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2016 Detroit Pistons preview: Drummond broke out, but still has more work to do

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Now that he’s paid like a star, this will tell us much about Andre Drummond’s actual star status.

Art by Christopher Daniels

In many ways, 2015-16 was Andre Drummond’s breakout season. He made his first appearance in the All Star game. He was third team All NBA. NBA Player of the Week twice. He helped the Detroit Pistons to their best season in eight years.

Drummond set career highs in his point and rebounding numbers, also recording five games where he eclipsed the 20 point-20 rebound mark.

Dre has been a dominant rebounder since the moment he first set foot on the court and he’s somehow managed to improve each of his four years in the league. In the past it had always been his ability on the offensive boards that set Drummond apart, but last season he also became just as dominant on the defensive glass. His 34.2 defensive rebounding percentage was the highest mark in the league by a considerable margin. He also led the league in offensive rebounds, pulling in 127 more than second place. 127 is a lot of offensive rebounds.

Drummond’s 1198 rebounds last season were the third most in franchise history for a single season, only seven fewer than Bob Lanier in 1973. For a franchise with such storied rebounders as Dennis Rodman, Ben Wallace, Lanier, and Bill Laimbeer, it’s a remarkable accomplishment for Drummond.

Over the past four years, Drummond has proven to be one of those rare players who can be transformational for a team. Whose game establishes the team’s identity. Last season, the Pistons had a clunky offense. They were 29th in the league in assist percentage and 28th in true shooting percentage.

Yet thanks to Drummond’s dominance on the boards the Pistons fielded a league average offense, 15th in offensive rating. Drummond collecting those extra possessions helped the Pistons to finish fifth in the league in field goal attempts per game despite playing at a relatively slow pace. Over the course of the season, the Pistons averaged 2.2 more field goal attempts and 4.5 more free throw attempts than their opponents.

Andre Drummond is the Pistons’ competitive advantage.

***

So what’s next for the 22 year old center?

You might recall last season I wrote that "Andre Drummond’s broken post game could sink breakout season." Well Drummond was still able to pull off his breakout, but his inefficiency was still a stain on it.

Drummond’s true shooting percentage (which factors in free throws and three point shots) was a career low 49.9 percent. The league average true shooting percentage for big men is 54.4 percent. Despite the career highs in several marks and team success, he had career lows in his per minute win share and wins produced figures.

Only one player in the entire league took as many shots as Drummond last season but finished with a worse true shooting percentage: Kobe Bryant.

That’s a big deal. Despite the breakout in accolades, don’t be fooled that Drummond became a "star" last season. Stars don’t hang out with true shooting figures 4.5 percentage points below the position’s normal.

It’s easy to blame Hack-A-Dre for his scoring inefficiency numbers. And they did play a role. He saw his number of free throw attempts shoot up from 4.5 to 7.2 per game. But they didn’t really make that much of a difference.

If Drummond had shot the same number of free throws that he did the previous season, his true shooting percentage would have been 50.5 percent. The surge in Hack-A-Dre accounted for about a half of a percent drop in his true shooting percentage. We still only would have seen Bryant as the only player with a lower TS with as many shot attempts.

The biggest issue was once again his performance in the post. Drummond led the league in field goal attempts on post ups with 336, but shot only 39.6 percent. His .73 points per possession on post ups was a miniscule improvement over 2014-15’s .69 points per possession.

I think this pretty much sums it up:

FG FGA FG%
Post up 133 336 39.58%
Putback 175 297 58.92%
PnR 96 154 62.34%
Other 148 273 54.21%
Total 552 1060 52.08%

That’s a problem. And it’s made a severe impact on his overall effectiveness. So Drummond made the All Star and All NBA teams for the first time last season. So last year was his best season as a pro, right? Win shares disagrees. Drummond’s win shares per 48 minutes has been:

2013-14: .182
2014-15: .147
2015-16: .133

That WS/48 figure from last season is 23rd among centers with at least 500 minutes, puts Drummond between Dwight Howard and Timofey Mozgov. Even wins produced, which places a higher emphasis on rebounding, shows a declining figure for Drummond and has 10 centers ahead of him in wins produced per 48 minutes. That same metric figured Drummond as a top 10 player in the league in 2013-14.

