It's no secret that the Detroit Pistons have dramatically improved under the tutelage of Stan Van Gundy. We've seen both Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson take the next step in their young careers, averaging career highs in points per game, assists per game (Jackson) and rebounds per game (Drummond), which is a necessity if this team is going to cause any damage in the playoffs and possibly threaten the kings of the conference in the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Yet this team has plenty of room to improve if they're going to be taken seriously as contenders in the postseason. In order for this team to reach its full potential, Drummond's offense needs to continue to get better and one specific area that needs improvement might be his (non-existent) passing game.
The key to the Pistons new-found success is due to their roster mirroring a blue-print of a typical Stan Van Gundy team. They've added shooters who can hit the three, or at least be enough of a threat that you can't leave them wide open, like Ersan Ilyasova, Reggie Jackson, Anthony Tolliver, Jodie Meeks and Marcus Morris. As Detroit Bad Boys’ own Mike Payne beautifully described, the Pistons have adopted the 1 in, 4 out philosophy; the paramount feature of an SVG-style offense, with Andre Drummond being the All-Star Big Man like he had in Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal.
Van Gundy has made it a point to get Drummond involved in the offense, early and often, but one thing has stood out to me while watching him operate on the block: He rarely kicks the ball out once he catches the ball down low, no matter what the scenario. It doesn’t matter if there is pressure coming from a wing defender, or if he's failed to establish strong enough position to make for a high percentage shot. If the ball is passed down to Drummond on the block, he's going to shoot.
The numbers support this. On 247 possessions in the post, Drummond has shot the ball 207 times. That means 84% of the time he’s collecting the ball down-low, a shot’s going up, and he’s not converting at a high rate either. Drummond is only averaging 39.6 FG% in post-up possessions, while turning the ball over 8.5% of the time (god, I love NBA’s synergy stats).
If you look further into Drummond’s offensive possessions, particularly his two-point field goals, you can see even more issues arise. Since Andre's two-point field goals are not guaranteed to be post-up possessions, I am reading into them as best as possible, so work with me here. The longer he holds onto the ball, the more likely the chance he’ll miss the shot. That's also not good.
When Drummond does not dribble the ball on a field goal attempt, i.e. alley-oops, shots off offensive rebounds, and quick decision baby hooks, he's averaging a very efficient 57.4% FG. When Drummond takes one dribble his average drops to 42.7%, when he takes two dribbles his average slightly increases to 47.2%, BUT when he’s really working in the post and dribbling the ball 3-6 times his field goal percentage plummets to 37.5%. The vast majority of these 3-6 dribble possessions are going to be post-up plays, since Drummond isn’t the kind of player to square up, or create his own shot while facing his man in the post-area.
Sometimes as a big, you have to continue to work down low and rely on your strength to get closer to the basket making for an easier shot, but sometimes you have to realize the shot’s not there and it’s a better option to kick it out and give the offensive possession another go. This philosophy is even more important for Drummond since Van Gundy has surrounded him with floor-spacers who can all hit the three (and one special player who can carve up any defense… looking at you Reggie).
Now if you look at a guy like Marc Gasol, the league leader in post-up possessions; the cream of the crop when it comes to post-up players, he’s shooting a conservative 72% of the time during a post-up possession (compare that to Drummond’s 84% shooting frequency). When the cornerstone of your offense is a selfless player, who moves the rock, it dramatically helps your team's overall offense. The Memphis Grizzlies are currently 17th in the NBA in team assist rate, below average, but some of their assists are coming from Gasol passing the ball out of the post, which puts more pressure on the defense, and improves the chances of finding an open shooter.
Andre Drummond currently averages less than one assist per game, but more importantly than his personal stats, his lack of passing has affected his teams play. The Detroit Pistons are dead last in team assist rate, and don't seem to be improving in that category any time soon. I know Drummond may never be as great a passer as Marc Gasol (3.8 assists per game), but if he instilled better habits in his game, especially when he’s still developing, that could prove to pay huge dividends throughout his playing career.
Now this may sound outrageously obvious, but passing the ball IS ball movement, and I don’t mean that in the singular sense, one player passing the ball to another. But in a contagious sense, one player kicking the ball out, the receiving player passing it around the arc, until you find an open shooter, a cutting body, or frankly just a better shot. If you’re doubled-teamed, someone’s open. If you can’t get established, kick it out. The point of a possession is to find the best shot, not the first shot. These are fundamental rules of basketball that should be understood if you’re playing in a CYO, AAU or NBA game. If Drummond is able to realize when it’s time to kick the ball out, we may finally see THIS Detroit Pistons team reach its full potential.
As a closing thought, this article is not to convince the masses (and you Stan Van Gundy, I know you’re reading this!) that the Pistons should stop passing the ball to Andre down-low. On the contrary, I believe we should keep passing him the ball, allow him to shoot, but coach him to realize where he’s at on the floor, where the pressure is coming from, and if the shot isn’t there, that it’s OK to pass it out. I believe this would dramatically improve the Pistons current assist per game average -- currently averaging 19/game, good for a dismal 27th in the league -- and make them a more complete and competitive team. A team that no one will want to see in the postseason.