Way Too In Depth Andre Drummond Season Preview
This is the 4th installment of the Detroit Pistons Way Too In Depth Season Preview.
About Last Year:
Drummond made the proverbial "leap" into being a proper franchise cornerstone. 15 points, 16 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.6 blocks, much-improved defense. Through all the terribleness that happened last season, Andre Drummond was the rock who continued to give the Pistons hope. There were several times last season where the thought of "The Pistons doesn't deserve Andre" came into my mind. I think this game against the Jazz was the first time it really hit me that Drummond was truly in the space of being so much comically better than everyone else on the team that it was almost painful.
He still has room to grow, but overall Drummond went from "guy with cornerstone potential" to "legit franchise cornerstone" even while the rest of the franchise crumbled around him. He fixed his free-throws, cut out his worst defensive habits, showed off great passing skills, was a bonafide leader, topped his previous career-best as a rebounder again, and made his second all-star team. Individually, it was a roaring success for the Piston big man.
What to expect next year:
Drummond will clearly be the starting center and is a good bet to repeat as overall minutes leader. Beyond his apparent addition of three-point shooting, which we will talk about later, his role should be similar to last season. He will not have the ball in his hands as much as he did pre-Blake Griffin trade but he should still see a lot of that same stuff. On offense, he will mostly set screens, dive to the hoop, passes from the elbows, and mash opponents on the offensive glass.
Once again, Drummond should see a very similar usage and output from last season on offense. His assists are likely to decrease some with the presence of Griffin and a (hopefully) healthy Reggie Jackson for the entire season but it will still look similar. He remains one of the premier roll threats in the NBA which will fit excellently with both Jackson and Griffin's expert ball-handling, he will also have fun running screening actions and two-man games with the various shooters on the roster. Even when not directly involved in the play, his thumping screens will remain a huge asset to the offense.
For Drummond, the key is actually the other players on the roster, most notably Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson. Drummond is the type of player who can be a lethal weapon inside of an offense, but he cannot be the engine who drives it. If Jackson and Griffin can stay mostly healthy then Drummond will thrive and so will the offense around him, if they get hurt his efficiency will be impacted as he is forced to try and create more with less.
If Casey does retain one thing from Stan Van Gundy he should make efforts to retain Drummond occasionally being the focal point of the offense. With the right players around him, players who are some combination of good shooters and active off the ball, it was deadly effective, fun to watch, and also energized Drummond.
Possessions like that should make a return this season.
What about the three-point shooting??
More than anything else I am withholding judgment. I am hugely wary of any player making such a potentially radical change to their game, especially when it threatens to take them away from what makes them special (in Drummond's case, his rebounding) which is what this is. But I'm tentatively hopeful, Drummond has improved in such vast ways since he came into the league that he has earned some benefit of the doubt here. Until proven otherwise, I trust that he is approaching this with the sort of attitude and effort that is truly required to be an NBA caliber shooter and that he knows what he is doing.
That said, even if we assume he is at least somewhat competent as a shooter (a minimum of like 33% from deep) the question everyone has is "how many threes should he take per game??" and that is actually not the question or the worry with the change.
The reason to be a bit worried about Drummond shooting threes is that he is one of the best rebounders to ever live and also one of the league's best lob threats. Simply put, he would have to approach Dirk Nowitzki levels of shooting to threaten opponents beyond the arc as much as he does when he is around the hoop. As such, I don't care how many threes he takes, I care about how many possessions he spends loitering around the three-point line instead of skulking around the hoop.
If he takes three long-distance shots per game, but they are designed and calculated in specific spots and otherwise is doing the stuff he thrives at then I'm fully on board as long as he hits a few of them. On the other hand, if he takes only one or two from distance, but has a dozen possessions per game where he is harmlessly parked in the corner as though he is a super-expensive Reggie Hearn I would be hugely disappointed.
The key will be to find places to where he can pop for the occasional three without turning him into a glorified Marvin Williams. For instance, if Drummond is setting an off-ball screen for a cutter, and then quickly pops out to the line for a quick-hitting three would be a nice wrinkle to the offense.
