The curious case of Andre Drummond

Apr 7, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) dunks the ball against the Houston Rockets in the second half at Toyota Center. Detroit Pistons won 114-109 .Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 7, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) dunks the ball against the Houston Rockets in the second half at Toyota Center. Detroit Pistons won 114-109 .Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports /

Andre Drummond is the most polarizing figure for the Detroit Pistons and their fans. The debate rages on, and the surface has only been scratched.

Everybody has a take on Andre Drummond. Some are rational and well-reasoned, others are absurd and not worth a second thought. He’s a perplexing piece of the puzzle for the Detroit Pistons, and nobody is quite sure how to get a handle on what he brings to the team on the floor, how much of a positive he is, or even IF he’s a positive.

Drummond’s most-discussed issues are well-documented. We know about the free throws, we know about his post game. His energy and effort have been lagging behind what one might hope from the best-compensated player in the history of a storied franchise like the Detroit Pistons. However, there are problems that emerge from his play on the floor which are less well-known.

Drummond’s free throws are abysmal, but they’re actually slightly more efficient from a points per possession standpoint than his post game is. Drummond is in the 17th percentile from the post, scoring just 0.736 points per possession. In comparison, assuming he gets two shots per trip to the free throw line (which he doesn’t exactly, since he gets one shot when he draws and-ones), his 38.6 percent free throw percentage yields a ceiling of 0.772 points per free throw trip.

More from Pistons News

You read that right, Andre Drummond is more efficient from the free throw line than he is from the post.

This post rate is up slightly from last year’s 0.726 points per possession from the post (although that rate would have placed him in the 27th percentile), and up considerably from 2014-15’s 0.689 points per possession and 23rd percentile. While this could be considered marginal improvement, it’s on par with his improvement from the free throw line, going from last season’s NBA record-worst 35.5 percent to this season’s 38.6 percent. It’s better, but it’s still disastrous.

This isn’t to say that maybe Drummond can improve from the post, but rather to say that without dramatic improvement he’s going to continue to have a devastating effect on the Pistons offense. We can’t blame all of the Pistons’ offensive woes on Drummond, but he doesn’t get the share of the blame that he should actually deserve.

His free throw percentage has such a dramatic drag on the team’s success rate from the line that when he is on the floor, the Pistons hit a shockingly low 65.3 percent from the line. For context, the Miami Heat are last in the NBA, and they shoot 70.5 percent. When Drummond is off the floor, the Pistons shoot 82 percent. That’s a 16.7 point swing, and the best free throw shooting team in the league is the Boston Celtics, who shoot 81.5 percent.

With Drummond, the Pistons are the worst free throw shooting team in the NBA by a huge margin. When he’s off, the Pistons are the best free throw shooters in the league.

The hits don’t stop there. Andre Drummond may have single-handedly redefined the term “empty rebounder“.

Among all 10 of the NBA’s best rebounders, only the Pistons are worse with their leading rebounder off the floor than on. It’s a perplexing thing to have an elite rebounding star have a debateably deleterious effect on the department in which he specializes, but it’s also worth noting this may be an isolated thing for Drummond. Last season the Pistons had a 51.8 percent rebounding rate when he was off the floor, and it was 52.3 percent when he was on.

As with everything related to the Pistons, the hope is that some of these issues may be resolved over the course of another offseason of development, and some of these things might fix themselves by sheer osmosis if Reggie Jackson can make a full and healthy return next season.

When it comes to Drummond, none of the good is as good as we hope, but often the bad isn’t as bad as we fear either. Rumors of his across-the-board regression this season are not simply misguided, they’re falsehoods. He hasn’t taken a leap forward, but without a healthy Jackson, his partner in crime through the pick and roll, he’s improved his rebounds per 36, he’s improved his field goal percentage, his defensive rebounding percentage and his total rebounding percentage. Indeed, he leads the NBA in both of those rates AND offensive rebounding percentage.

Drummond’s defensive box plus/minus and his box plus/minus both have improved steadily over last year, his assist percentage, steal percentage and value over replacement player have all improved as well. He’s a respectable 17th in the league in field goal percentage inside five feet at 62.4 percent, and Drummond has a stellar 68.5 percent field goal percentage inside three feet, where almost 50 percent of his shots come from.

Next: 3-on-3: Reflections on the legacy of the Palace of Auburn Hills

Andre Drummond is mercurial and frustrating, with an evaluation that could best be described as amorphous. He’s not as good as many hope, but he’s not the lost cause that just as many suspect and fear. He’ll probably never get much better from the free throw line, the best case scenario down the road for his post game can be hopefully described as “not disastrous” and we really need to figure out why the Pistons rebound poorly when he’s on the floor, but the story hasn’t been written in its completion on the 23-year-old big man.