By Matthew Way
It has long been the case in the NBA that teams cannot compete for a championship without a star player. In the past, the Detroit Pistons have been something of an exception to the rule, winning three championships without a consensus top five player.
But in the era of super teams, having at least one elite player is more important than ever; and the most realistic chance the Pistons have at obtaining one is betting on Andre Drummond’s development.
Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations Stan Van Gundy has gone all in on Drummond. And five years into his NBA career, approaching the age of 25, the time for excuses has come and passed.
It’s time for Drummond to prove his worth.
Andre Drummond looked to be a steal in rookie season as the ninth overall pick in the draft. He was a devastating finisher in the pick-and-roll, a dominant rebounder and capable shot blocker. Early in his career, he appeared to be on a path to stardom, as this 2015 video from Coach Nick shows:
Though Drummond remains all of those things, his weaknesses have become increasingly glaring.
Most of the talk surrounding Drummond’s flaws revolves around his horrible free throw shooting. A 38 percent career mark from the free-throw line often keeps him off the floor when the Pistons are in the bonus and Drummond is performing well. Though the most glaring of his issues, free throw shooting is far from his only significant flaw.
Most notably, in five years, Drummond has failed to improve his rim protection. In fact, in the last three seasons, Drummond has contested fewer shots at the rim while giving up a higher shooting percentage.
Not a great trend here for Andre Drummond's defense pic.twitter.com/kVWsqAWgnZ
— Matthew Way (@waymatth) July 18, 2017
Drummond’s defensive deficiencies are mostly a product of his inattention to detail. While he certainly has the physical tools to be an elite defender, he often struggles to recognize plays and/or defensive rotations, leaving him a step late to contest shots.
When he does recognize plays, his length and athleticism take over and he shows his potential as a rim protector.
Should Drummond learn to better recognize plays as they develop, he has the potential to be a dominant defender. It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility. When opponents operate away from the rim, Drummond shows very good instincts in jumping passing lanes and combines it with quick hands, evidenced by his league-leading steal rate among centers.
Drummond’s elite defensive rebounding and steal rate provide plenty of positive value for the Pistons, but his lack of awareness in rim protection consistently leaves the Pistons frustrated for what could be. Entering a critical season for both he and the Pistons, Drummond will need to show much better defensive instincts around the rim if he wants to be a part of the Pistons’ long-term plans.
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Offensively, Drummond was simply born into the wrong era. While he has the body of a modern center, he lacks the skills required of the position.
Drummond’s efficiency has dropped off the map since Van Gundy took over before the 2014-2015 season. Van Gundy immediately attempted to turn Drummond into the same role he build for Dwight Howard in his Orlando Magic days: a bully in the middle of the court who could overpower smaller defenders. Drummond has never developed the mean streak required for that kind of role, though. He’s developed some post moves in his five-year career, but they are nothing resembling effective. And it’s time for him and the Pistons to accept that he’s never going to be an effective post scorer.
Drummond is at his best offensively when he’s being used like he was in his first two seasons, setting high screens and rolling hard to the paint. He has athleticism and a catch radius that very few people can match, which makes him a terror every time he is able to get to the paint running downhill.
The Pistons ran into some issues in the pick-and-roll last season because teams began to adjust to prevent Drummond from getting to the rim so easily. Rather than allow the pick-and-roll to occur, teams began to double team the ball handler high, forcing an early pass to Drummond who looked lost with the ball in space. He would often times try to put the ball on the floor rather than make a simple pass to the man who was open as a result of the double team.
When he did make the extra pass as defenses collapsed on him, Drummond showed some ability as a passer.
Unfortunately, his passing in these situations was too infrequent to have any real positive impact on the Pistons’ offense.
If he and Van Gundy were to transition him into a pure pick-and-roll big who could finish and pass when appropriate, Drummond would undoubtedly see his efficiency skyrocket back to where it was in his first two seasons in the league.
It’s clear what his role needs to be. It’s clear what he needs to improve on, especially defensively. If Andre Drummond can become the player he should and needs to be, the Pistons have a center they can build around for years to come.
If Drummond can’t prove to be that player next season, it certainly looks like it will be time for the Pistons to tear things down and start from scratch.
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