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Andre Drummond post-up experiment must end

If Drummond is going to be an elite player, it’s time to acknowledge what’s not working.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Utah Jazz
This is not going to end well.
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons are destroying what was once one of the most promising young careers in the NBA. The Pistons are sabotaging their own offense and limiting themselves to a ceiling of mediocrity. Yes, I’m talking about Andre Drummond post-ups.

Drummond has been and can be a difference-maker in the NBA. Perhaps one day he'll even grow into the superstar everybody wants him to be. But he'll never be a good post-up player.

They need to stop. Now.

It’s impossible to put the blame entirely on one person. Certainly, the combination of Drummond and Stan Van Gundy have led us down this path. But whether it’s primarily the guy shooting the shots or the one calling the plays doesn’t matter. Time has run out.

The centerpiece of a rebuild

When Van Gundy took the reins of the Pistons, he positioned Drummond as his centerpiece — his new Dwight Howard, an elite rebounding big man with peerless athleticism. It was a reasonable idea. Heck, it was the right idea.

Prior to Van Gundy’s arrival, Drummond was practically an afterthought. During his rookie year, Lawrence Frank understood Drummond’s potential as a devastating pick-and-roll threat. He found a point guard who developed chemistry with Drummond in Will Bynum, surrounded them with shooters and watched the dunks accumulate.

Then, instead of leaning into what was working with a promising young star and building around Drummond, Joe Dumars signed Josh Smith. That’s not zigging instead of zagging, that’s spinning around in a circle until you puke.

SVG came in and cleaned house. He waived Smith. He let promising young big man Greg Monroe walk. The paint belonged to Dre - finally.

And Drummond, who had always been considered a raw offensive threat, busted his ass working on his post game to validate the strategy. A great story - but a story whose happy ending has proven elusive. With a renewed focus on “traditional big man skills” like posting up on offense, Drummond’s effectiveness and value as a player have plummeted.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Increased volume =/= increased effectiveness

The numbers are clear. Drummond takes a ton of post up attempts, and he’s terrible at them. Here’s how his numbers track the past three seasons:

Andre Drummond Post-Ups

Year Post-Up Attempts Points per Possession Attempts rank PPP Rank*
Year Post-Up Attempts Points per Possession Attempts rank PPP Rank*
2014-15 279 0.69 -- --
2015-16 336 0.73 3rd of 83 70th of 83
2016-17 277 0.73 7th of 99 90th of 99
Andre Drummond post-ups Detroit Bad Boys

You might want to look at the reduction in attempts over the past year as a sign of things going in the right direction. It’s not. Last season 27.5 percent of his possessions were post ups. In 2015-16, the percentage was exactly the same.

Last year, no player with a post-up frequency higher than Drummond’s had a points per possession mark lower than 0.82.

When you are near the top of the league in attempts and the bottom of the league in effectiveness, it’s no wonder the Pistons offense has been anemic these past few seasons.

It’s not Reggie Jackson’s fault

You: “But Reggie Jacks…” Let me stop you right there.

No, Reggie Jackson’s ineffectiveness and absence last year did not affect Drummond’s shot selection or effectiveness offensively. Last year, 12.2 percent of Drummond’s possessions were as the roll man in pick and rolls. In 2015-16 the figure was 13.2 percent. A one percentage point difference isn’t going to move the needle. In 2014-15, 30.2 percent of his offense went toward post ups, and 11.6 percent went to the pick and roll.

If a healthy Reggie Jackson leads to almost the exact same volume and results as an injured Reggie Jackson, then it doesn’t make much sense to excuse Drummond’s ineffectiveness on post-ups on Jackson’s injury.

This is just the player that Drummond has become. It doesn’t really matter who he’s playing next to, about 3-in-10 shots are going to post ups, and 1-in-10 toward the pick and roll.

And it’s been devastating toward his effectiveness as a player. It’s extremely difficult to be an efficient offensive player with around 30 percent of your offense going toward two pointers that you only make 40 percent of the time. If you’re going to succeed like that, everything else in your game better be pretty damn efficient. Of course, everything in Drummond’s game isn’t.

If he were a 70 percent free throw shooter, his efficiency could survive. That’s not going to happen.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Drummond the chucker

So over the past three seasons, Drummond’s true shooting percentage has been 50.6 percent. Among players with as many shots as Drummond, there’s been no player in the league with a worse true shooting percentage over that stretch.

