Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond is getting ready to enter his sixth season. It’s not make-or-break, but it’s as close as it gets.
That may be a little rash to say, but I believe it. Andre Drummond is still young and is going to be in the NBA for a while. He’ll be 24 at the start of the 2017-18 season, and he’s come a long way from the 19-year-old rookie whose selection was based entirely on potential. As it stands, Drummond is a historically great rebounder and an above-average defender. It’s not a do-or-die season for him because, no matter what, he’ll be able to excel on the backboards and defense, but this could be one of his last chances to have that breakout scoring campaign.
Last year, Detroit was a mess on offense. They ranked 26th in scoring average and 24th in efficiency, and that stemmed from having no identity on that end of the court. All of the Pistons victories would have to come from lockdown performances on defense, and they were on the cusp of being an elite defense. Stan Van Gundy’s team gave up 107.1 points per 100 possessions, a mark good enough for eighth overall. Drummond was a part of that. He was their anchor.
Andre’s defensive rating was a 99, which led the league. He also led the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage with 36.2 and posted a defensive box plus/minus of 2.9, a career-high. Still, Drummond’s not perfect. Opponents shot 63.6 percent inside of six feet when guarded by him. It’s bizarre when you think about it — the Pistons have a big body who’s way too athletic for his size, and he had one of his worst campaigns when it came to protecting the paint.
Also Read: KCP Looks For Rebirth With Lakers
Drummond averaged 1.1 blocks a game but countered it with 1.5 steals, and those were the lowest and highest of his career, respectively. He may not use his size effectively on defense yet, but Drummond knows how to maneuver and get position when gunning for rebounds. He has a sixth sense.
If Drummond’s career plateaus — which I hope it doesn’t — he’ll go down as one of the greatest rebounders in NBA history and probably the best in Pistons history. At the age of 23, he’s pulled down 4,945 rebounds, second in league history to Dwight Howard through that age. He also leads all active players with 12.8 total boards a night and 4.6 on the offensive end. It doesn’t stop there. Drummond’s robust frame makes him a terror on the offensive glass, demonstrated by his lead among active players. However, he’s alongside Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone when we start talking all-time.
The NBA missed the ball by not tracking steals, blocks and offensive rebounds until 1973-74. If history were different, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell would be atop that category. We can’t go back in time, but four decades is still an enormous sample size.
According to Basketball Reference, Hakeem, Larry Smith and Moses are the only players to average more o-boards than Drummond through age 23. Olajuwon had two years of service; Smith was at one. Malone had three after coming over from the ABA. Drummond completed five. His consistency is unparalleled even if the volume is lesser than two Hall of Famers.
When we whittle it down to Detroit players only, Drummond is all over the leaderboards. Regarding volume, he’s already had three of the Pistons 10 best rebounding campaigns. That’s a list that includes, Dennis Rodman, Bob Lanier and Ben Wallace.
No matter what end of the floor he’s on, Drummond’s size allows him just to toss guys to the side. Add in his explosiveness, and he has all the makings of an elite rebounder. Outstanding glass cleaners benefit their teams immensely. On offense, it allows for second shots which are typically easy points because they’re right around the basket. That’s not the case with Drummond. According to Synergy, he had 281 putback possessions, which led the league. On those attempts, Drummond scored 286 points, which put him in the 42nd percentile with 1.02 points per possession.
On the surface, it’s odd. A gifted athlete who’s not getting more points on second shots? It makes sense. Once you start scrolling, however, it hits you — he’s not shooting every time he gets a putback. I can’t lie, it took me a minute to realize that. Of those 281 possessions, Drummond put up 230 shots and connected on 129 of them, giving him a field goal percentage of 56.1. That clip is right alongside guys like Rudy Gobert (56.8), DeAndre Jordan (57.1) and Hassan Whiteside (58.3).
The NBA’s shot tracking recorded a clip of 55.2 on “tip layup shots” for Drummond, and he was a combined 31-of-38 on putback dunks and layups. It’s evident that the former All-Star is solid around the basket and he’s rather versatile inside the restricted area. Drummond cleans up the glass, but he’s also an outstanding target for alley-oops and the Pistons utilized that fairly well.
