Determining Andre Drummond’s Role

Jan 10, 2017; Sacramento, CA, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) defends Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins (15) during the second quarter at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 10, 2017; Sacramento, CA, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) defends Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins (15) during the second quarter at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

Andre Drummond’s development has been slow, and his role has become muddled. The Detroit Pistons should look to his game in Sacramento for guidance.

Five years into the career of Andre Drummond, the frustration surrounding his development has become palpable.  Spend a night on Twitter during a Detroit Pistons‘ game and you’ll see fans mocking his free throw shooting, complaining about his effort level, and contemplating whether the Pistons should move on from him.

It’s not all Drummond’s fault.  He seems to be a hard worker who has improved on different areas of his game each year.  He’s also still only 23 years old.  He certainly has room to improve on both ends of the floor.  But, five years into his career, he largely is who he is as a basketball player.  And it’s become time for the Pistons to accept who he is and help him develop the role that will maximize his abilities.

Determining Drummond’s role begins with looking at where he provides the most value.  In four of Drummond’s first five seasons, he has been significantly more valuable on the defensive end of the floor than he has been offensively.  Although his rim protection has not progressed at a rate the Pistons would like to see, Drummond provides very real value on the defensive end simply by being as large and athletic as he is.

Drummond’s athleticism allows him to get into passing lanes and steal passes at a higher rate than nearly every center in the league.  Steals have very real value, and Drummond is terrific in that regard.  Drummond also provides great value on the defensive end through his defensive rebounding, which he does at a historically elite level.  Whether it be through stealing the ball or rebounding misses, Drummond closes out a lot of the Pistons’ opponents’ possessions, and he makes the Pistons’ defense better by doing so.

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Offensively, things have not gone so well for Drummond and the Pistons.  Duncan Smith detailed the offensive problems that the Pistons have had with Drummond on the floor previously.  Drummond’s post-ups just aren’t efficient, and the increased frequency of them have dragged down the Pistons’ efficiency significantly.  While Drummond has developed some post moves and become a better passer since his rookie year, he hasn’t improved enough to make his post-ups a viable option.

So, where do Drummond and the Pistons go from here?  The answer might lie on the other side of the country.

DeAndre Jordan, a player with a very similar skill set, saw a significant jump in his defensive value following his fifth season.  In his fifth season, Jordan took a career-high 27.7 percent of his shots from outside of three feet.  In his sixth season, that number dropped by 10 percentage points.  At the same time, defensive metrics suggested that his sixth and seventh seasons were the absolute best of his career.

Jordan focused his energy on the defensive end of the floor while accepting the fact that the vast majority of shots needed to come off offensive rebounds and assisted shots around the rim. Interestingly enough, as his offensive role has become more limited, Jordan’s Offensive Box Plus/Minus numbers suggest that his offensive value has never been higher than it has been in the four seasons since he accepted a more limited role.

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Alarmingly, Drummond’s offensive role has developed in the complete opposite direction. Drummond has taken a larger percentage of his shots outside of three feet each and every year of his career.  That has culminated in Drummond taking a majority of his shots outside of three feet this year, a number far too high for someone with Drummond’s limited offensive skills.

Drummond was at his best offensively in his sophomore year, when he took 81.4 percent of his shots from inside 3 feet.  Drummond was taking easier shots and making them at an outstanding 62.3 percent rate.  Since that year, under Stan Van Gundy, Drummond’s percentage of shots outside of three feet have increased while his efficiency has plummeted.

It’s no secret that Van Gundy likes his offenses to work from the inside-out, so Drummond’s increasing post-ups leading to shot attempts outside three feet should not come as a total shock.  It’s also an indication that not all of this is probably Drummond’s fault.  But, clearly, something needs to change.  The question then becomes – what would a new role for Andre Drummond look like?

The answer to what Drummond’s role should look like may not be as abstract as it seems.  We need only look toward the Pistons/Kings game two weeks ago.

During the Kings’ game, Drummond played a more limited role offensively.  He attempted only five shots, four of which came from inside the paint.  Three of those four shots were layups or dunks.  Drummond’s remaining two shots came on hook shots, and he went 1-for-2 on those hook shots.

Drummond spent most of his time offensively roaming around, looking for easy, high-percentage shots near the rim.  He didn’t press the issue and demand the ball in the post, but instead got his looks within the flow of the Pistons’ offense.  Rather than waste energy offensively in post-up situations, Drummond conserved his energy and used it defensively.

With some additional energy saved for the defensive end, Drummond did a terrific job protecting the rim against the Kings. Asked to both defend his man and help with DeMarcus Cousins at many times, Drummond’s defensive task was difficult.  But, he performed admirably.

He showed off his athletic burst in the first quarter, blocking what appeared to be an easy Garrett Temple dunk after an offensive rebound.

He protected the rim similarly in the second quarter when Rudy Gay tried to dunk over him following an offensive rebound.

Drummond’s rim protection didn’t just come off when he failed to grab a rebound, though. He protected the rim in a variety of situations in Sacramento.

Drummond looked terrific here, single-handedly shutting down a Cousins drive.  You rarely see this sort of defensive success from Drummond on a perimeter drive.  Rather than be lazy and gamble for a steal along the perimeter, he simply moved his feet, took the contact from Cousins, and erased a layup opportunity.  Unfortunately, his teammates didn’t help him out after the block, and the Kings got an easy dunk while Stanley Johnson and Ish Smith provided no resistance to Gay.

Drummond also protected the rim on several occasions in the half court via help defense.

Now, let’s be clear, the Detroit Pistons’ defense wasn’t particularly good in the game against Sacramento. But, it had very little, if anything, to do with Andre Drummond.  He played hard and protected the rim admirably, but his teammates failed to help him much at all.

Drummond’s defensive performance against the Kings was one of the best of his young career.  It showed an ability to protect the rim at a high-level over an entire game.  And it’s no coincidence that it came in a game where he had a limited role offensively and appeared to have more energy than he typically does on the defensive end of the floor.

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That is the template of success for Andre Drummond and the Pistons.  Let him show off his athleticism in the pick-and-roll and on the offensive boards.  Don’t waste time and energy on a post game that clearly isn’t working.  And, instead, focus his energy on the defense and rim protection.  Do that, and both Drummond and the Detroit Pistons will be better off on both ends of the floor.