment. After six years with the Bulls, Chandler was shipped to the Hornets for P.J. Brown and J.R. Smith.

As a member of the Hornets, Chandler started on his path of focusing more on lobs, rebounding, and defense than trying to become a prototypical big man. Eventually, Chandler was dumped again to the Bobcats in a cost-cutting move for Emeka Okafor.

The next season he was traded again, landing in Dallas where, finally, after a decade in the league, Chandler was able to fit in and complement the players around him. Since then, each year he has been one of the most efficient and most effective centers in the league.

He talked about how he was brought along and the difficulty of shifting between multiple coaches, emphasis added:

"When they drafted me and Eddy [Curry], there should have been more of an understanding of how we were going to grow. If you're going to take two young players like that and the franchise is going to depend on their development, you have to make sure that we develop and that our confidence continues to develop in whatever facet of the game they thought we could be best at. That didn't necessarily happen. Three different coaches [Tim Floyd, Bill Cartwright and Scott Skiles] had three different opinions, so it was all so up and down."

***

This brings us back to Drummond.

When Dre came into the league, the expectations in his first year were to perhaps be able to get some chances to see the court, but mostly minimal. Memories of Darko Milicic were still too fresh about what a raw center looked like for optimism to be too rampant. But Drummond exploded in the preseason, demonstrating a particularly strong connection with veteran backup point guard Will Bynum.

Coach Lawrence Frank recognized the pair's connection, particularly in the pick-and-roll game, and emphasized it. Even to the point of alienating a key young player in Jonas Jerebko by switching him out of the rotation in favor of Charlie Villanueva's quicker trigger on the three point shot. Frank recognized Drummond's ability as a finisher, noticed the fact that this guy with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, 33-inch vertical, quick hops and an outstanding ability to track the ball, he could make a pretty good finisher.

Drummond built on a successful rookie season with an even more successful sophomore campaign. He had a new coach in Mo Cheeks, who focused less on creating pick-and-roll opportunities for Drummond. But Dre made up for it by leading the league in offensive reboundings, creating chances for touches on his own.

Over those two first seasons, Drummond averaged 14.6 points per 36 minutes on 59 percent true shooting. Last season he averaged 16.3 points per 36 minutes on 50 percent true shooting.

The difference? Another new coach, this one wanting to expand Drummond's game to include post up abilities. That same thing that led to him being an inefficient player in college.

***

Last season Drummond finished 12th in the league in post-up field goal attempts. Ahead of the likes of Tim Duncan, Kevin Love, and Brook Lopez. He was awful at them. Drummond averaged .69 points per possession, a far cry from the elites like Greg Monroe at .87 or Al Jefferson at .93. And in the instances that Drummond was able to get good looks, opposing defenders could just make him earn them at the line, where he shot 39 percent.

Among players with as high of a volume of post-up attempts as Drummond, he was by far the worst. Stan Van Gundy knew that Drummond's post game would be a work in progress, and the assumption was that he was working to build Dre up as a post presence similar to Dwight Howard during SVG's days in Orlando.

But think back to Chandler's phrase again, particularly "whatever facet of the game they thought we could be best at." Is the post game really the facet of the game Drummond can be best at? So far in Drummond's career, when his coaches have focused on using him as a finisher, he's been a highly efficient player. When focused on using him as a post threat, an inefficient player.

Post ups represented 27.5 percent of Drummond's offensive game last season. As mentioned earlier, he averaged .69 points per possession (PPP). Serving as the roll man in the pick-and-roll represented 10.6 percent of his offense and he averaged 1.18 PPP. Cuts represented 11.4 percent of his offense and he averaged 1.09 PPP. Being the monster on the offensive boards that he is, putbacks represented 31.1 percent of his offense and he averaged .96 PPP. 10.6 percent of his offense actually came in transition opportunities, where he averaged 1.19 PPP. He actually had more points in transition than in the pick-and-roll.

Here's that info in a chart:

Drummond Poss FGA Points PPP
Pick-and-roll 132 104 156 1.18
Post up 344 279 237 0.69
Cuts 143 117 156 1.09
Putbacks 388 337 372 0.96
Transition 132 103 157 1.19

And here's a pie graph for where Drummond's offense went.

***

I get the appeal for getting Drummond more involved in the post game. It gets him more touches as the game goes along. It's traditionally what you think of when it comes to post player's offense. But there are better options that align with his best skill set as a finisher.

