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NBA Saturday: Drummond on Course to Take Game to Another Level

Already one of the best centers in the NBA, Andre Drummond still has plenty of room to improve.

Jesse Blancarte

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Detroit Pistons team president and head coach Stan Van Gundy is considered by many people to be one of the best overall coaches in the NBA. The bulk of Van Gundy’s success as an NBA head coach took place with the Orlando Magic, where he crafted a potent offensive team based around his dominant center, Dwight Howard. Howard’s best years came under the tutelage of Van Gundy, so when Van Gundy took over the Pistons in 2014, many people were excited about the positive effect his presence could have on Andre Drummond.

Last season, at the age of 22, Drummond averaged 16.2 points, 14.8 rebounds (most in the NBA), 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game, while shooting 52.1 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from the free throw line. These numbers are already extremely impressive for a then-22-year-old (with the exception of his free throw shooting) and yet Drummond still has significant room to keep improving moving forward.

“Look, he’s the guy – probably he and Stanley (Johnson) are the guys who can, I think, based on their age and what they’ve done and what they’re capable of doing, who have the potential to make the biggest jumps,” Van Gundy said to Keith Langlois of NBA.com recently.

When you look at the Pistons’ roster, there are more than a handful of young players the team should be excited about developing and building around. But Van Gundy is right – the future of the franchise right now is most dependent on the development of Johnson and Drummond in particular.

“[Drummond is] still so young, but he’s been in the league long enough,” Van Gundy said. “He’s got to really just do what it takes on the mental level to get himself ready to play every night and get himself focused at that level and that hasn’t quite happened yet. Now, it’s improved every year, which is good. But he’s not quite there all the time to where he’s ready to go.”

Van Gundy correctly points out that Drummond sometimes appears to be a step slow or unable to keep pace with the game on some nights. To be fair, at 7’0 and roughly 280 lbs, it is likely difficult to give full effort on every play over an 82-game season, in addition to the playoffs. This is especially true considering that Drummond played 32.9 minutes per game last season. However, when Drummond is able to lock in his intensity and focus, his ability to impact the game defensively is a game-changer for the Pistons.

“I thought in the Cleveland series, he played with that attitude of challenging shots and making it tough around the basket and he sustained that pretty much throughout the four games,” Van Gundy said. “If he does that, then he makes a big jump with our team.”

Despite his size, mobility, minutes played per game and Detroit’s defensive schemes that intentionally funnel opposing ball-handlers to him in the paint, Drummond didn’t measure all that well in some notable advanced defensive metrics. For example, Drummond doesn’t measure well in just about every one of Nylon Calculus’ rim protection statistics. Compared to less heralded big men, Drummond didn’t hold opponents to a particularly low field goal percentage at the rim, nor did he save his team a notable amount of points at the rim per game, according to these statistics.

However, Drummond did measure well in some other advance statistics, such as ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, where he logged a +3.16 defensive rating (eighth overall among centers) and 5.5 in Defensive Win Shares (fourth overall). However, Drummond only logged 112 blocks last season (19th overall), which is an issue considering that Drummond averaged almost 33 minutes per game last season, he played in 81 regular season games. When you consider that forwards like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jerami Grant recorded more blocks overall than Drummond did and that the Pistons’ center had more steals overall (119) than blocks, that’s somewhat of a concern. So while Drummond makes a positive overall defensive impact for the Pistons, his rim protection and shot blocking aren’t where they could be, or arguably should be at this point.

However, Drummond is still just 23 years old, so he very likely will improve in this area, and his best basketball is definitely still ahead of him.

“Andre’s worked really hard,” Van Gundy said. “I think he did a pretty good job last summer; I think he’s added to that this summer in terms of being disciplined in his approach and working hard. I think he’s taken a different approach to his free-throw shooting. He’s really worked hard on some of his other areas.”

It’s good to hear that Drummond has spent the summer working on his game, including his free throw shooting. It’s well known that Drummond’s free throw shooting is a major weakness in his game and will continue to be a liability in late-game situations until he shows consistent improvement.

However, Drummond also stands to improve as the team’s offensive presence under the basket. Last year, 27.5 percent of Drummond’s offensive possessions were used in the post with his back to the basket, but he only ranks in the 26.9th percentile (0.73 points per possession) of all players in post-up scoring efficiency. Considering the high volume of possessions he uses with his back to the basket and how inefficient he is in this setting, it’s clear that Drummond is leaving significant production on the table. Hopefully he has worked diligently on this part of the game over the summer since Van Gundy demands his centers to be weapons in the post, which allows him to spread the court with four shooters as he did so often with Howard and the Magic (causing teams to pick their poison).

Despite his inefficiency with his back to the basket, Drummond is already pretty solid in terms of scoring efficiency in the pick-and-roll, which is arguably more important than being a dominant post player in today’s NBA. Drummond ranks in the 72nd percentile among pick-and-roll finishers, scoring 1.10 points per possession. The issue though is that Drummond only gets involved in the pick-and-roll at a 13.2 percent frequency, which is well below other notable centers who score almost exclusively as a roll man. If Drummond can’t improve his scoring efficiency with his back to the basket, Van Gundy should seriously consider utilizing him more as a roll man next season rather than forcing the ball into the post repeatedly.

Regardless of the notable limitations in Drummond’s game, he is already one of the most productive centers in the league and has plenty of room to keep improving. You may view Van Gundy as being nitpicky for calling Drummond’s effort into question considering his notable box-score statistics, but Van Gundy sees Drummond’s massive potential and is pushing him to help him fulfill it. As discussed above, there are plenty of areas for Drummond to keep fine-tuning his game and to increase his overall efficiency. Whether Drummond is able to do that effectively will arguably be the biggest factor in how far Detroit can go this upcoming season and beyond.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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