In an NBA shifting increasingly small, faster, and more skilled, Andre Drummond remains an intriguing throwback to a time when giants roamed the hardwood floors.
Blessed with incredible size and athleticism, Drummond simply lacked the refined skill and experience to harness his natural abilities. There were significant concerns regarding his raw offensive game and motor, hence his falling to the eighth pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.
For as much as he was seen as a raw project, the development of the modern big man has less to do with adding entirely new layers, and more to do with hiding weaknesses and accentuating the already considerable strengths. Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy has experience crafting systems to do just that, having put together championship-caliber teams in Miami and Orlando with Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard.
Since Van Gundy arrived, Drummond has improved exponentially, taking on larger roles with little change to his per-36 minute numbers. It was enough that the Pistons felt comfortable letting Greg Monroe walk, signing a three-year, $50 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks–appointing Drummond as the clear cut leader of the Pistons organization.
In an attempt to build around Drummond, the Pistons picked up stretch-big men Ersan Ilyasova and Marcus Morris in an attempt to recreate the 2009-10 Orlando Magic squad that Van Gundy led to the NBA Finals.
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On opening night of the regular season, Drummond announced his arrival with authority, scoring 18 points and grabbing 19 rebounds against the Atlanta Hawks, making short work of Al Horford and Tiago Splitter. Since, he’s put up numbers normally reserved for video games.
Over the course of the first six games, Drummond put up three 20-point, 20-rebound nights, a feat that had only previously been accomplished by Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That outburst included an unbelievable 29-point, 27 rebound-performance against the Portland Trail Blazers, leading his team to a 13-point fourth quarter comeback for a 120-103 victory.
As has been the case throughout his career at UConn and Detroit, Drummond’s dominance has come from inside the paint. While his work in the pick-and-roll and offensive glass (nine offensive rebounds) have become reliable staples of his offense, Drummond showed something he hasn’t previously displayed–a post-up game.
Throughout the game, Drummond displayed moves from the left and right block, utilizing outstanding footwork, silky soft touch, and his usual thunderous displays of athleticism:
Though Drummond still requires others to set the table for the bulk of his offensive production, his presence generates easy driving and passing lanes for teammates, which he then capitalizes on by making himself available. Per Synergy, Drummond averaged 1.31 PPP as a pick-and-roll big during the 2013-14 season and 1.18 PPP in 2014-15. Whether playing with Brandon Jennings or Reggie Jackson, Drummond is capable of developing instant chemistry with his point guard.
Such insanely efficient product stems from how Drummond uses his athleticism to get off his screens and quickly roll towards the rim.
Drummond’s evolution into a huge offensive threat has also helped out Detroit’s other players. The urgency in which he moves forces defenses to choose from any number of bad decisions–allowing the ball-handler access to the lane, giving Drummond a head of steam towards the rim, or rotating weak-side defenders and giving up open perimeter looks.
As previously mentioned, Drummond has the innate ability to create an instant connection with his point guard, and Jackson has benefited as evident by his 18.2 points and 8.1 assists on 41 percent shooting from the field (33 percent from beyond the arc) since joining the Pistons. Jackson is a dynamic guard who can create his own shot in any situation and use his awesome quickness to get to the rim, but it’s his partnership with Drummond that truly makes the Pistons shine.
In Portland, the Trail Blazers decided to focus on Drummond. Despite all the extra attention, Drummond had a historical night, while Jackson has started to prove he can quickly use his plethora of offensive skills to stick a dagger through the hearts of the opposition.
Another way that the sheer presence of Drummond hurts opponents is through Detroit’s perimeter threats. As previously mentioned, the Pistons used the off-season to acquire 3-point shooters Ilyasova and Morris. So far in this season, those two players have implemented themselves well into Van Gundy’s system. Ilyasova has reestablished his pristine perimeter touch, shooting 43 perimeter from beyond the arc during the young season. And while Marcus Morris’ 33 percent isn’t as efficient, the focus on Drummond has given him the spacing needed to showcase his all-around skill set–averaging 14 points and 6.5 rebounds.
Andre Drummond’s continued offensive progression and historical early-season numbers have pushed attention away from his real bread-and-butter: defense. It’s the difference between night and day for Detroit’s defense when Drummond is on the court (97 points per 100 possessions) compared to when he’s on the sidelines (101.8 points per 100).
There’s nobody on the Pistons, or really on any NBA roster for that matter, who possesses the physical profile of Andre Drummond. Strength and speed allows him to take care of centers while occasionally switching out and guarding against a power forward or wing. Drummond’s leaping ability has allowed him to be a solid shot-blocker, with 1.4 per game.
Starting the season at a solid 7-7, Andre Drummond and the Detroit Pistons have established themselves as a potential playoff squad in the Eastern Conference. While there’s a lot of basketball left in the season, the leadership and tenacity that Drummond brings on a nightly basis is something that should strike fear into the hearts of the other 29 NBA teams for a long time to come.
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