Detroit’s ball handlers connected with Andre on 89 lobs in 105 attempts, a clip that sits just under 85 percent. That’s outstanding. I keep going back to his size and athleticism, and those are two factors that play a role in how lethal someone is when rolling to the basket or cutting through an open lane. Should the Pistons decide to sustain their pick-and-roll heavy offense, Drummond is going to be one of the first options for the ball handler, but it’s going to require help from other players to make those sets easier. Avery Bradley has blossomed on the offensive end while Tobias Harris has been consistent, and both Drummond and Reggie Jackson need them to occupy the defense to open the floor.
Heading into year six, that’s the extent of Drummond’s offense. For him to take that next step and reach his potential as an elite two-way center, he’s going to have to get better creating for himself. Alley-oops are nice, but it’s reliant on the point guard making the proper read. The more limited Drummond is, the easier it is for the defense.
This past year, Dre finished in the 20th percentile on post ups. That’s bad — a lower percentile than Aron Baynes, to be specific. His 0.73 points per possession are puzzling, but so is the 41.9 percent he shot. Of course, many factors play into this impotence.
First, Detroit’s offense didn’t help. Naturally, teams didn’t have to worry about the Pistons scoring — especially from three. At 33 percent, they finished 28th in the league, and that meant defenders could bring the double-team without worrying about their man hitting from deep. Part of the blame also falls on Drummond. His array of moves on the block is limited. If the opposing center cuts off his driving lane, Drummond’s only move is a hook shot. He doesn’t fare well on those.
NBA.com recorded a clip of 43.1 percent on those attempts. For comparison, Anthony Davis shot 52 percent, and Karl-Anthony Towns is at 60. Drummond has two-way star potential like the two guys above, but they’ve already mastered their offense. It’s also important to remember that neither Towns nor Davis got drafted because of their dominance with putting the ball in the basket. Like Drummond, they were expected to be defensive game-changers.
However, there’s a bright spot: turnaround hook shots. Drummond is much more accurate on those and converts them at 49.3 percent. It was only 71 attempts, but there’s a foundation for him to build on. Being an elite offensive player doesn’t mean having the most moves in your bag, but instead having two or three so refined that you can switch them when the defender takes one away. Playing with your back to the basket also requires patience, and Drummond does an excellent job mixing up the pace with which he attacks.
Since he’s already rather adept at spinning away from the defense, it — theoretically — should be easier to develop countermoves. For example, let’s say Drummond is backing down DeAndre Jordan or Hassan Whiteside. Both guys are elite rim protectors who block a lot of shots. Drummond isn’t much smaller and is just as athletic, if not more. He can use a dribble or two before spinning right, which is going to be his first instinct because it’s his dominant hand. Instead of going up and shooting over the defender, he can pump fake and step through or spin back to the left. Those are legitimate counters.
It’s also a baby step. Drummond won’t be Hakeem levels of death in the post, but he can become a 20-point guy if he works at it. He can also choose to develop a reliable jumper, but broadens his offense even more because he’ll have a face-up game to boot.
Drummond’s also been working on slimming down this offseason. That’ll make him lighter on his feet and even more explosive because he won’t be lugging around 290 pounds for 30-35 minutes.
Back-to-the-basket development should be a priority for Drummond. However, it doesn’t address the elephant in the room — or, should I say, on the court. (Sorry. I’ll see myself out.)
Just as Drummond’s a historically-great rebounder, he’s the worst free throw shooter in NBA history. Literally. Of the 702 players who have attempted 1,500 or more career foul shots, Dre is dead last with a clip of 38.1 percent. As if that weren’t bad enough, Drummond and DeAndre Jordan are the only two players ever to have more than two seasons shooting less than 40 percent at the charity stripe with more than 100 attempts. They have four each.
I wish fixing his free throw woes were as simple as expanding moves on offense. Unfortunately, it’s not. We’ve documented Drummond’s issues at the line since he entered the league and it’s more of a mental problem than anything else. You can tweak his form all you want, but if he doesn’t think he can make them, they’re not going to fall. Hack-a-Dre doesn’t help, either.
Everyone in Detroit is ready for Drummond to make that leap. The sky’s the limit for him, and a lack of offense is the only thing holding him back. He’s already entered the rebounding record books and is a reliable defender more games than not, but the inability to serve as a go-to scorer is only going to hamper the team. Drummond has the physical tools to average 19-21 points a night — he just needs the skill. He’s still young, but it’s rare to see a borderline All-Star have explosive improvement after his sixth season.
Start a conversation with me on Twitter