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The many faces of Andre Drummond

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When he brings the intensity, Andre Drummond is as good as anyone. If only he'd bring it more regularly.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The effort of Andre Drummond is, to put it mildly, an oft-discussed topic within the walls of the DBB chapel. It seems like every game thread the first real theme of the discussion is whether or not our money earnin’ giant out of Mount Vernon is engaged in the game on both a physical and psychological level.

We know what type of player Andre Drummond is. At his best, he can make the absolutely awesome look comparatively workaday, and perhaps we as fans have become selfish in that regard. This is a man who, since the 2013-14 season, in the span of 261 regular season games has averaged 14.5 points and 13.8 rebounds. Let’s peruse the halls of Basketball Reference and see who else has put up those type of numbers since that season over that span.

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What Andre Drummond has been able to do since his sophomore season in the league is quite impressive. Which is what makes it so maddening when he appears to have games where he just completely falls off the map.
So why is this the case?

FIRST POSSESSION

Sometimes, it can be as easy as the first possession or post touch Drummond gets in the game. It’s no secret that the Pistons run an early post up for him in order to get him a feel for the ball and to try to get him engaged. Sometimes the success or otherwise of this first possession can be the difference maker.
Let’s first look at the game against the Thunder in Oklahoma City.

As we can see here, Drummond receives the ball in the post and forces up an ugly shot against multiple defenders. Westbrook collects the rebound and scurries off on the break. Now, Westbrook is a different animal, but just notice how Drummond kind of shuffles down the court getting back. It's the first play of the game, tiredness shouldn't be an excuse. Because of this, Tobias Harris is trapped on Steven Adams down low, who pins him, allowing Westbrook to drive through for an easy layup.

In comparison, lets look at the first possession against the Clippers the game prior.

Drummond initiates a nice pick and roll with Tobias Harris as ball handler. DeAndre Jordan has to respect Harris' ability as a slasher, leaving Drummond an open lane to roll for a dunk when Chris Paul fails to cover the roll and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is caught trailing. Boom, engaged. We all know how that game turned out.

CONTESTING SHOTS

According to the NBA.com stats page, Andre Drummond contests 7.8 shots a game. That puts him at 40th at his position. Not in the league, at centers alone. There are 39 other centers who contest more shots per game.

For someone who is 6-foot-11, 279 pounds with the lift of a small aircraft, that just isn't good enough. To give you an idea of just how bad this is, let me illuminate you on some of the other names ahead of him on the list. Robin Lopez leads the position with 16.6 contested shots per game. Alex Len, he of Zach LaVine baptism infamy, contests 13.3 shots a game. Lucas Nogueira, backup center in Toronto, contests 10.1 shots in 19 minutes of game time each night.

Drummond averages around 30 mins a game. Why isn't he contesting shots? It could be that he relies on athleticism and as such is out of position quite often. It could be that Ish Smith is allowing so much penetration at the point guard position that Drummond is constantly dragged out to help. Dwight Howard, notable rim protector, ranks 39th in centers while DeAndre Jordan, perhaps the best shot blocker in the league, is 21st among centers.

What's the difference then? Jordan and Howard average 1.7 and 1.6 blocks respectively, admittedly far lower than previous production, but both still top 10 marks in the league (8th and 10th respectively). Drummond, at 1.1 blocks per game, is languishing in a tie for 24th, with defensive stalwarts such as Cody Zeller, Jusuf Nurkic, Kyle O'Quinn and Jahlil Okafor.

Take this play against the Nets for example.

Yeah I have no idea either. Hollis-Jefferson is trapped in the middle and forced to kick it out to Brook Lopez on the perimeter. Harmless situation, until Drummond decides to be about two steps behind and present an open lane for Lopez to take, riding him all the way to the basket for an easy deuce.

Or there are plays like this when Drummond completely clocks off.

Drummond, who is already standing flat footed, loses contact of the most athletic center in the league in Jordan. As Jordan presents for Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick sets a faint screen, which seems to act as an irresistible force to Drummond, who is inexplicably pushed back a couple of steps by the much smaller man, relinquishing an easy dunk.

It does seem to set a rather alarming trend that Drummond is so susceptible to the most basic of basketball actions, such as an innocent handoff or basic roll, especially now that we're in year three of Stan Van Gundy's tutelage.

ACTIVE HANDS

That's not to say that there aren't positive aspects of Drummond's defence. For one, his ability to read passing lanes and get deflections and tap-aways is quite remarkable for someone his size. He ranks tied for 27th in the league at 2.8 deflections per game, a mark that is fourth best among centers. This is where his athleticism comes in handy, as he's able to tap away errant and lazy passes, use his athleticism to run the floor and get a dunk.

Take a look at this play against the Bucks.

Drummond makes a quick move to block the passing lane into the post for Greg Monroe, swiping the weak Rashad Vaughn entry pass. He quickly finds Jon Leuer who hands it back off to Drummond, and the rest is history.

Or how about this awareness against the Clippers.

Drummond makes a good read to deflect the lob pass from Chris Paul intended for DeAndre Jordan. The ball stays in bounds and as soon as Drummond notices possession is secured by Leuer, he streaks up the court where Kentavious Caldwell-Pope finds him for an academic alley-oop.

SCREEN ASSISTS

The last thing I'd like to sound off on here is screen assists, which is a made field goal generated directly by a screen. Andre Drummond ranks fifth in the league in screen assists at 4.6 a game, and it shows how important a good screen is in the flow of the offense. For example, noted brick wall Aron Baynes has 3.2 screen assists per game, good enough for 18th in the league.

Here's a common example of how Drummond generates points off screens in the Pistons offense.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Drummond have formed a lethal combination on these screens to free up KCP for an easy midrange jump shot. In this clip, Drummond sets a pretty basic screen that Jamal Murray, not a noted defender, struggles to get around. By the time the screen is navigated, KCP is two steps ahead and raising for an easy midrange jumper.

***

As we can see, the spectrum of Andre Drummond's effort ranges far and wide, and it can be frustrating as fans knowing what gaudy numbers he is capable of. Sometimes he can be taken out of the game by a poor opening few possessions, or maybe some questionable officiating - but when he's on, he's as dangerous as any center in the league. Very few men of his size run the floor with such ease after demonstrating such elegant dexterity to intercept passing lanes and pickpocket deep-seated behemoths.

As fans all we can hope for is that, as the season develops, the 20-20s become more workaday than before, and the sulky, disinterested Andre withers away.