Why Andre Drummond has value for the Detroit Pistons

AUBURN HILLS, MI - APRIL 05: Andre Drummond
AUBURN HILLS, MI - APRIL 05: Andre Drummond /

Andre Drummond is known for the free throw issues, poor post up production and lack of rim protection. Why do the Detroit Pistons still value him?

Andre Drummond remains one of the most puzzling and polarizing individuals in the NBA. The Detroit Pistons’ center is known for poor free throw shooting, being inefficient in the post with some of the highest post usage in the league, and ineffective rim protection. These three elements are vital to any big man at the NBA level, particularly one of the old school variety, without the ability to step outside of the paint and hit shots from the perimeter.

With these important aspects of his game unreliable at best, why do the Pistons still value him as they do?

Before we can get into the good of Andre Drummond, we would be remiss if we do not address the bad. The free throws are historically bad. Drummond followed up the worst free throw shooting season in NBA history in 2015-16, hitting just 35.5 percent, with a marginal improvement in 2016-17 to 38.8 percent. Until a dreadful post-All Star break stretch in which he hit just 30 of 110 free throws to close the season, he was hitting just over 43 percent on the season.

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While that’s not an acceptable number by any means, it would have been the best mark of his career to this point. It’s not good, but it’s progress. Or it would have been if he didn’t hit 26.6 percent from the line for the last two months of the season.

As for the post ups, on the whole they’re bad. He scored just 0.73 points per possession from the post last season, a mark which placed him in the league’s 19th percentile. The post ups are so inefficient that he was actually a more efficient scorer from the free throw line last season (and the year before). If we assume two free throws for every trip Drummond took to the free throw line (some trips will be only one free throw after and-ones), he had a ceiling production of .776 points per possession.

As for the rim protection, when guarded by Drummond inside six feet, opponents hit 63.6 percent of their field goal attempts. That’s better than the average of 61.5 percent that those opponents hit. Naturally you want your rim protector to have a negative differential at the rim, but Drummond yielded about 2.1 percent better than their season averages.

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So with these damning things well known, why do the Detroit Pistons still believe in him as a central part of their core going forward? Is it possible that the good Drummond brings to the table (and what he can bring in addition down the road with some modifications to his approach) actually outweighs the bad?

In a word, yes.

Andre Drummond is known as a great rebounder, but the way he impacts the game from a rebounding perspective remains underappreciated. He led the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage, defensive rebounding percentage (and set a career high while he was at it) and total rebounding percentage (another career high).

Rebounding can seem as simple as just collecting misses, but they are as much a mechanism of ending opponent possessions as forcing turnovers can be, and extending your own possessions is a vital element.

Sharp teams often eschew offensive rebounds in order to collectively get back in transition defense and prevent opponents from scoring easy buckets when they can’t secure those offensive rebounds. Essentially, crashing the glass is a gamble that often works out poorly for a team selling out for offensive boards.

However, because of Drummond’s ability to be a one-man rebounding army, the Pistons can get back defensively without sacrificing much on the offensive boards. Drummond’s rebounding allowed the Detroit Pistons to be 12th in offensive rebounding while being fourth in transition points allowed, yielding just 10.7 transition points per game.

On the other end, Drummond is single-handedly able to stifle opposing possessions that don’t get their points on the first try. While he is not an exceptional deterrent at the rim and he didn’t get much help on the perimeter defensively with so many of his minutes playing alongside a winged Reggie Jackson last year, opponents get one crack to score and no more.

The Pistons led the NBA in defensive rebounding last year, collecting 81.2 percent of opponent misses. Thanks to this, they also led the NBA in second-chance points allowed, giving up just 10.1 such points per game.

Drummond allows the Detroit Pistons to be defensively responsible in transition while extending possessions single-handedly, and he ends opposition possessions by cleaning the glass better than anybody in the NBA.

While these aspects of Drummond’s game don’t get enough consideration, what may be more interesting is how some fairly minor changes in the way he’s used could have a dramatic impact in his production on the court.

