Not all relationships are destined to last forever. Sometimes two sides give it their best, the fit is not quite right, and the only thing to do is say goodbye. Stretching things out only leads to bitterness and resentment.
The Pistons should end their seven-year relationship with Andre Drummond.
They’ve really given it everything they’ve got. They’ve fired coaches. They’ve changed point guards. They’ve changed shooting guards. They’ve changed small forwards. They’ve tried a variety of power forwards. They’ve brought in a co-star to take the burden off of Drummond’s sizable shoulders.
They’ve tried him as a high-volume post-up player. They’ve tried him as a (thankfully low-volume) 3-point shooter.
It’s the equivalent of getting a bigger place, getting a pet, having some kids scheduling date nights and going to a couples counselor.
None of it has worked. They’re still just a middling team. They’re in a rut and nobody is happy.
The Pistons have addressed everything other than the actual problem. Andre Drummond isn’t a franchise player.
Yes, he’s the best rebounder of his generation. Yes, he does somethings on the court that few other players are capable of. But he’s an inefficient, high-volume, chucking center. And in the league today, team’s can’t win like that.
A 7-foot John Wall
So far this season, he has the seventh-lowest true shooting percentage in the league for a player with as many attempts as he’s taken. Since 2014, 31 players have taken 4,300 field goal attempts. No player has taken as many shots as Drummond and posted a lower true shooting percentage.
Somebody is close, though.
The nearest player to Drummond’s 51.7 percent is John Wall at 52.4 percent.
And...to be honest...Andre Drummond is basically the John Wall of the center position.
They both are among the league leaders each year at their position’s most noteworthy number, assists for Wall and rebounds for Drummond. They both post solid defensive box score numbers, but are mediocre on that end at best. They’re both high-volume, low-efficiency shooters. They’re both great athletes. Prior to last year, Wall had always been as reliably durable as Drummond. And neither of their teams ever amounted to much.
The Wizards are a cautionary tale
The Wizards should have moved on from Wall years ago. Instead, they signed him to a $140 million dollar extension that goes into effect next summer. That’s absolutely insane.
Despite being surrounded by efficient scorers like Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, the Wizards always boast a mediocre offense with mediocre TS. Because John Wall. He makes some impressive plays, his box score is impressive. But he’s just not that good.
Had the Wizards cut bait with Wall years ago, built around their better players in Beal and Porter, they’d have the makings of a solid team. Wall cannibalized the offense from his more efficient teammates, never meshed with Beal, and it was obvious that the inevitable outcome would be the mess the franchise is in today. But Ernie Grunfeld never had the guts to make the tough call and move on.
When teams move on from high-volume, low-efficiency players - you’ll never believe this - their offensive efficiency improves. We see it time and again. Dwane Casey saw it when the Raptors got rid of Rudy Gay. Gay was brought on to be their franchise guy, their 20-points-per-game player. And that’s what he was. On 50 percent TS. Once they dumped him, they went from the 19th best offense with 25th ranked TS to the 8th best offense with the 10th best TS.
When Kobe Bryant’s late-career reign of inefficient terror ended in 2016, taking a team-high number of shots despite a 46.9 percent TS, the team’s efficiency went from 50.9 percent to 53.7 percent and it won nine more games.
Before waiving Josh Smith in 2014, the Pistons were last in the league in TS at 49.4 percent. After waiving him, they jumped to 20th at 52.6 percent. Of course, the Pistons then started the Drummond post-up experiment the following season and dropped back down to 28th in the league, and it’s been a major issue ever since.
If the Pistons cut ties with Andre Drummond, their TS would almost definitely improve. It’s really very simple.
Instead, the Pistons are following the route of the Wizards. Many folks suggest that the franchise is stuck with what it has and will just have to play it out [editor’s note: I think Steve is talking about this. — Sean]. Ahem. One is never stuck. There’s always the chance to improve and/or change.
Back to the Raptors. In 2013-14, both lottery picks Jonas Valanciunas and Andre Drummond looked poised to be franchise centers. Valancunias has improved every season but his role in Toronto’s offense has diminished every season. He brought the game of a back-to-the-basket post up threat in a league where that was no longer the best way to build an elite offense. He got his payday and remained an important piece in Toronto, but it was Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan’s (and now Kawhi Leonard’s) team. And Toronto has been roughly a top-5 offense ever since.
