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Spotlight Series: Pistons Edition — Andre Drummond

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

In “The Spotlight Series,” I’ll be looking at a player or two (depending on the team) from each team in the league that, in my opinion, doesn’t get attention at all from casual fans, or doesn’t get enough praise for what he brings to the table.

Year two of the Stan Van Gundy Era was a success for the Pistons. They won 44 games and earned their first playoff berth since the 2008-09 season. The eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers swept them, but they battled throughout the series.

The once-hairy shoulders of Andre Drummond, who earned his first All-Star appearance last season, fueled their success. He was rewarded with a lucrative five-year, $130 million extension this summer. Only 23 years old, it’s up to Drummond to take yet another leap and become the transcendent talent he has the potential to be.

THE NUMBERS

Due to being a raw prospect, and questions about his motor and attitude floating around, Drummond slid to the Pistons with the ninth pick in the 2012 draft.

Drummond’s averages of 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, and one steal in 20.7 minutes (13.8/13.2/2.8/1.7 per 36) were good enough to earn him an All-Rookie Second Team selection. His post-All-Star break work — 11.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 1.2 steals in ten starts — gave the Pistons’ brass enough confidence to hand Drummond the starting job moving forward.

Drummond’s per-game numbers have improved incrementally in each of the last three seasons, with his 2015-16 campaign being his best one:

  • 2013-14: 32.3 minutes, 13.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 1.2 steals
  • 2014-15: 30.5 minutes, 13.8 points, 13.5 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 0.9 steals
  • 2015-16: 32.9 minutes, 16.2 points, 14.8 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.5 steals

Drummond is the only player in NBA history with a minimum of 300 career games played, that averages north of 20 points and 20 rebounds per 100 possessions for his career.

However, his advanced metrics, via Basketball-Reference, paint a different picture. While solid overall, they’ve steadily declined every year:

  • 2013-14: 22.6 PER, 59.9 TS%, 9.9 Win Shares (.182 WS per 48), 2.4 VORP (Value over replacement player)
  • 2014-15: 21.4 PER, 50.4 TS%, 7.7 Win Shares (.147 WS per 48), 1.2 VORP
  • 2015-16: 21.2 PER, 49.9 TS%, 7.4 Win Shares (.133 WS per 48), 1.0 VORP

Of course, that isn’t an apocalyptic trend within the context of his age, the coaching and schematic changes, revolving door of front court teammates, and increased responsibilities on both ends. Drummond is just scratching the surface of his potential, a great sign for the Pistons considering his production already.

THE EVIDENCE

You can’t talk about Andre Drummond without marveling at his athleticism. A man listed at 6’11, 279 pounds isn’t supposed to be as nimble as he is, or jump as high as he can. His combination of instinct, sheer size, quickness, brute strength, and leaping ability — the quickness of his second, third, sometimes fourth jumps are absurd — make him the NBA’s version of Windex.

Look at this sequence from the Big Penguin here. This is just stupid:

 

In these two examples, both Meyers Leonard (Portland) and Jared Sullener (Boston) had inside positioning, but Dre came up with the goods like they weren’t even there:

 

Via Synergy, Drummond led the NBA with 370 points off putbacks last season — 126 more points than second place finisher Enes Kanter. Drummond had 14 games with at least eight offensive rebounds last season, tops in the NBA; the rest of the top five had 16 combined.

Drummond’s physical tools also translate well in the pick-and-roll game. With soft hands, a 33.5 inch vertical leap, and a 7’6.25 wingspan, it takes more skill to miss Drummond with a pass than it does to connect with him:

 

Via Synergy, Drummond ranked in the 71.7 percentile as a pick-and-roll finisher and converted 62.3 percent of his attempts — the seventh-highest mark among 68 players with at least 100 possessions as the roll-man.

Drummond is already a dangerous roller, glass cleaner, and superior finisher (career 63.3% FG inside of three feet). In order to make the next leap, he’ll have to improve his post play and, gulp, free throw shooting.

