For years Pistons fans have projected what kind of player Andre Drummond would grow into. So far in his career it’s been more projection than actual growth.
Earlier this week though Stan Van Gundy painted a picture of the type player he’d like to see Drummond be this season. The gist of it was playing like DeAndre Jordan. Become a dominant defensive player, build an offensive game to be focused on right around the basket, play with energy. And anything away from the hoop should be about facilitating for teammates rather than his own offense.
That’s the stuff. That description of Andre Drummond that SVG described is an elite player, likely the best center in the league.
And it’s all possible. But how much of it is realistic?
Dominant defensive player
Van Gundy said:
“The step, to me, for Andre is to do a little bit of what DeAndre Jordan does and dominate the game at the defensive end of the floor. Become that All-Defense type of guy. Because he’s already a historically great rebounder and to add to that becoming a great defender and build his game from there and everything to be built around the basket – his pick and rolls, going to the rim, running the floor, all of that.”
Drummond has a long way to go on this front. A really long way to go.
Last season is widely regarded as a down year for the big man, but really, much of his play was about on par with where it has been in years past. His scoring dipped a little but his scoring efficiency rose a little. His rebounding was up.
But he finished the season with a net rating of -6.3, the second worst on the team behind Reggie Jackson. You’d be hard pressed to find a player who is generally considered the best player on the team with such a disastrous figure.
Many of Drummond’s defensive box score figures look nice. He led the league in defensive rebounding percentage and was third overall in defensive boards. He was 13th in the league in steals and his block percentage was on par with 2015-16. Thanks to these numbers, he actually finished third in the league in defensive win shares - despite being a pretty clear liability on the defensive end.
Underneath those glittering box score numbers was a lousy foundation. Be skeptical of defensive statistics if you’d like, but the quality of the information available has dramatically improved over the past two seasons.
Most notable is defensive field goal percentage allowed. For Drummond, that was 52.5 percent. He allowed opposing players to shoot four percentage points above their season average. Drummond’s defensive field goal percentage was the third worst in the league among centers.
That weighed heavily on his individual defensive rating, which sat at 108.9. That mark was 75th in the league among centers.
The tools are there for Drummond. He’s already a very good playmaker on the defensive end. The key thing is his mentality. Too often he takes plays off, gets out of position, only offers a token attempt at challenging a shot.
Mike Snyder did a great job of breaking down where he fell short in pick and roll coverage last season. Much of Drummond’s issues on the defensive end are simply a matter of a lack of effort. SVG said as much:
Asked what Drummond has to change, Van Gundy replied, "It's effort and focus and really taking it to heart to do that. There's not much more to it."
SVG has been pushing Drummond on that end since his first year on the job. And if you look at how he’s talked about Drummond’s defense during the season, it makes his offseason wish of Dre making an All Defensive team sound an awful lot like wishcasting.
"Andre simply has to protect the rim a lot better," Van Gundy said. "That's one of the things we talked about with the whole team today. Since the All-Star break, we're last in the league in blocks. Hell, we were 28th in the league at the All-Star break and we're down a full block a game since then.
"I mean, he's not contesting shots at the rim. You look at the per-minute stuff and he's 38th in the league in blocks per minute. I mean that's just -- maybe he can't be in the top three or four but you don't need to be 38th."
That came from March 2016, another year that SVG went into the season talking about Drummond potentially leading the league in blocked shots.
So far, it seems that SVG has wanted it more on the defensive end than Drummond has. The potential is there. It’s up to Drummond to unlock it.
Offense around the basket
In 2013-14, Drummond averaged 15.1 points per 36 minutes on 60 percent true shooting percentage. Since then it’s been 16.9 points per 36 minutes on 50.6 percent true shooting percentage.
The difference is that each season he’s creeped further and further away from the basket. He went from taking 81 percent of his shots from inside three feet to just 49 percent from inside that mark last season.
Of course, much of that is due to his post up game, which I talked about at length here. Clearly, the post up game needs to end. But what is it replaced with? This:
Drummond is one of the best finishers in the game. As Stan Van Gundy says:
“To really get him to focus on the things that he does at not even a high level – at an elite level, and doing those well. So many times guys think the way to becoming great is to be able to do more and more things. In a lot of cases, it’s more doing the things that you already do at a higher level.”
Focusing on being the most dangerous player in the league away from the ball, Drummond would be doing just that.
But it won’t just happen. It’ll take Drummond changing the way he plays significantly, as well as changes from his teammates. SVG said:
The thing we haven’t focused on enough is where and how we need to get him the ball. And we need to get him the ball in the paint area, which means he’s got to fight for position more in that area and when he gets in that position we’ve got to be more attuned to getting him the ball in there because he’s really, really good when he’s got both feet in the paint. He’s had a tendency to run off the lane and we’ve had a tendency to pass him the ball where it runs him off the lane. So we’ve got to get him the ball closer to the basket...”
SVG then goes on to talk about Dre on the perimeter. We’ll get to that in a sec. But what he says here is really important.
Too often, Drummond just sits down in the middle of the lane with his defender between him in the basket or getting off the lane to set up for a long hook. That doesn’t work. Even just both feet in the paint isn’t enough if it’s just to shoot a hook over some seven footer.