Now, it's probably not going to come in transition or putback opportunities. Drummond already gets up the floor as well as anyone his size and he leads the league by a huge margin in putbacks. But there's plenty of potential in increasing his touches off of cuts and the pick-and-roll. Drummond's 143 possessions off cuts were far behind the league leader, Derrick Favors at 269.

The ability to step out for a jumper out of the pick-and-roll helps for generating attempts, so Drummond's probably never going to lead the league in that category. But Favors isn't a shooter either and still managed 247 possessions, a good jump over Drummond's 132. Even Greg Monroe had more possessions as the roll man than Drummond. But three per game for one of the league's best in an offense built around the play should be a minimal expectation.

So if Drummond were to be among the league leaders at those two aspects of the game, it'd mean 241 extra possessions. And a more efficient 241 possessions than force feeding Drummond in the post game.

Focusing on developing those two areas worked for Favors who jumped to a 16 point per game player on 55.8 percent true shooting last season. And this year, he's even managed to start building out a post game as well.

***

Warning: we're getting to the GIFs now. There's a lot of them, so you may need to give them some time to load.

Moreover, focusing on these two areas would help his teammates too. When Drummond is focusing on establishing his position in the post, he's following the ball.

That means that there's no opportunity for the wing to attack the rim. Pretty much the only option is feeding Dre in the post, a play that has produced .46 points per possession on the season. But take a look at what happens when Aron Baynes sets himself up on the weak side as a finisher.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is able to take advantage of the defense rotating off the pick-and-roll to attack the rim, read the weak side help, and dump off to Baynes when Gibson commits. Caldwell-Pope is bound to end up with a chance to finish (where he converts at 60 percent), a trip to the line, or an assist. Those are much better outcomes than a .46 points per possession play.

Drummond could do the same thing. Also something Monroe did very well was, if KCP in this situation did not put the ball on the floor, slip from behind the defense to establish his post position more easily rather than just staying engaged all the way around the post.

But there are times that having a post threat in an offense is a necessity. Fortunately, the Pistons have one. His name is Marcus Morris. Morris is averaging more than double Drummond's points per possession, 1.00 to .46.

***

Perhaps most concerning about Drummond's post-up game is that despite the emphasis on developing it, despite all of the work of the coaching, he's not getting any better at it. His shooting percentages are still at the same level that they were four years ago, when he was a raw freshman at Connecticut.

That's not to say that he won't get any better and that the post up game will never make up a part of his game. Just that the current approach isn't working. Perhaps Stan Van Gundy and company could identify a few spots where Drummond is able to work in the post successfully, shooting about 45-50 percent. Drummond could focus on trying to get to those spots consistently, then broaden out once he's established a foundation of success. After all, you don't get better by just doing stuff, whether it works or not. You improve by doing the right thing, doing it well, and doing it with repetition.

So far we've really only seen one move that Drummond has consistently generated strong looks through. It starts on the left block, Drummond spins to his left to get off a hook with his strong hand.

So long as he's in or very near the restricted area, these have generally been decent looks that could serve as that foundation for Drummond. Too far away though, and it turns into a line drive. Those should be avoided.

Also added to the avoid list has been his baseline hook. Drummond looks like he's established it to be able to use as a counter-move on the left block when his strong hand is shut off or as a chance to use his strong hand on the right side of the court. Either way, the results have been terrible. Those should be avoided.

What's particularly bad about these shots is that Dre often goes baseline because a defender is coming down to take away the interior of the court, where Drummond generates quality looks. When Mirotic brings that help, Drummond ignores a wide open Ilyasova to take a low-percentage shot. This has been an unfortunate pattern to open this season.

When you watch Monroe operate from the post, you see a series of entry passes, passes back out, jab steps, spins, and pump fakes before he gets off an attempt close to the bucket.

You don't see that with Drummond. There's usually just one entry pass and Drummond puts it up whether the look is there or not.

Those should be avoided.

Drummond needs to be able to re-establish his position and utilize his footwork to be able to generate a strong look. But for a guy with Drummond's high center of gravity who has always had a natural awkwardness in the post, that's going to be a long time in the making. He also needs to be able to kick out when the look isn't' there, something he's lacked either the inclination or ability to do so far.

Tuesday night's game represented a step forward for Drummond. Instead of just settling in on the block and trying to create his own scoring opportunities through the post, he found creative ways to serve as a finisher. He was more discriminating about his post up chances, which meant that the ones he went to work on were better opportunities than through games 1-3.

While Drummond continues to grow in his post game, it's best for both the short-term and long-term development of Drummond and for the Pistons' chances to be competitive for him to focus on generating these shots where he's most successful, whether in the post game or elsewhere.