After receiving some criticism from some personalities at The Ringer, do they have a point about the Detroit Pistons star center?
In a recent episode of The Ringer’s NBA podcast, hosts Chris Vernon and Kevin O’Connor mocked the Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond and any team foolish enough to trade for him. They expressed disbelief that teams like Atlanta were thinking of giving up “anything of significance for Drummond.” They laughed off Drummond saying “I’ve got no use for him. None.”
Kevin O’Connor said that you can get centers off the “scrap heap” or on “non-guaranteed contracts” who could give similar value as Drummond. The Pistons’ fan in me was ready to fight. How dare they mock our guy? But the basketball fan in me thought that they might have a point, as obnoxious as it was. I don’t begrudge the hosts their opinions, and modern sports analysis has little room for nuance, a player is either a star or a bum and heckling hots takes are what draw attention.
No one seems to drag opinions to the extremes more than Drummond, who represents a hinge between the “old school” NBA where traditional centers mattered and the analytics-driven modern NBA where they don’t. Defending Drummond’s game is an admission that you don’t understand the myriad stats that can explain why he has no value, that you don’t understand the evolution of basketball.
The Pistons are also shifting to a new era behind youngsters Sekou Doumbouya, Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown and Christian Wood and have to decide if Drummond is going to be a part of it. Everyone seems to have an opinion about Drummond, so like the hosts, I’d like to know “What are we doing here?”
Why the Ringer is Right
A recent shot analysis by Kirk Goldsberry gave an interesting look at how the game has changed in the past 20 years. In 2001-02 the top 200 shots were spread all over the floor, while in 2019-20 they are all concentrated around the three point line and directly around the hoop. The contemporary game is all about three’s and dunks, with the short to mid-range jumper being all but eliminated, unless you are Derrick Rose.
There’s more ball movement now, more slash and kick and less isolation. Position-less wings are dominating the game, which makes the value of a player like Drummond hard to judge. Is there a place for him in the modern NBA? Can he continue to evolve? The critics are not wrong to ask these questions.
Another issue is salary. While I don’t agree that there are players of Drummond’s caliber (or anywhere near it) on the “scrap heap,” I do agree that he is not a max player. If Drummond is your best player, or being paid like it, there is a ceiling on how good your team can be. The Pistons are unlikely to offer Drummond the max and if the trade market is any indication, not many other teams will either.
If Drummond is holding out for a max deal, the Pistons would be unwise to give it to him, and a quick look at salaries for centers shows that Drummond’s place is not in the top tier, but in the second tier with guys like Nikola Vucevic and Clint Capela. If Drummond is willing to take Capela type money, should the Pistons jump on it? Do teams that have high priced centers regret their decisions?
Again, these are fair questions to ask. A compelling case can be made against Drummond and other traditional centers, and while I wouldn’t laugh at the idea of re-signing him, it is fair to ask if the Pistons would be best to start a new era.
Why they are wrong
Let’s get something straight first. There is no center coming out of the draft, “on the scrap heap” or on a non-guaranteed contract that is nearly as good as Drummond no matter how you look at it. Drummond is at or near the top of nearly every defensive statistic for centers including steals and blocks. He leads the league in rebounding. He also leads the league in hustle stats like deflections and is scoring at a career high clip, 17.3 points per game, which is good for 5th best among centers.
Drummond is not a superstar, but he impacts the game in a lot of ways. There are only a handful of centers who are better, so while I agree Drummond is not a max player, I wholeheartedly disagree that he doesn’t have value in today’s NBA.
Drummond could absolutely be the second or third best player on a contender, and is the type of complimentary guy that other stars love to play with, as he doesn’t demand the ball and does all of the little things without complaint.
Teams are not foolish to think that acquiring him fills a lot of holes with one guy, without disrupting the offense or necessitating a change of scheme. Drummond is versatile and unselfish enough to fit on any team, the only question is cost. If the Pistons can keep Drummond for Vucevic or Capela type money, they should.
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The other reason the critics are mistaken is that we probably haven’t seen the best of Drummond. Right now Drummond is the Pistons’ best player. He’s being asked to carry an injured, young team and is often operating outside of his ideal role, which is to rebound, play solid defense, set good picks and roll to the rim.
Outside of a few glorious weeks with Brandon Jennings, Drummond has never really played with a good point guard who could get him lobs.
He’s never played with a good wing. Is there a center in the league who has less to work with than Drummond? If the Pistons had a good point guard and even serviceable wings, his ability to pass (2.7 assists per game) and work in the pick and roll would be even more meaningful. The Pistons are likely to have a high pick in a point guard heavy draft, Doumbouya and Svi Mykhailiuk might finally be the answers at wing and there are building blocks in Brown and Kennard. The Pistons gave a little preview of what the future could be like last night, beating the Celtics with Drummond as the third best player.
It’s easy to take an extreme view on Drummond but the truth lies somewhere in the meaty gray area between superstar and a player with no value.
He could be an important piece for someone at the right price, an impact player on both ends of the floor, but he is not a max guy and shouldn’t be treated as one. If Drummond and the Pistons both come to this conclusion, he can be an important part of this team moving forward.