There was a great quote in Jackie MacMullan’s piece about Jaylen Brown’s struggles in Boston from Danny Ainge: “I think in 18 years in professional sports, I had the role I really wanted maybe five out of those 18 years,” Ainge says. “But you have to make the best out of what you have. Unless you’re the elite, elite superstar in this league, you don’t always get the role you want, so you have to make the most of whatever you have.”
Good franchises put their players in roles where they’re most likely to succeed, the way the Raptors did. The Pistons obviously haven’t done that with Drummond. They turned him into a high-volume, low-efficiency center. Since 2014, Drummond is one of only 10 players who is at least 6-foot-10 and taken 4,000 shots. He has the lowest true shooting percentage of the bunch by a considerable margin.
But, like the Raptors, good franchises move on when a player isn’t the right fit. And Drummond is no longer the right fit in Detroit.
Build around Blake
I’ve made this point before now, but I’ll make it again. If you were to build a team from scratch, envision what kind of player you would team with Blake Griffin as a co-star. It’d likely look something along the lines of:
1) An aggressive wing, a la Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Jimmy Butler
2) A scoring point guard
3) A versatile 3/4 forward
384) A high-volume, low-efficiency center
Andre Drummond is the worst offensive pairing with Blake Griffin possible. Putting aside for a moment the fact that Drummond post ups don’t work, have never worked and will never work, the franchise has been handcuffed by Drummond isolations becoming a fixture of the offense. Every game you’re going to see a handful of these.
Drummond takes the pass, sizes up his defender, and goes to work. Isodretions. Sigh. This franchise has some bright minds in the coaching, scouting and administrative ranks. How do all of these smart people still consider this a good use of a possession? Well. At least we can get a portmanteau out of it.
And it’s not just the low field goal percentage on Drummond isos and post ups. There is also the increased turnovers and stagnation caused by futile and ill advised attempts to get him the ball because of whatever role Drummond and the team believe he should have.
No, Drummond isn’t responsible for the mistakes of his teammates. But these are just even more wasted possessions in attempt to get an incredibly inefficient look.
Drummond’s play is one that the game has stylistically passed by. Only one team with a winning record has a center as one of the team’s top two scorers, the 76ers with Joel Embiid. Even a couple of other incredibly talented centers in Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns haven’t been able to win. The days of dropping the ball to your talented big man in the post and letting him go to work are over. It slows down ball movement, slows down player movement and makes defensive rotations too easy.
Blake’s evolution into a perimeter player keeps him relevant now and for years to come. But Drummond’s insistence on chucking up post-up shots has made him not just inefficient but irrelevant. The best centers today do what they do best and nothing else.
Not to mention the idea of having your two big men as the two leading scorers has rarely ever worked. The only team in the last decade to even have a modicum of success was the Grit and Grind Grizzlies in 2014-15 with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol as their leading scorers.
Before them, you’d have to go back to the 2001-02 Spurs led by Tim Duncan and David Robinson to find an example of two big men leading the team in scoring for a competitive team.
Perhaps you can hope that Drummond is willing to just shoot the ball less, for his isolations and postups to be minimized in the offense. But there’s no reason to put much stock in that hope.
It hasn’t worked, it doesn’t work, it won’t work.
It’s John Wall in Washington next to Beal and Porter. You cross your eyes and talk yourself into things going well enough and maybe, just maybe ... and then the sentence never gets finished because there is no happy ending.
But this is about more than Drummond’s failings as a prospect. It’s about the team doing what it needs to do to be successful.
None of it has done a thing for the team’s record. They remain a middling .500 squad.
Be bold, trade Drummond
What’s left to do? Perhaps they can try to upgrade at point guard. Continue to prioritize shooters. All of that is work in the margins. Maybe you get lucky and things click, you end up a few games over .500 and the second round of the playoffs. But that’s as much as you can hope for. Eventually it’s going to be clear that there’s a ceiling in place and it’s not very high. We’ve already gotten a sneak preview in the Wizards.