Last year, Drummond looked to do most of his work after he received the pass. This year, the work needs to happen before receiving it. That means Drummond walling off his man to get a better look at the rim than just a jump hook or trying to beat his man off the dribble. It means knowing when to slip to the weak side to allow a wing the chance to penetrate while being ready for the dump off.
Drummond said, “I’m not going to play with a filter anymore; I’m going to play the game I need to play to be a great player for my team.”
I’m not sure what “no filter” means, but hopefully it means more of the second half of that quote than what he’s done in exhibition games so far.
In the NBA Africa game he took four three point shots. In the Drew League, he was taking stepback threes and midrange jumpers. It’s prompted Vince Ellis of Detroit Free Press to ask, “Can fans start calling Drummond a ‘stretch five,’ a bit of NBA jargon to describe an outside-shooting center?”
Let’s hope not. If we’re looking for a way to put the final nail in the coffin of Drummond’s potential as a franchise player, that’d be the best way to do it. As SVG said, it’s not about Drummond expanding his game to do more things.
We now know what kind of player Stan Van Gundy wants Drummond to be on offense. It’s not one that takes a high volume of 40 percent two point attempts. Again, it’s up to Drummond to buy in. And we’ll know that if he returns next year as a guy who is still looking to create a bunch of his own shots, he’s not buying in.
Facilitating for teammates
This is the exciting part y’all.
Before reading on, start with this piece on the dribble hand-off from Mike O’Connor of BBall Breakdown. Done?
The Pistons already started integrating the dribble hand-off with Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope last season. It was great.
Yeah, too many of those last ones are long twos, but they also generated some of the best looks from three the team could get all season thanks to it’s struggles with ball movement. And drives were also there for the player coming off the screen, though not looked for as often.
It’s a great compliment to the high screen and roll for the Pistons as the opposing big man can’t quite defend the handoff quite the same way as the base high screen and roll.
They can expand that this season with some of those elements from O’Connor’s piece. Like the way the Cavs used LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Yes, I’m suggesting that Drummond can do some of those really cool things that LeBron James can do. Drummond really is a gifted player, capable of doing some things on the court that few others can do.
And when we’re talking about using him like DeAndre Jordan, it opens up a lot of things for his teammates. It’s not hard to see Drummond and Avery Bradley swapped for Jordan and J.J. Redick here.
The Clippers' "one pop veer" is fascinating to me. It works *because* DJ can't shoot. His defender sags to the paint. pic.twitter.com/zMhE7Rpssi— Mike O'Connor (@MOConnor_NBA) July 31, 2017
But using him like DeAndre Jordan doesn’t mean exactly like DeAndre Jordan. SVG said:
...on the perimeter we’ve got to use him more as a ballhandler, facilitator, getting him to handoffs, pick and rolls, and then getting him right back to the basket again because he’s a good ballhandler and a good passer and we can use more of that and let him play on the perimeter and less of him catching the ball two steps off the lane and trying to back in from there and shooting a long jump hook.
He’s right. Drummond can put the ball on the floor and at times made some brilliant passes last year. When he’s looking to facilitate, he can sling it.
He’s just terrible at finishing when creating his own looks and isn’t a willing enough of a passer. But if his goal is to create for his teammates from the perimeter, that’s something he can do - especially if he follows the perimeter touch up with getting right back to the basket.
Don’t believe the hype
There’s reason for some optimism for a Drummond breakthrough this season. But it was just delivered to us by SVG. If you’re pinning your hopes on a nasal surgery or weight loss, that’s not where it’s at. Drummond’s issues weren’t physical.
Drummond has talked at length about having surgery to repair a deviated septum in his left nostril. "It was probably the best thing I did because right now I feel outstanding and I'm breathing great. It's going to be a great summer for me."
It sounds an awful lot like when he talked at length about how great virtual reality was going to be for his free throws last season.
"I’ve found something that keeps me calm," he said. "Even if I do miss a shot, I found something to keep me calm and not get myself rattled. Once I missed one, I’d tense up and I’d miss the next one, too. So I found a peace within myself. Even if I do miss a shot, I’m going to be comfortable to get back up there and shoot the same shot again. Make or miss, I’m not going to be frustrated but move on to the next play."
Um...that turned out not to be the case. And apparently Drummond has dropped 20 pounds this summer.
2016 from Keith Langlois of Pistons.com: “His personal goals are similarly simple – play hard and let the results happen. He spent the bulk of his summer working at the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based P3 training facility for a second straight year and says he’s in the best shape of his life, having ‘shed about 20 pounds.’”
2017 from Keith: “Drummond has lost 20 pounds over the off-season, Van Gundy said, and that in addition to surgery he had to repair a nasal blockage should give him significantly greater endurance and enable more of the 20-20 blockbuster performances.”
No, improvements in Drummond’s game will be a matter of choice. His choice to do what it takes to shut down an opposing team’s offense. His choice to focus on generating the best looks possible on offense. His choice to be a facilitator to his team’s offense on the perimeter rather than trying to get his own shots. His choice to play hard every night.
Basically Drummond has two boxes he’s looking at. One is to become an elite player this year. The other is to hang out as Glorified Reggie Evans. It’s up to him which box he checks.
This post has had quite a few Stan Van Gundy quotes already. But the last one might be the most important.
“I think he’s got chance to be really, really good to great, but he needs to do some work to get there.”