By Matt Esposito
That’s right, it doesn’t feel good when someone calls you trash, does it? Okay, I’ll drop the tough guy act and return to my meek, bookish self. Still, someone has to stand up for Andre Drummond, and as a Connecticut native and UConn cult leader, I’ll take up the mantle.
There’s been a heavy dose of Drummond slander drifting along the NBA Twittersphere lately. My fellow Celtics fans scoff at Drummond-for-Hayward swaps with the condescension of a Harvard grad whose daily routine includes knowing “the real Thai spot” and reminding people who never asked that “MIT is not part of the Ivy League.”
There’s a technical term for when snobbishness is born from inaccurate analysis, one coined by yours truly. Players who don’t mesh with the modern NBA game and seemingly suck because of it are suffering from the Nate Duncan Effect; a theory which states that if you don’t fit the mold of a modern player then you must inherently be bad at basketball. Yes, there are those who think that the Drummonds and Julius Randles of the world have no place in the league because they aren’t floor stretchers, switch-happy defenders, or elite shot-creators. Let’s right the ship on Mr. Drummond.
A possible free agent, all signs are pointing to Drummond opting into the last year of his contract. Good for him. Cleveland may have a defensive conundrum while playing him and Kevin Love together, plus this begs the question of them re-signing Tristan Thompson. But those are inquiries for another day. Alas (alas? All this Ivy League talk is going to my head), there are those who think Drummond isn’t worth the $28 million he will earn if he opts in. They’re right. But Drummond still has value and can impact winning on a good team.
Let’s start with the physical profile. Not many people are 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan. Oh, and that narrative about Drummond being a plodding big? Let’s kill that right now. I’m not saying Drummond is crossing guys up like vintage Kyrie, but he’s not exactly Marcin Gortat out there, either.
It’s hard to look at this agility and size combination and believe that Drummond does not have the baseline level of athleticism needed to succeed in today’s game. Offensively, he does not have the pick-and-roll lob gravity of mononymous stars such as Giannis, Zion, or Bam. He still has some pop, though, and whichever team he sticks with for the next couple of seasons will squeeze the last drops of bounciness out of him.
Drummond possesses a different type of gravity, as well. He has averaged 13.8 rebounds per game throughout his career and more than a third of them have come on the offensive glass. A perpetually underrated skill, Drummond’s rebounding creates an exorbitant amount of extra chance points for his squad. Just how good is he? Here is a list of his offensive rebounding percentiles from Cleaning the Glass: 98th, 100th, 100th, 100th, 96th, 99th, 100th, 96th, 89th.
While perusing CTG, another stat popped out. In the 2017–18 season, Drummond finished in the 78th percentile among bigs for assist-to-usage ratio. Coach Stan Van Gundy had finally recognized Drummond’s passing skills and put them to use, having the big man create out of the low post, high post and perimeter. The addition of Blake Griffin put the kibosh on Drummond’s passing evolution but the 2017–18 headlines don’t lie. Drummond has some latent talent as a creator for others, a trait that a smart coach will pick up on.
Let’s talk about defense. Is Drummond someone you want switching onto guards during pick-and-rolls? Nope. Granted, those types of bigs are rare, yet the ability to guard 1–5 is what earns someone a max contract. Fortunately for Drummond, the league is relying more upon drop coverage, something he is decent at.
If Brook Lopez—a wrongsideof30, below-average defensive big not known for his footspeed—can earn his first All-Defense Team selection in his 12th season, then Drummond has a shot at being a meaningful rim protector. It may take the right team and a helluva coach, but it’s surely doable. What Drummond already has going for him is his knack for getting his paws on the ball. Andre is in some pretty good company on this deflections list:
There are a lot of hardware-winning defensive players on that list, huh? While Drummond won’t reach those heights, the center didn’t simply stumble his way into elite defensive stats. Over his past three seasons, Drummond has averaged a positionally absurd 1.7 steals per game while also tallying 1.7 blocks. It is yet to be determined if he would get played off of the court in a late-round postseason game, but to ponder on that is to miss the point. Drummond has some stuff to work with defensively.
It will likely take a strong supporting cast of backline help-defenders and a savvy coach at the helm, but Drummond has the potential to become good enough defensively. It is merely a glimpse, but the way he helped win this tight game versus the Cavaliers (pre-trade, of course) is impressive.
Am I alone in thinking that Drummond can take his defensive game to unbeforeseen heights? Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com and I had a conversation about just this.
“He can clog the paint, he can get his hands in the passing lane…The way that J.B Bickerstaff said it to me, is that he feels like Andre can be that guy…he has the skill set, he has the tools, he has the intelligence, he has the athleticism.”– Fedor
Well, where does all of this leave us? Is Drummond going to make a triumphant return to the All-Star Game and reshape the narrative of his career? With the inexperienced talent on his team, I wouldn’t bank on it happening this year. If Andre eventually signs somewhere else, however, the opportunity is there for him to maximize his god-given abilities.
Does this mean Danny Ainge should fire up TradeNBA.com and bring Drummond to Boston? No. Gordon Hayward is the better player and is of more value to that team. Should any true contender look to add Drummond’s services? Probably not. But to conflate this with the notion that Andre is a bad basketball player is poor analysis. The kid can hoop. His rebounding is elite and he possesses a treasure trove of skills waiting to be refined. Some smart team is going to figure this out—and when they do, I will be waiting here with an ‘I told you so.’
BONUS – Speaking of Chris Fedor…he joined us to discuss all things Cavalier related, ranging from the draft to free agency and everything in between. Click HERE to listen!