Andre Drummond is either the NBA’s biggest mystery or the most boring player in the league. He’s a double-double machine who has shown he is the best rebounder on planet Earth and yet he’s thought of as a fringe top-10 center. He’s improved his game every year of his seven-year NBA career and yet year-in and year-out the overarching narrative is all the things he can’t do on a basketball court.
Drummond is paid like a superstar but isn’t someone you can expect to take over games. But, at the end of the day when you look at his production after 33 minutes, he’s had a huge impact on the game. With Drummond, you usually know what you’re going to get and for many fans of the Pistons and around the NBA it’s somehow never good enough.
This season, Drummond will attempt to change the narrative again. And this year, as he enters what could be a free-agency where he looks to get another max contract, people will probably say the same things about him they’ve said since he was a 19-year-old rookie.
Drummond quietly had his best season in the NBA last year. That’s nothing new for Dre, but whereas he usually improves incrementally from year to year, last season it looked like he took the step. You know, The Step. That big leap forward that only comes when the game slows down, your brain speeds up and everything comes a little more naturally.
Ironically, the catalyst might have been an injury to the big man’s noggin. Drummond was dominating the boards and looked like he was starting to make better decisions on the defensive end all season but he wasn’t exactly blowing away his skeptics. All the holes we know all too well were still there.
But then Drummond went into concussion protocol after taking a blow to the head Jan. 18 against the Miami Heat. He missed three games and came back as a different type of player. The bad shots were gone. The indecision was gone. The defense was on point.
Here’s a quick look at his baseline stats pre- and post-concussion.
Andre Drummond’s Two Seasons
One Big Question
The fundamental question for Drummond is can he sustain the level of play of his final 35 games last season for all 82? He’s always been on the floor but he hasn’t always been a difference maker. If he can bring it every single night then he might finally have a chance to silence a few of his loudest critics.
A more basic question, however, is far more interesting. Just how good of a defensive season can Drummond deliver? Dre can hoist all the 3-pointers in practice he wants, and he can rifle the occasional skip pass to a cutter. His offense is never going to be what gets him paid nor will it be what his team needs to become a consistent playoff threat. It’s defense.
Drummond already gets a leg up on defense because of his otherworldly rebounding. Limiting the opposing team’s possessions is extremely valuable to a defense. Now, he has to shut down the paint altogether. And that’s not about blocking shots. It’s about making smart reads, moving his feet and communicating with his teammates.
Another stat to consider. Prior to suffering his concussion, Drummond gave up a 59.1% shooting percentage within six feet of the basket. After returning from his concussion, Drummond surrendered just 52.8%. The prior mark puts him in Nikola Jokic territory and the later puts him in Joel Embiid territory.
Consider the game late last season against the Orlando Magic and big man Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic was heralded for a breakout year and All-Star big man, but Drummond dominated him when both teams were fighting for a playoff spot. Here Drummond cuts off the lane forcing a Johnathan Issac pass to Vucevic. Dre rotates and stays upright to force a difficult shot. He then own the paint around the basket preventing a good second-chance opportunity and eventually secures the rebound.
Here, after Reggie Jackson gets absolutely demolished by a screen (what’s new?), Drummond prevents Kyle Lowry from getting an easy path to the rim. At the same time, he doesn’t over-rotate and give Lowry an easy passing lane to a cutting Marc Gasol. Instead, Drummond maintains the integrity of the defense, rotates over just enough to cut off Lowry and force him into an awkward baseline jumper.
It’s the kind of play that would never make a highlight reel, but it’s how big men need to control the paint to ensure the defense doesn’t completely breakdown.
Drummond will be asked to do a lot but it’s all within his grasp. Lead the NBA in rebounding. Combine for 3+ blocks and steals. Take advantageous second-chance opportunities near the rim. Pass out when those shots are unavailable. Hit 62%-plus of his free throws. Allow opponents to shoot less than 54% within six feet. Have a 60-plus true shooting percentage. If he does all that it’ll likely be All-Star berth, playoff appearance and perhaps a fat new payday ... in Detroit or elsewhere.
So what is Drummond going to attempt to add to his game this year that will drive fans crazy? Last year it was the quickly abandoned 3-point shot. This year it looks like it’s going to be a face up game and I must admit I’m .... intrigued.
This is probably more of a byproduct of my hatred for his dreadful post-up game and thinking just about any alternative is better. But Drummond, I must admit, has sort of a soft touch, especially when he is able to use his length and contort his body into a feathery lay-up opportunity.
Drummond’s face-up game also affords him the opportunity to do his favorite thing — passing the ball. Again, I’m at least intrigued — especially if it means he is trading difficult attempts in the paint for kick-out opportunities to open shooters.
The preseason game against the Hornets showcased just about every Dre passing scenario.
The overly risky bounce pass to a cutter.
Passing up a difficult shot at the rim for a corner 3.
The drive and kick out for an open corner 3.
Trading bad shots for good passes will always be a quality decision for Dre. I’m cautiously optimistic.
The best-case scenario for Drummond is that he takes another sizeable step forward on the defensive end. If he can combine true lock down defense with elite rebounding and the kind of efficient offense he delivered in the final 35 games last season he could be among the big men in consideration for defensive player of the year.
And if Drummond and “defensive player of the year” are ever uttered in a non-ironic way in 2019-20 that probably means the Pistons are having an extremely good year.
Part of me thinks there is no worst-case scenario. If Drummond regresses, especially if Blake Griffin is sidelined and Drummond decides to put the offense on his shoulders, well, that means it’s time to move on from Dre (at minimum). Despite what Tom Gores every says, I think the Pistons are in this Drummond relationship with eyes wide open. If Drummond is traded it’ll be for a good reason. If he moves on in free agency it’ll be for a good reason. And if he’s retained on another long-term contract it’s likely because he took yet another step forward.
So, I guess, the worst-case is that his season is so meh that he decides not to opt out of his deal and the franchise reset is delayed another year. Meh, that’s not so bad.