Detroit Pistons: Improved Perimeter Defense and Andre Drummond

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

With more and better perimeter defenders pressuring the ball for the Detroit Pistons, it’s fair to expect real improvement in Andre Drummond’s defense.

The Detroit Pistons added two strong perimeter defenders in the offseason in Avery Bradley and Langston Galloway.  Those additions along with increased minutes for Stanley Johnson gives the Pistons a formidable defensive trio along the perimeter.  That strong perimeter defense should also have a positive effect on Andre Drummond, making his job as a rim protector easier.

The rim protection of Andre Drummond has become an increasingly large problem for the Detroit Pistons.  After Drummond held opponents to a respectable 47.8% shooting percentage at the rim in 2014-15, opponents have shot more efficient at the rim versus Drummond in each of the past two seasons.  Drummond’s defensive regression has become a clear cause for concern, but the additions of Avery Bradley and Langston Galloway and increased minutes for Stanley Johnson should help mitigate some of Drummond’s defensive issues.

Evaluating individual defense with statistics can be problematic, in part, because of the large effect that teammates have on each others’ defense.  A point guard may get blown by the opposing point guard, causing the defense to scramble, and ultimately resulting in an open layup for a big man.  While that point guard is ultimately responsible for the defensive breakdown, the defender who ends up closest to the big man is the one who will be at fault on the stats page regardless of how well he defended the play.

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In that vein, Andre Drummond’s teammates in the past two years may have hurt his defensive numbers more than they helped them.  That is not to say that Andre Drummond has been a great rim protector – he certainly has not been.  But, he’s played a large amount of his minutes with Reggie Jackson, a bad defender who struggles to stay in front of opposing point guards, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is a much better off-ball defender than on-ball who tended to gamble rather than stay in front of his counterparts.

Enter Avery Bradley.  Bradley, whose omission from the All-Defensive teams this past season caused an uproar from his fellow NBA players, is quite the opposite of Caldwell-Pope.  Bradley is an extremely strong man defender who is adept at pressuring the ball and disrupting ball handlers’ rhythm.  Stanley Johnson, entering his third season for the Detroit Pistons, has shown himself to be a strong defender in much of the same way as Bradley.  Langston Galloway, too, is a good defender who earned a nice contract this offseason in no small part due to his good ball pressure and his relentlessness fighting through ball screens.

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The trio of Bradley, Johnson, and Galloway could prove to be a huge coup for Andre Drummond and his defensive issues.  Drummond’s issues in rim protection have certainly never been a product of a lack of athleticism.  When he’s in position, he can provide as much resistance as anyone at the rim.  Rather, Drummond’s issues have been a matter of poor play recognition.  He’s often a half or full step slow in rotating or recognizing a cutter and his athleticism and length aren’t enough to make up the difference.

With good perimeter defenders who can pressure the ball and disrupt a team’s regular offensive plays, Drummond’s job could become a bit easier.  Drummond finally has those type of perimeter defenders around him on this Detroit Pistons roster.

It should not come as ground-breaking that as the shot clock wanes, a team’s shooting efficiency decreases.  The league average for a two-point field goal attempt with 7-15 seconds on the shot clock is 49% compared to 39% when a two-point field goal is attempted with four seconds or less on the shot clock.

The shot clock is perhaps an even bigger factor when it comes to Andre Drummond’s rim protection.  Because his issues relate more to recognizing plays in a timely fashion, a shorter shot clock simplifies the decisions that Drummond needs to make.  When the shot clock gets down to single digits, offenses have fewer options in terms of what they can do when penetrating into the paint.  Drummond can sell out more, and let his length and athleticism take over.

Against the Blazers, Damian Lillard was isolated at the top of the key late in the shot clock.  Drummond’s man left to set a side screen, but because of the shot clock running down and his counterpart being a non-shooting threat, Drummond was able to sit in the paint and await Lillard’s drive.  Drummond was ready and able to easily block Lillard’s shot on a critical possession in overtime.

Against the Kings, Drummond was again able to sell out the ball handler, this time DeMarcus Cousins, because Cousins was desperately trying to create offense late in the shot clock.  When Cousins got past Baynes, Drummond was waiting for him and, again, easily blocked the shot to end an important, late-game defensive possession.

Against the Lakers, Drummond was able to focus his attention on a pick-and-roll because of how late in the shot clock the Lakers initiated the action.  Drummond recognized Julius Randle getting the ball outside of the paint, shifted to the other side of the rim, and was able to contest Randle’s shot with ease.

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These late shot clock situations should be more and more frequent with the new batch of perimeter defenders on this year’s Pistons roster.  With Detroit focusing more on pressuring the ball early and middle in the shot clock, opponents should be slower to get into their sets and recognizing cutters and penetrators should become easier for Andre Drummond.  That, and increased energy as a result of his offseason surgery, could do wonders for Drummond’s rim protection.