If you look at the list of prolific chuckers who are similarly inefficient, the names jump out at you for all the wrong reasons -- the shambling remains of Kobe Bryant, the tragedy of Derrick Rose, the recently released Monta Ellis, point guard projects Emmanuel Mudiay and Michael-Carter Williams.

There is no reason a big man who sported a true shooting percentage near 60 percent just four seasons ago should be mentioned in the same breath as those players. The change in his game has been a conscious choice, and it has sabotaged his game and the team’s offense along with it.

There’s a misconception that last season was a down year for Drummond. It wasn’t, at least not offensively. It was just more of the same. Folks just started noticing that being a 50 percent true shooting percentage player who doesn’t play much defense shouldn’t be called a star, regardless of how many rebounds he’s pulling down.

Bad offense leads to bad rebounding, bad defense

The impact of the post ups reaches every aspect of Drummond’s game, including his rebounding and defense.

Over the past three seasons, Drummond has taken 850 shots out of post ups. I’ve watched each one of those shots more times than I care to admit. I don’t recall a single time he’s grabbed an offensive rebound off of one of those misses. I’m sure it’s HAPPENED, but the point is one of the best offensive rebounders in the history of the league rarely is able to get his own miss on a post up. It’s clear why.

He’s got a 7-foot-tall dude in front of him, he’s falling away from the rim, and the miss is probably bouncing away from him. There’s not going to be much of a chance of contesting for those boards.

It also puts him at a big disadvantage defensively. Check out these shots.

By the time Drummond finishes his shot, he’s got by far the furthest to go of anyone on the court to get back on defense. Here’s how those offensive possessions look for the other team.

The body language from Drummond after his missed hooks is frustrating, but even under the best circumstances Drummond’s not going to be able to get back in time to do anything to help his team in transition. And if the Pistons are able to contain the transition opportunity, he’s still going to be in a tough position to defend his man.

Why, Stan? Why?

Perhaps I’m missing something, I asked myself. Stan Van Gundy is a smart guy. There’s got to be some rhyme or reason to this. If there is, I still don’t see it.

Is he feeding the big man in the post so he’ll lock in defensively? There’s been no evidence Drummond’s post gluttony has led to Dre rewarding SVG with improved performance on D.

Is forcing the defense to guard Drummond in the post opening up opportunities for teammates? The offense has been only marginally better with Drummond on the court compared to off. The rate of 3-pointers barely moves, and Drummond still rarely passes it out of the post.

And the fundamental question — has Drummond gotten any better as a post player? He might look slightly more fluid when he makes his moves, but the results are still the same.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Drummond is more dangerous as a rim runner

The parts of Drummond’s game that don’t involve his back to the basket are just as effective as they were early in his career when he was a highly efficient player. Putbacks, rolling off a screen, transition, cuts - he doesn’t shoot under 56 percent on any of those plays.

Several offenses have been built around the center being a garbage man, an opportunist, a rim runner, call it what you will. The point is, sometimes the threat of being the roll man in the pick-and-roll will do more to force defenses to react than putting your butt on the block ever will.

For Drummond, there are days where he does look elite. Where he seems to have put it all together. When you have one of those days, when the hook just happens to be falling, the numbers will look good. But it’s an illusion.

When he posted 28 points on 13-20 shooting against the Trail Blazers on Jan. 8, seven of his shots were out of post ups. On this day they went in.

When he put up 26 points on 11-14 shooting against Charlotte, half of his shots were hooks. He just happened to make five of them.

Look at that. Great, right? Fluid, natural, productive...

And about as real as Josh Smith knocking down a long two.

Face up for face plant?

This also applies to Drummond putting the ball on the floor while facing up. Van Gundy has wanted Drummond to attack the rim more off the dribble rather than settling for a hook. It makes intuitive sense. In theory, he’d be able to use his speed and length to his advantage and still be in position to challenge if it’s a miss. But this hasn’t worked either.

Granted, the face up at least does have some room for potential. Most of the time it was even uglier than the post, but the biggest gap in Drummond’s post up/isolation game is generating layups and dunks. This tactic can accomplish that and did at times last year. Drummond just has a ways to go to get there consistently.

But this stuff here?

Trash it. Burn it. Bury it. Get it the hell out of the offense.

No more waiting for it to come around. No more hoping that it’ll develop. The Drummond post up experiment has failed and to perpetuate it for a fourth season is madness.