It’s time for this franchise to consider what the best version of itself looks like, not to simply accept a less-than-ideal situation as something inevitable in the way that the Wizards have.
An ideal situation with a Blake Griffin led team has flexibility at the big man spot next to him. A mix of three cheap centers - one who does the dirty work, one who can stretch the court, and one who can pose an offensive threat inside - would provide far more value than the max contract center currently on the roster. Rather than being a matchup that can be exploited, the Pistons could instead be the ones to create and exploit mismatches.
The center position in the NBA has evolved. The Warriors have won three of the past four championships by taking advantage of flexibility with the position. The Bucks have taken a leap forward by bringing in a former low-post threat with a 29 percent usage rate who never rebounded or took 3-pointers and turned him into a perimeter sniper — and they were rewarded by becoming one of the league’s best rebounding teams and most successful teams as a whole. The Raptors and Pacers paid their promising young centers huge contracts, then stuck them in the background.
Zach Lowe said on his Lowe Post podcast, “There are a lot of coaches that have taken notice of Nick Nurse finally coaxing a platoon system on the team. Because players do not like that. It’s happened elsewhere, I mean Pop has done it here and there for years, but Pop is Pop, he has carte blanche to do whatever he wants. The Jazz have done it with Crowder and Favors at the four spot. There are a lot of coaches and GMs who have looked at those teams in particular and said ‘I hope this is the start of something’ because this is actually what more teams should be doing and coaches just can’t get the buy-in for it. ” Absolutely. And that type of situation at center would do wonders for the Pistons to give flexibility at the spot next to Blake.
The Pistons are Blake Griffin’s team now. It’s time for them to evolve too, not be stuck with this talented center who just doesn’t work for them.
And the problem with the team is clear. There is one specific, important stat that the Pistons have been in the bottom five in the league in each year. True shooting percentage. You’d have to go back to 2011 to find a Pistons team that wasn’t in the bottom five. Their troubles with shooting the ball with a modicum of efficiency started before Drummond made his way to Detroit, but they won’t solve anything until they actually start addressing the team’s real problems.
Perhaps you can use Drummond as a trade asset to acquire one of those ideal offensive-minded perimeter threats to play alongside Blake. A versatile wing or a penetrating point guard. But even if not, just getting him and his flailing hook shots out of a Pistons uniform in favor of players who can actually put the ball in the hoop at an NBA rate would be an upgrade. Shoot for the moon and even if you miss...well, at least you don’t have Drummond pounding the air out of the ball and wasting possessions.
Too many pundits talk about how trading Drummond is unrealistic. It’s not. With so many teams looking to compete right now, the market for All-Star talent is tight. Yes, his contract is huge. Yes, many teams don’t really need a center that badly. And yes, he’s ... a good but not great player. But he puts up huge numbers and if you make him available, there’s a team that will buy in on those big numbers. If a team needs rebounding and a big man, Andre Drummond is the first name that should come to mind.
Half of the teams in the league are trying to convince themselves that maybe, possibly, this could be the year to unseat the Warriors. And even an analytics-driven guy like Daryl Morey convinced himself in “All-Star Talent” (numbers be damned) this summer by adding Carmelo Anthony to the Rockets. The Charlotte Hornets are an easy, obvious choice, willing to package additional assets to move Nicolas Batum’s contract - which happens to fit quite nicely with Drummond in a trade scenario.
The Wizards have already waited too long to move on from Wall. So have the Pistons with Drummond. With each passing game, the Wizards only waste the opportunity to build around a core that makes sense and has potential. The same is true with the Pistons. Let’s just hope that unlike the Wizards, they’re willing to make the right call sooner than later. There’s not a ton of sand in the hourglass of a healthy, in his prime Blake Griffin.
Or in other words, it’s not you Andre, it’s us. We’ll remember the good times - the dancing penguins, the ally oops, the rebounding titles. But we’re just not right for each other. And staying together will only lead for us both resenting the situation. So it’s time to move on. Sometimes the best thing to do is the hardest thing: saying goodbye.