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2017-18 Pistons review: Diving into Andre Drummond’s new (yet fixable) turnover tendency

Over-analyzing the one part of Andre Drummond’s game that hasn’t been over-analyzed.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Andre Drummond is the most talked about and criticized person in the Detroit Pistons’ franchise and by the time season reviews roll around, I fell like I’m in the middle of a Chris Rock long-term relationship bit:

Did I tell you about his improved free throw shooting? Yes.

Did we ever talk about the development on defense? Yes.

You know, he’s had trouble finishing at the rim, did you know that? Yes.

Oh, oh, what about his new offensive responsibilities? Yes, you told me!

Season reviews, by definition, re-evaluate stale information and old takes in an effort to paint a picture of the year that was. It’s an admirable project that definitely has a place but, in this specific case, I’m putting my foot down. DBB has been such a wonderful resource of Pistons’ information this year that my 2,000 word rehash would be rightfully skimmed by u/isiah’s_dreamteam_issues, u/Crosseyed and the like resulting in a complete waste of your time and mine.

Instead, you’re getting a Reader’s Digest review and a deep dive into the one Andre Drummond subject that could use a small boost in analysis. Sorry, not sorry.

The official recap

Andre Drummond, now six complete seasons into his career, took a step forward in 2017-18 highlighted by an invitation to the NBA’s All-Star game. Stan Van Gundy shifted Drummond’s offensive positioning from the post to the top-of-the-key and elbows allowing for a chunk of the offense to run through Detroit’s big. By most standards, Drummond passed the test and proved to be a willing and able passer. In the five previous seasons, he totaled a combined 277 assists but with an expanded workload, Drummond registered 237 dimes this past year alone.

On defense, the notoriously aloof Drummond consistently showed signs of defensive comprehension and alertness that simply didn’t exist in previous years. Just the plain acknowledgement of defense resulted in adequate rim protection, pick-and-roll coverage bouncing somewhere between destructive and workable, and a tolerable weak-side presence. Again, it was a step forward.

He was, and will continue to be, a walking double-double and became the second player (Dennis Rodmen) in 40 years to average 16 rebounds per game. An almost unimaginable development in free throw conversion saw Drummond shooting 60-percent from the line which granted him access to close out games.

Ugh, thank God that’s over. Want more numbers? Knock yourself out.

The Deep End

The much-discussed transition that resulted in Drummond with the ball in hands more not only helped to engineer a career-high assist rate but also, predictably, a sizable uptick in turnovers. The 200 (2.6 per game) total turnovers is certainly understandable considering the new role but what do they look like and are they fixable? That’s what we’re doing below.

First, not all turnovers are created equal and almost all of Dre’s giveaways can be conveniently categorized into easily digestible clumps.

Believe it or not, there are turnovers that coaches don’t mind seeing. If a player logs a handful of effort-related turnovers throughout the year, it’s not the end of the world:

Goaltending, assertive box-outs, any sort of physical aggression should be met with overly high high-fives when speaking about Andre Drummond. You could nitpick and ask for better goaltending judgement but I’m not going to. Dependable and persistent effort, or lack-thereof, has been Drummond talking point since day one and if he’s busting ass, I’m getting out of his way.

“You can calm down a fool before you can resurrect a corpse” is something I say that the great Georgetown coach John Thompson might’ve said first. Point is, let’s not curb a hustling Andre Drummond.

Screen-setting is an art in and of itself and a rather large requirement hoisted onto Drummond. He’s always been a consistent league leader in screen assists indicating just how valuable they can be. The sheer volume suggests that, from time to time, an illegal screen is going to set:

Don’t get me wrong, we want Drummond to lay the lumber and put his 6-foot-11, 280 pound frame to use but a reduction in illegal screens would benefit all involved.

The illegal screen blame game can be shared with the ball-handlers as their early departure, before Drummond is set, sometimes initiates a whistle but it shouldn’t concern Drummond. Instead, he must focus on what he can control and he can absolutely control moving with a purpose.

Timing is everything in the NBA and any slight hesitation or time-consuming movement abruptly kills much needed flow. Drummond must do a better job of sprinting to the point of attack before initiating contact. Doing so would promote being completely set while also forcing his defender to react and/or think at a faster rate.