I don’t even care if he gets little Isaiah Thomas defending him in isolation. No. That’s not even a good enough excuse. In fact, we actually have seen that. Here’s how it went.

Part of Drummond’s struggles is that he has shown no indication that he recognizes the difference between a good shot and a bad shot. Often, his decisions seem predetermined regardless of how he is defended. Also, sometimes it’s tough to know how well the shot is going to be defended.

Take a look at these two possessions.

He had solid positioning in both spots, the defenders looked to be playing him about the same way. Here’s how it went.

How was Drummond supposed to know that Kyle O’Quinn would defend the shot and Cody Zeller wouldn’t?

If the problem is Drummond post-ups, then what is the solution? Ball movement. Over the past two seasons the Pistons have been 29th and 28th in assist percentage. Only 53 percent of the Pistons’ shots last year were assisted. By comparison, 65 percent of the Celtics’ shots were assisted.

Some of that goes to Van Gundy’s point guard-dominated offensive system led by Reggie Jackson. A big part of the Pistons offense requires the point guard to be a threat to make his own shot, so the rest of the team needs to be able to operate within the offense rather than on their own. A ball dominant point guard can be effective when his teammates are moving without the ball, making the extra pass, catching and shooting. Drummond is still a key part of that equation.

Operating within the offense, Drummond can be dominant. When Drummond receives the pass and goes straight up with it (zero dribbles), he shot 61 percent from the field last season. These accounted for 8.6 of his 13.6 points per game last season. When he put the ball on the floor, he shot 39 percent. These shots represented just four attempts per game, making it rather telling just how destructive those four attempts per game were on Drummond’s performance.

Let Dre dominate

But there’s a big part of his offense that is really working. Let’s build on that. Here’s what it looks like.

Hopefully that’s a quick reminder: Drummond is an incredibly talented player who really could be an elite player if he’s playing his most effective game.

Over the past three seasons, Drummond’s percentage of unassisted buckets has generally been between 53 to 60 percent. It’s never been particularly high, thanks to his prolific offensive rebounding. Even early in his career, it was around that same ballpark. But it could still be a helpful figure to watch.

Clint Capela and Drummond both averaged around 13 shots per 36 minutes last season. Capela’s true shooting percentage was 63.8 percent, compared to Drummond’s 51.8 percent. 82 percent of Capela’s shots were assisted. He’s walking proof that you can get just as many touches even without creating your own shot.

If Drummond can even get to Aron Baynes’ 73 percent range next season, we’ll see a much better player.

It won’t just happen though. It’s going to take a significant change in both Drummond and Van Gundy. Those four shots where Drummond puts the ball on the floor may not seem like a huge deal. But those four shots dictate quite a lot in what’s happening on the floor and where teammates get Drummond the ball. It’s the difference between play one and play two here.

It’s winning time

There is so much wrong with the emphasis on Drummond’s post up game. It removes the best parts of what Drummond brings to the table and heightens the weakest parts. It’s no longer about coddling a young player, or developing their skill set. It’s winning, or players will get traded and coaches and executives will get fired.

I’m not calling for a reduction of Dre post-ups. I’m calling for their removal.

With Kentavious Caldwell-Pope moving on, Reggie Jackson a question mark following an injury-plagued season, and Avery Bradley a one-year guarantee only, the Pistons are out of time. Drummond needs to return to being an elite player by doing the things he is elite at.

When he is facing the rim and moving toward it, he is an effective player. When his back is to the basket and he’s fading away, he’s not.

He’s perhaps the most dangerous finisher in the league. When other players are creating for Drummond, he’s tremendous. When he’s trying to create for himself, he’s horrendous.

Something must change

If Drummond isn’t willing to change his offensive role he should be traded.

If Van Gundy decides he needs a big man who can post up then Drummond needs to be traded, and sooner rather than later.

Andre’s value is only going to drop the longer he’s playing the inefficient chucker role. He turns 24 in a few weeks and that’s about the age when you stop hearing the “He’s still __” excuse being made for a player.

If both are willing to reassess how this offense could and should work with Drummond as a key player, then it’s not too late. Stan has added additional ball handlers to work with Drummond in the pick-and-roll this offseason. There are more shooters to create space, good looks, and offensive rebounding opportunities.

If they can’t figure this thing out, Van Gundy will be on the hot seat, Drummond’s star potential will completely burn out, and the “Treadmill of Mediocrity” suddenly becomes a best-case-scenario in Detroit.