NBA junkies who watched Andre Drummond during Summer League saw an incredibly raw, uncomfortable rookie. He was 7’0 tall and brimming with potential, but he had very little basketball polish to go with his natural abilities.
Drummond struggled during Summer League in part because of the thrown-together nature of every preseason offense. Detroit’s offense seemed to encourage his mid-range jump-shots more than any offense close to the basket. As a result, Drummond missed a lot, turned the ball over profusely and allowed players like Kyle O’Quinn to shut him down offensively. At best, he looked like a project. At worst, he looked like a jigsaw puzzle with several pieces missing — a project that would never be finished.
But in the regular season, we’ve seen a very different player. Drummond has been surprisingly efficient, averaging 1.03 points per possession, 39th in the NBA (per mySynergySports). That’s better than the other rookie big men who were drafted ahead of him, Anthony Davis (0.99 PPP, 62nd overall) and Thomas Robinson (0.72 PPP, 340th overall).
Beckley Mason of HoopSpeak.com posted this article on Drummond’s rise and his potential ceiling:
As Drummond entered the 2012 Draft, that he possessed these physical abilities seemed to be the only givens about his game. Questions were everywhere: Would he be in shape? Did he love basketball enough to improve some of his glaring weaknesses (he is only shooting 40 percent from the free throw line)? Was he Kwame Brown or Dwight Howard?
For now, stop looking for the nuances and artistry traditionally associated with franchise big men. Here’s what counts: Andre Drummond can dunk and rebound at the highest level in the NBA.
He certainly can, and these skills have proven huge for Drummond so far. A large portion of the credit goes to Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank, who is putting him in a position to succeed. As Mason’s article pointed out, 71.3% of Drummond’s plays have come from Offensive Rebounds, Cut sets and P&R Roll Man sets — three sets that frequently lead to shot attempts right next to the rim. Indeed, according to NBA Stats Cube, 168 of Drummond’s field goal attempts so far this season have come from within the restricted area, where he is shooting 64%, as opposed to only 12 FGAs in the paint and seven from mid-range where he is a combined 4-19 for 21%.
In P&R plays, Drummond sets surprisingly good screens, getting most of his body in the way of the defender and either forcing the defender to run all the way around the pick or actually making physical contact to bump them off course. Then, on almost every play, he dives straight down the lane to the basket for a lob and a dunk. Drummond is extremely mobile and has excellent timing as the roll man, so he often finds himself clear of any defenders and ready to catch a lob at the basket. In this play, Zaza Pachulia of the Hawks gets caught between Will Bynum and Drummond and pays the price.
Because Drummond is so athletic and has such long arms, these plays are becoming routine. Of his last 13 P&R Roll Man shot attempts, 12 have been lobs, and he is 8-10 in those attempts (fouled twice, and one of the alley-oops was bad). Whenever possible, Drummond is diving to the basket after screens, and he’s very good at it. It’s a skill not many rookie big men have, and not many big men in general do it as well as Drummond, which is a big reason why he has the 25th highest PPP of any qualified Roll Man in the NBA.
Perhaps as a result of his newfound offensive comfort, Drummond can convert even when P&R opportunities don’t begin ideally. In Detroit’s surprising win over Miami, Drummond slipped behind Heat forward Chris Bosh for an alley-oop lay-up.
Drummond’s pick is uncharacteristically mediocre, but the Heat’s pick-and-roll defense gets its signals crossed, and allows Drummond to score. It begins when Norris Cole slides past Drummond with ease, but Chris Bosh over-commits on the hedge. Then Ray Allen gets caught on Drummond’s roll to the basket, and the Heat are in trouble.
Allen being out of place gives Will Bynum two options: Either he can pass to Tayshaun Prince for a moderately open 3-pointer, or he can toss the ball over Chris Bosh to Drummond. The choice, actually, belongs to Allen, who opts to scramble back onto Prince. Bynum lobs the ball over Bosh, and Drummond grabs it high in air and gets a somewhat awkward alley-oop layup out of the deal. It’s a pass that only works when a player like Drummond is on the other end, but such is the luxury of Detroit’s ball-handlers: Lobs are much easier when they are being thrown to a 7’0 center with a 33-inch vertical and a 7’6-inch wingspan.
But it isn’t just lob plays where we can see Drummond’s development as a player. He has also shown good awareness on cuts to the basket, and sets involving Drummond’s cuts make up 25.6% of his shot attempts at 1.13 PPP. While lob plays require little more than natural abilities and a sense of timing, cuts require a player to react quickly to what the defense is giving up, and Drummond has been reacting well to what the defense gives him. Here’s another example against Atlanta:
In this play, Drummond recognizes that Pachulia is doubling as soon as it happens and he begins to move toward the basket, anticipating a switch. Greg Monroe makes a wise decision as well and moves away from the ball after Pachulia doubles off of him. This combination of moves creates a spacial problem for Atlanta’s defense.
Ivan Johnson is forced to make a decision, and he makes the wrong one by going out to cover Monroe several feet behind the free throw line. Monroe, however admirable he is as a player, is shooting just 30% from 16-23 feet, whereas Andre Drummond is shooting (predictably) a very high percentage on wide open dunks.
As for offensive rebounds, it’s easy to understand how they turn into easy baskets. For a player who can neither create for himself off the dribble or in the post at this point, getting easy put-backs is one of the most effective ways Drummond can score. And indeed, they make up 31% of his offensive attempts.
But what’s most impressive about Drummond is the frequency with which he grabs grabs offensive rebounds. 16.2% of all available offensive boardss end up in Drummond’s hands, tied for 14th in the NBA with fellow rookie John Henson (just 0.6% behind Cleveland center Anderson Varejao). What’s most intriguing about Drummond’s offensive rebounding numbers is that he gets decent position under the boards, but most of his rebounds are a result of his long arms, high vertical leap and strong hands. Rather than being a rebounder in the ilk of Jared Sullinger and Kevin Love, all technique and little athleticism, Drummond simply uses his physical gifts to corral rebounds. As he develops his skills and technique to go with his athleticism, Drummond’s numbers should improve even more.
It should be noted that plenty of commentators don’t believe that Drummond is getting as many minutes as he deserves. At 19.6 MPG, Drummond is playing less than the likes of Andray Blatche and the aforementioned Zaza Pachulia. If Drummond continues to be as effective as he has been offensively, Detroit will be hard-pressed to justify his lack playing time.
But the Pistons are giving Drummond an opportunity to allow his basketball skills to catch up to his considerable natural gifts. It’s important that Drummond, undeniably underdeveloped offensively, becomes comfortable in his own skin before he tries to develop his mid-range shot or his back-to-the-basket game. Lawrence Frank’s usage of Drummond’s current offensive skill-set is allowing the young center to develop comfortably, and that may prove to be invaluable to Drummond as he learns how to be a dominant big man in the NBA.
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