Brandon Jennings tied a Pistons single-quarter record with 11 assists in the first quarter against the Phoenix Suns on Saturday. Most, six of the 11, came in transition. Usually, these kind of dimes are much easier, but Jennings deserves for running the floor and creating the opportunities.
But, on closer inspection, perhaps another Piston deserves credit for Jennings’ assists, too.
All but one of Jennings’ transition assists were triggered by a defensive play made by Andre Drummond – two blocks, one steal, and two other stops. Here is the tape of six Drummond-generated fastbreaks (I apologize for the quality):
As you can see, all of the plays lead to a quick outlet and a fast break.
The first one does not lead to a basket because Jennings hesitates to lob it up for Drummond. Jennings tends to do that at times, which is also a reason why he commits too many turnovers.
On the second play, Goran Dragic is unable, or unwilling, to go over Drummond, and makes a risky pass which leads to a steal.
The third and fourth plays are a swat of the ball against the backboard.
The fifth a steal, which leads to a highlight dunk.
Finally, Drummond scares the Leandro Barbosa so badly that the Brazilian throws up an airball floater in order to circumvent another rejection.
Let’s look closer at the blocks and forced airball:
Drummond blocks all three shots with his left-hand. This is outstanding for a player his age.
If you look at other (especially young) big men, they tend to block shots only with their strong hand. Drummond has the skills to mirror mostly right-handed opponents.
Moreover, Drummond keeps the ball in play, which is crucial. Bill Russell was one of the great shot blockers at his time, and he always preached keeping the ball in play. Javale McGee, for example, ofteen tries to spike the ball into the stands. This is an issue because the team does not receive the opportunity to run a fastbreak – or even gain possession. Therefore, the block becomes a somewhat empty statistic.
Meanwhile, Drummond channels the ball toward his teammates – even using the backboard to do so – which enables the team to run the floor. This kind of defensive intelligence is outstanding, and I would like to think Rasheed Wallace has something to do with it.
Here is Drummond’s good defense on a driving Dragic:
Dragic has driven all the way to the basket, but he knows Drummond is an excellent shot blocker, so Dragic attempts to drop it to Miles Plumlee. This is not a bad idea, since the Pistons defense has not properly rotated. What you see here is a perfect example of ball watching, as the rotation is not crisp at all. Jennings look out of sorts, as he should have gone all the way down to Plumlee to prevent the pass. Instead, he is not guarding anyone. Fortunately, Plumlee struggles to catch the ball and Jennings can steal it. The point is, had someone like Monroe been in Drummond’s place, Dragic probably would have scored or drawn a foul. Instead, Drummond has denied two points, and thereby created two for his own team.
Lastly, Drummond steals the ball from Dragic in this sequence. Dragic is a good point guard, but this play shows just how the Piston center influences the game, actively and passively. In spite of Dragic coming at him with great speed, trying to cross him over, Drummond simply pokes the ball away. There are very few centers in the league who can stay this low to do this to a driving guard. Drummond can do it. In this instance, he is rewarded with a dunk off the backboard.
Drummond is special. Most of the league has recognized this.
But not everyone realizes his full value.
He not only plays well defensively, he helps the team on offense as well – a classic case of defense creating offense. One can argue that each of the six situations, or more than a half of Jennings’ first-quarter assists, happened due to Drummond’s defensive prowess. In two of them, it is evident that the driving player is afraid of Drummond, which causes a bad pass and an airball. Those plays don’t show up in the box score for Drummond.
This ability, to dominate in so many ways defensively, strongly reminds me of Ben Wallace.
It has always been a mystery to me, why the Pistons were so much better offensively with Wallace on the floor. Apart from Wallace setting strong screens and being a good passer, I believe these kinds of situations are also a reason for it.
Drummond hasn’t neared Wallace’s level defensively yet, but the second-year-player is showing progress. Some might not see it, but the Pistons’ offense clearly does.