Beyond that, we will just have to wait and see how many of them he hits. Who knows, maybe he is the real deal and is bombing three's at a high volume and approaching 40%, in which case, fire away. If he is around 30% however, then even the occasional action for him is mostly wasted.
As stated above, Drummond made a big step on defense last season. This coming season one more step would be the last phase in him becoming the full monster he has the potential to be. Even if he makes no improvements, Drummond is a rock-solid anchor to the defense. He basically eliminates second-chance points, is a solid rim-protector, and a terror in the passing lanes. Most notably, he is athletic enough to switch out onto any player in the league and hold them. Drummond joined Anthony Davis as the only two players in the NBA last year to be in the top 20 in both blocks and steals, a remarkable feat that should be a goal again this year.
Drummond personally has said that leading the NBA in blocks is a goal of his this season, while I'm not sure that is an overly realistic goal, he's most effective on defense spending too much time away from the hoop to have enough block chances, but it's a good sign that Drummond's head remains in the right place.
The last hurdle in Drummond's potential assent into becoming a bonafide defensive player of the year contender is to read and react offenses a little bit faster. He largely conquered his lack of discipline last season, but he has to cut these plays out:
These types of plays were far and few between last year. But he must eliminate them entirely. Don't get so far out of position in the first place and then read the ball-handler fast enough to react and cut off his drive.
If Drummond can make that last step, there is no ceiling for this team. He could well be the most unique inside-out defensive force in the NBA already, a little more cleanup and he could be one of the most devastating defensive players ever and the Pistons have a championship caliber defense. These are obviously lofty goals, it's important to remember he has already worked his way into being a really good defender, but last season showed that he isn't done improving. Make that last step.
Andre Drummond is pretty close to the perfect leader and teammate at this point. He used to occasionally let his emotions get the best of him but he essentially cut that out last season. Combine some emotional maturity with the now legendary nose surgery and Drummond was a ball of energy who played hard on both ends of the floor with consistency despite leading the team in minutes played.
Off the court, it is almost impossible to find anyone who says a bad thing about him. When Stanley Johnson's Mom died before his rookie year Andre Drummond had Stanley move in with him, Spencer Dinwiddie personally called out Drummond as a great teammate once. During the season from hell two years ago Andre seemed to be the only one who was more interested in figuring it out instead of complaining about other players. Stan Van Gundy, who is not one to mince words, said that Drummond has never once complained about how many shots he gets. Andre Drummond has the intangibles, it took a bit of maturing to get here, but he has it now.
Biggest Question for the coming season:
Can he become one of the best defenders in the NBA? A lot of people would say something about his three-point shot, but I'm actually going to go out on a limb and predict that it is a minimal thing this year. Drummond's game will be largely unchanged on the offensive end. If Drummond takes another big step on defense it changes the franchises entire projection.
Best Case Scenario:
Drummond makes the leap on defense, wins defensive player of the year. He shoots a respectable 36% from deep as a nice wrinkle but no one is mistaking him for a stretch big. He sets a new personal best in rebounding percentage, is in the top 10 in both steals and blocks, and people start to say that he and Blake Griffin are cannibalizing each others MVP candidacy.
Worst Case Scenario:
The improvement isn't there. Drummond doesn't have another leap. His foray into the three-point shooting is ill-advised and takes him away from what he's good at. His failings as a three-point shooter impact him mentally and he starts to struggle with his free-throws again which starts a miserable spiral into a poor season of regression. He remains a dominant rebounder and high-level player but will not only never realize his full potential but can't return to the heights of last season. He ends up being everything that the internet trolls accuse him of.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
Andre is still spending most of his free time squashing fools in the paint.
He has over 100 blocks and steals by the all-star break.
The three-point shot is just another notch in Drummond's sword of conquered skills.
Run for the hills if:
"How does he regain his free-throw form from last year?"
"Drummond misses his 8th three of the night."
Reggie Jackson gets hurt.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
Drummond is in the top 15 of blocks and steals.
5th in DPOY voting.
2nd team All-NBA.
What do you think? Can he build on last season? Can he add a three-point shot?