Any advanced metric you look at, whether it’s WS, WP, PER, BPM, VORP, they all say the same thing: Andre Drummond was better in 2013-14 than he was last season.

***

So let’s assume Hack-A-Dre is here to stay in some shape or another and eight free throw attempts per game is his new normal. And that there’s no magic wand (or magic virtual reality) for his free throw woes.

In order to hit that league average true shooting mark for centers, Drummond would need to shoot 58 percent from the field to get to 54.4 percent TS. Last year he shot 52 percent from the field. That’s a huge jump, especially when he’s taking a whole bunch of shots that he makes less than 40 percent of the time.

Like last season, there isn’t any player who comes near Drummond’s number of touches in the post and has a comparable point per possession figure or field goal percentage. Like last season, it could be argued that he’s the worst post player in the league.

That’s what I said about him last year. It was the first sentence of the post. It may still be true, but this summer it isn’t a claim I would make as strongly. He had perhaps the worst post performance in the league (though Alex Len may have usurped that title) - but he showed signs of improvement that were more compelling than a .04 points per possession increase.

For the first time in his career, Drummond showed some actual flashes of competence in the post. Through his first three seasons and his single season in college, Drummond going to work in the post was a clumsy undertaking.

He still needs to show more improvement in his skill if he’s going to be among the league leaders in shot attempts out of post up situations. And this is no longer a debate of whether Drummond should be focusing on post ups as a major part of his game - at this point, it is what it is.

So what’s Drummond’s path for improvement as a post up player? That’s been the question I’ve been investigating for the majority of the summer. And honestly, I don’t have great answers.

Perhaps the most interesting thing that I’ve somewhat ruled out has been shot distance from the basket. Now, closer shots are typically easier. So it’s probably in Drummond’s best interest to work to generate shots closer to the basket. And it seemed like Drummond had the most success when he received the ball deep, either in or close to the paint.

But last year it didn’t really seem to matter in the numbers whether Drummond was taking a shot from 3 feet away or 8 feet away - he was going to make them at about 40 percent. Foot by foot in between, there was virtually no difference from each of the spots on the floor for him last season (by the way, if you haven’t checked out Peter Beshai’s visualization work, click that link and explore - it’s great stuff).

Buckets by Peter Beshai

We talked plenty last year about Drummond’s need to establish post position closer to the basket, and while it may still prove to be true in his improvement, the numbers suggest it is something of a non-factor at this point.

I wish I had something objective that I could point to, to say this is what Drummond needs to do differently to be successful in the post. But I don’t. The biggest area that I see Drummond’s need to improve is his shot selection.

There is at least some objective basis for this observation. Drummond’s post up possessions end in a field goal attempt far more than his peers. 83 percent of the time Drummond received the ball on a post up attempt, he’d take a shot. For Brook Lopez, the number was 72 percent. For LaMarcus Aldridge, 78 percent. Greg Monroe, 76 percent. Marc Gasol, 73 percent.

I calculated the figure for the players in the top 20 in post up possessions, and only Al Jefferson saw his post up possessions end in a shot at a higher rate than Andre Drummond at 85 percent. And keep in mind, all of these guys are far more effective post up players than Drummond, with points per possession closer to .9-1 compared to Drummond’s .73.

Also, despite seeing his usage rate rising from 17 percent as a rookie to 24 percent last season, Drummond averaged the exact same number of assists per 36 minutes that he did as a rookie - .9 assists per 36 minutes. Drummond took 54 shots in the playoffs. He recorded exactly 0 assists.

Not that Drummond should be a big time assist guy, just that he is a culprit for the Pistons’ struggles with ball movement last season. He’s been something of a black hole when he receives the pass on a post up.

If he’s out of control, he still shoots.

Out of control
stats.nba.com

If he’s facing a tough defender who has superior position, he still shoots.

Superior position stats.nba.com

If literally every single other player on the court is open except him, he still shoots.

stats.nba.com

If aliens have invaded, the rest of the stadium is crumbling around him, fire alarms are going off, and we really all ought to be evacuating, he still shoots.

Sorry, I don’t have a gif for that last one.

It’s understandable that Drummond was at times too aggressive on the offensive end last season. He was getting more touches than he ever has in his career, producing some impressive numbers, and getting accolades. He’s worked hard to improve his post game. Ok. But this year it needs to be quality over quantity. If he can’t make them at an average clip, he’s doing more harm than good by taking the shot.