While there’s no doubt that Drummond is inefficient from the post, he’s not inefficient from EVERYWHERE in the post.

If we look at Drummond’s shot chart above for last season, we can see that he’s just slightly below league average deep inside the paint. While obviously not all of those attempts are post ups and many are dunks and lobs off put backs and pick and rolls, we can trim the fat to figure out roughly how effective he is in the post with deep position.

Drummond hit 116 of his 277 post shots this past season for a 41.9 percent clip. If we look at the shots he took from outside the deep paint, we can assume all of those are the long-range hook shots he likes to take from 6′ to 9′ from the basket. He’s not taking spot-up jump shots, he’s not putting up floaters. Those are hook shots.

From the right of the paint, he hit 32.6 percent of his attempts. Near the free throw line, he’s (an appropriate) 34.6 percent. From the left of the paint, he’s shooting 44.7 percent. If we remove all of those attempts from Drummond’s 277 post shots (he shoots a combined 39.2 percent on those long hooks), suddenly his field goal percentage springs up to 44.9 percent. Even without adding the occasional free throw make (he made 16 free throws when fouled in the post last season), he now becomes a closer to league-average producer from the post.

If we remove all of the long-distance shots and add those 16 free throw points to yield the best-case scenario, his production jumps up to 0.878 points per possession. This removes him from being the worst post up producer in the league (among players taking two shots from the post per game) by a wide margin and puts him right around the 50th percentile.

This is without even improving his free throw shooting, which is a big reason his production there is so dreadful. Drummond has a higher field goal percentage from the post than Kristaps Porzingis, Kevin Love and Anthony Davis, so with some refinement and effort on his part he can improve his production simply by taking fewer and better shots from down low.

27.5 percent of Drummond’s possessions are in the post, which is obviously far too high considering his shortcomings from that spot. While the Detroit Pistons have counted on him to be the centerpiece of Stan Van Gundy’s one-in four-out strategy, he hasn’t shown himself to be a reliable enough passer to make that style of play effective. In its fully realized form, one-in four-out would run offense from the inside-out, which means that the center needs to be able to move the ball and distribute effectively.

While the Detroit Pistons scored 56 points on 46 possessions when Drummond passed out of the post two years ago, they scored an incredible nine points on 18 possessions last season when he passed out. He had a turnover rate of 43 percent.

It’s notable that Drummond’s Piston teammates are aware that when the ball goes to the post, it’s not coming back out. The offense stagnates, and an attack which is already low on ball movement essentially dies and becomes reliant on a post up game which is predominantly 6′ to 9′ hooks. If you want to know why the Pistons struggled when the starters were on the floor last year, you needn’t look much further than their usage of Andre Drummond.

To eliminate this, Drummond could reduce the post possessions and become more of a rim-running and cutting big man in the mould of DeAndre Jordan. Drummond scored 1.22 points per possession off cuts and 1.06 points per possession as the roll man in the pick and roll. These two play types total the same 27.5 percent of Drummond’s possessions that his post ups occupied.

In many ways Drummond’s usage has been similar to forcing a square peg into a round hole. More than a quarter of his possessions are a play type that he struggles with, and the inherent nature of post ups has a negative impact on floor spacing and ball movement. On a team that already struggles to space the floor correctly and move the ball fluidly, a huge portion of possessions being swallowed up in that manner simply exacerbates things.

The Pistons shifted their focus last year away from Andre Drummond being the offensive fulcrum, ratcheting his usage down from 22.6 percent in 2015-16 to 21.2 percent in 2016-17, while Tobias Harris‘ usage climbed correspondingly. The problem there is that while his usage dropped, the rate of post ups and other assorted nonsense wasn’t where the possessions melted away, as he used 27.5 percent of his possessions from the post in both 2015-16 and 2016-17.

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If the Detroit Pistons want to continue to use Drummond in the post, it needs to be as a result of a renewed commitment to better shot selection on his part and increased offensive movement. The stagnation that occurred regularly when the ball was dumped to him can’t continue if the Pistons expect to roll out an efficient offense when he’s on the floor.