To Drummond’s credit, he has become more comfortable with his back to the basket. If nothing else, his righty jump hook has become more reliable:

 

Drummond’s volume on hook shots has increased by leaps and bounds over the last two years as he’s been force-fed on the block — by design — since Stan Van Gundy took over:

  • 2012-13: 2-11 (18.2% FG)
  • 2013-14: 27-48 (56.3% FG)
  • 2014-15: 82-192 (42.7% FG)
  • 2015-16: 136-301 (45.2% FG)

Drummond can also beat slower bigs off the dribble when facing up, and has a nasty spin move he goes to when he catches a defender leaning:

 

There’s tangible and aesthetic improvement, specifically over the last couple of seasons. Drummond surveys the court on the catch before starting his move — something that unseasoned bigs usually struggle with (looking at you, Hassan Whiteside). He’s developed some counters, so he isn’t completely robotic.

Speaking of Whiteside, look how Drummond victimizes him here:

 

He wouldn’t have had the patience or the footwork to make that play in his rookie year.

However, Drummond just doesn’t have that natural feel, and it shows. He’s become more fluid, but his moves are more scripted than reactionary. Much like opponents know Whiteside wants to face up, take one hard dribble one way and immediately spin to the other, opponents know Drummond wants to get to his right hand:

 

Via Synergy, Drummond ranked in the 26.9 percentile on post-ups. Of the 51 players that attempted at least 100 shots on post-ups, Drummond had the fifth worst field goal percentage (36.9) and third worst points per possession mark (0.73). Even with his slight improvement on hook shot efficient, Drummond ranked 38th in field goal percentage among the 47 players that attempted at least 50 hook shots last year.

The other issue with Drummond is his free throw shooting. He’s a career 38 percent free throw shooter, easily the worst mark in NBA history (minimum of 1000 attempts).

Coach Collin of ShotMechanics.com did a 6ish minute video breakdown of Drummond’s form, which you can check out (in full) here. He broke it down into three parts.

Drummond’s feet:

 

His shooting finger:

 

And his shoulders and balance:

 

There’s also the idea of shooting free throws underhanded like Rick Barry, but we can pretty much guarantee he won’t do it.

Defensively, he is more flash than fruition right now. In a vacuum, that’s okay; he’s only 23, and the Pistons ranked 13th in Defensive Rating last year after ranking 21st the year before.

Drummond has the tools to be one of the NBA’s best defenders. He’s strong, nimble on his feet, has fast hands, and not only jumps high, but he also jumps quickly.

Not too many big men are stripping Dwyane Wade on consecutive possessions:

 

 

Since entering the league in 2012, Drummond is one of three players with at least 400 blocks and 300 steals, along with Anthony Davis and Josh Smith.

The numbers and the highlights are nice, but it’s about time we start seeing better awareness from Drummond defensively.

The biggest issue for him overall is positioning. Whenever he has to venture out of the paint to help contain the pick-and-roll, he’s prone to lapses.

As mentioned earlier, he has quick hands, and that leads to steals. However, his Hardenian swipes and failed gambles leave the paint wide open:

 

For someone as bulky as Drummond, he does a less-than-optimal job holding his ground on the block:

 

Opponents shot 52.6 percent at the rim against Drummond last year, tied for 47th in the NBA among 58 players that defended at least five shots at the rim per game (minimum 50 games played). He ranked in the 32.9 percentile defending post-ups and ranked in the 16.9 percentile when defending the roll man in pick-and-roll.

Detroit runs a relatively conservative scheme with their bigs in pick-and-roll, and, again, Drummond has the physical tools to both hold his own in space, as well as protect the rim with force. It’s just a matter of limiting his gambles and cutting off angles better. Marc Gasol is living proof that understanding angles and positioning can go a long way.

Last season was a big one for Drummond. He made his first All-Star team, made the playoffs, and got selected to the All-NBA Third Team. He was rewarded with a handsome new deal. Now entering his fifth season, it’s time for him to make a leap defensively so he can transition from budding young star to bonafide superstar.

 

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