Most of his bad shots were so egregious looking back on them that it’s easy to wonder if just cutting out these ridiculous forced shots might be enough to get his efficiency where it needs to be. Perhaps. But if 58 field goal percent is the mark for him to be average overall, it’ll be nearly impossible for him to hit that mark - meaning post ups will always drag him down. 52 percent on post up attempts is usually good enough to lead the league in post up shooting for big men.

This season his challenge will be to trust his teammates to keep him involved in the game and pursue that the best shot to come out of the offense - even if that doesn’t get him a Player of the Week award.

***

Drummond’s defense was also a mixed bag last season. On one hand, he was one of just three players to record more than 110 of each blocks and steals last season, along with Paul Millsap and Draymond Green. He finished in the top 20 for the league in both categories.

He had the team’s best defensive rating, defensive box plus/minus, and defensive win shares. In fact, he was tied for third in the league in defensive win shares.

However getting more in-depth into some of his Synergy numbers shows some troubling numbers. Opponents shot 50 percent against Drummond last season, with their season averages at 48.6 percent - so they were 1.5 percent better than average when being defended against Drummond. Just among centers, Drummond ranked 61st in the league.

In post up opportunities, opposing players averaged .94 points per possession when defended by Drummond, which placed him in the 32nd percentile of the league. Defending the roll man in the pick and roll, Drummond gave up 1.13 points per possession, placing him in the 16th percentile.

Drummond’s rim protection defensive field goal percentage allowed was 52.6 percent, ranking 57th among centers.

Defensive performance is notoriously difficult to quantify. But Drummond’s numbers seem to jibe reasonably with what most folks saw on the court out of him last season - he’s productive on the defensive end, racking up some steals and blocks. But he’s not a player who shuts down his guy.

And those difficulties show up in the team’s defensive performance. The Pistons were a mediocre defensive team last season, finishing 12th in defensive rating. But they were 22nd in field goal percentage allowed. Their defense was really only decent because of their ability on the defensive glass and avoiding fouls - both of which Drummond was key for.

Drummond’s improvement in avoiding fouls is certainly something that ought to be noted as he took a massive step forward. He led the league in fouls each of the two prior seasons, but dropped his fouls per 100 possessions from 5.9 in 2014-15 to 4.6 last year.

Drummond, with his 7’6 wingspan and tremendous athleticism, there’s no reason that he shouldn’t be a top-notch defensive player across the board. Even if this season he doesn’t reach becoming a true lock-down defender, a step forward in his opponent performance numbers would make a big difference for him and the team.

***

It’s an interesting season for Drummond. He’s still a young player, but as he’s in year five and now 23 years old, his youth is no longer an explanation for underperformance.

Improving his offensive efficiency and effectiveness on the defensive end are critical for Andre Drummond to truly reach star status. As much as I hate to say it, a 50 percent true shooting percentage, mediocre defense, combined with extraordinary work on the boards...well, that kinda describes Reggie Evans.

Now this preview sounds a bit dour considering Andre Drummond is the team’s most talented player. And he is a talented, transformative player. But the key thing is that he can be even better. And we should be looking for an Andre Drummond who is performing to the best of his abilities.

Drummond has shown he can be a top 10 player in this league. With steps forward in his efficiency and defense, he can be that type of player year in-year out. Will he make those steps or just hang out as a last-guy-in All Star selection?

And it’s tough. There’s such a tremendous difference between his floor and ceiling, just because of how important those two aspects of his efficiency and defense are. He could be a 7 win share player like last season, which put him at 29 in the league, or he could break the whole damn system.

LeBron James has been the dominant force in the Eastern Conference for the past 12 years. As he declines in his career, there’s no clear successor for who will take his crown. Drummond has the ability to be that player.

But for the purpose of a prediction, I’m not really confident, just because I haven’t really seen an objectively-driven, quantifiable argument demonstrating that the steps he needs to take to get there are particularly likely. Personally though, I’m rooting for it.

Prediction:

16.5 points, 52 percent field goal percentage, 37 percent free throw percentage, 50 percent true shooting percentage, 15 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 1.7 blocks