Ideally, if he can continue to morph some of his screens into those crafty Aron Baynes clearing-the-way-like-a-fullback screens, the Pistons would be in a good place:

Man, I miss Baynes.

The Pistons’ 2017-18 motion offense wasn’t anything groundbreaking but it was a completely different look which caused some teams brief confusion. Once Detroit started producing game film, however, it gave their opponents an opportunity to scout properly and adjust accordingly.

It didn’t take long before smart teams started to anticipate the DHO:

Which Drummond countered with a fake hand-off:

As the season carried on, though, the fake hand-off fell by the wayside and nothing took its place. DHOs are becoming increasingly popular in today’s game and, no matter who the coach is next year, there must be a more efficient option in place for cheating defenses.

Before the Blake Griffin deal, the Pistons loved using Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley in a flare screen. Problem is, the defense knew this too:

They’re just waiting to pounce on these easily sniffed out passes and it leads us to the next point of emphasis: accounting for every defender.

Drummond shined when he took what the defense gave him but quickly got in trouble when forgetting about the help. Picture an unpolished quarterback zeroing in on his receiver without factoring in the the underneath linebacker or help from an over-the-top safety:

It’s similar to handling the ball on a short roll:

Or attempting cross-court passes:

Even though the attended target might have his man beat or is seemingly open, there are four other players with eyes on the ball. The only way to overcome a shortcoming in read progressions are real-time reps and film work, fixable to say the least.

By far the most frequent and recognizable of Drummond turnovers originated from trying to force feed a cutter:

The risk-reward benefit from these passes doesn’t add up. Sure, Avery Bradley, Reggie Bullock or Stanley Johnson might be open for a brief second but it would require a flawless pass to convert and Drummond isn’t there yet, at least not on a consistent basis.

In the same vein and sticking with the quarterback analogy, you cannot lead your receiver into a no-win situation:

What was the perceived outcome had those passes found their man? A surrounded and in the paint Jameer Nelson doesn’t scare anyone.

Finally, in regards to passing-related turnovers, we have the untimely and back-breaking outlet passes:

Nothing is more frustrating than playing 20 seconds of top-tier NBA defense and immediately having to do it again.

All elite rebounders, a group of which Drummond clearly belongs to, are constantly in outlet pass scenarios and our big fella, at times, can be a little sloppy. A bit more focus makes for an easy solution.

So we’ve covered the off-ball turnovers and dimes gone wrong, the only thing remaining is the trouble that sometimes comes to light when Drummond puts the ball on the floor.

Make no mistake, Drummond can handle the rock and for someone of his size, he does it exceptionally well:

But if this is going to be part of the expanded repertoire moving forward, a tightening of handles and footwork will be required.

Last year, the top-of-the-key (including elbows) and catching the ball with his back to the basket were the two prime Andre Drummond calling-his-own-number situations.

Flashing to the ball was a default offense all by itself:

On more than one occasion throughout his career, Drummond has wowed fans and teammates alike by showcasing an uncanny ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the hoop. Doing so ignites Pistons’ Twitter and almost guarantees George or Greg saying “no one his size should be able to do that.”

It also re-enforces Drummond’s confidence level in recreating the magic. Until there is some sort of ball-handling stability, those viral-worthy plays act as nothing more than fool’s gold.

As we all know, the back to the basket game is still a work in progress:

Faulty and awkward footwork remain the root cause to this downfall.

Teams darn near encouraged Drummond to put the ball on the ground from the post. Double teams sent on first bounce weren’t because of an intimidating post presence, no, they were sent to force Drummond to make a play:

And when he didn’t, the defense won the possession.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, he has the needed physical tools to become a steady post-player but lacks the savviness to execute. There is absolutely no reason why this isn’t a finger roll (instead of a push) other than the missing extra half of a pivot:

It’s all there for the taking.

In case I wasn’t clear before, let me reiterate: the the career-high in turnovers was to be expected and I don’t blame Drummond one iota.

Think about it, he went from being the hub of the offense (a completely new offense) at the beginning of the year to learning to play without Reggie Jackson to adapting to the arrival of a high-usage big who shares some of his territory. He did fine. In fact, he performed really, really well.

Can he do better? That’s the question.

Extra credit

Andre Drummond and Avery Bradley played in just 40 games together and below is an over two minute compilation of their greatest misses. Watch at your own risk.

Now, how many of those were on Bradley?