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.
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