It’s finally here. The Los Angeles Lakers will have their first glimpse at Andre Drummond against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night, and they’re wasting no time, immediately incorporating him into the starting lineup.
Depending on who you ask, Drummond can be a polarizing player. On one hand, he has no problem stuffing the stat sheet — the per-game averages are captivating. But change hands and efficiency emerges as the primary question.
There are many reasons why teams wanted to shed his $28 million annual salary off their books while possible trade partners scratched their heads and looked in the opposite direction.
Boneheaded plays like this are one of them.
Ultimately, the Cleveland Cavaliers bought out Drummond, culminating in a minimum deal with the Lakers, a team desperately hoping he can check the boxes.
Offensively, in a nutshell, Drummond lives near the rim — 72% of his shot attempts originate in that area, ranking in the 76th percentile among other centers, meaning he’s one of the top centers in rim attempts (all shooting percentiles via Cleaning the Glass). However, he converts just 52% of those attempts, placing him in the 3rd percentile; he’s one of the worst finishers in his position, which isn’t optimal since he doesn’t have range on jumpers.
On a positive note, he grabs four offensive rebounds a game, good for third in the league among players who have played at least 20 games this year.
Defensively, lateral quickness and hip mobility are a few crucial components not downloaded in his software; if he’s guarding the perimeter, the opposing team possesses the advantage. However, Drummond compensates his faulty perimeter defense with a staunch interior presence. He milks his massive hands to jump passing lanes or poke the ball out of dribblers’ hands; he can also block and alter shots at a solid rate.
Drummond is far from a perfect player on either end of the court, but, fortunately, the Lakers are equipped with the supporting cast to help optimize his abilities.
Reduce the post-ups
Much of Drummond’s inefficiency resides in his absurdly high usage rate. Drummond’s usage rate has steadily increased every season, climaxing at 30.1% this year, which is in the 98th percentile for centers. It also ranked No. 1 in Cleveland despite Collin Sexton and Darius Garland often handling the ball.
This won’t be an instant remedy with the context of LeBron James and Anthony Davis being sidelined because of lower-leg injuries, but this is the most talented roster Drummond has been involved with. Without James and Davis, head coach Frank Vogel will likely sprinkle in touches for Drummond which will help relieve the pressure off Dennis Schroder, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell’s shoulders.
Post-ups are an area where Drummond operated frequently. Out of his 62.4 touches a game, eight of them come on post-ups, the sixth-highest tally, trailing Joel Embiid, Nikola Vucevic, Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic and Anthony Davis. That’s some excellent company to be in, until you compare it to his efficiency.
Among the 25 players who average at least two post-ups a game, Drummond has the fifth-worst shooting percentage (40.8%) despite having the second-most attempts (4.1).
He adds more fuel to the fire with an unwillingness to pass; his pass percentage of 24.9 on post-ups is the sixth-worst among the same 25 players. Once he receives the ball, he’s taking the shot.
You see it manifest in the play above. Cleveland runs an empty set for Drummond, but he keeps his head down and only looks to score himself. Pause at four seconds and you’ll see an open window to kick it out to Sexton for a 3-pointer; instead, it’s a contested hook shot that missed badly.
Luckily, the Lakers have a guard with the ability to generate more space for Drummond to work with.
Involve Dennis Schroder
Point guard is an arbitrary term when James is on your roster. When healthy, James handles the bulk of those duties. Schroder is typically relegated to an off-ball role, using his speed to slash to the rim or spreading the floor despite not shooting as efficiently as last season.
In the wake of James’ injury, the Lakers have asked Schroder to create more and some positive signs have come to fruition. But even if there’s a healthy James, a Schroder-Drummond two-man game may generate some juice.
Schroder’s panoply of offensive tricks can significantly vitiate defenses. He can change gears at any moment, lift into pull-up mid-range jumpers or manipulate defenders to drop dimes.
The Lakers run a high pick-and-roll between Schroder and Harrell. Harrell’s screen gets T.J. McConnell trailing, forcing Myles Turner to drop persistently to avoid potentially losing a step. As McConnell never recovers, Schroder gets Turner to contest while delivering a wraparound pass to Harrell for the finish.
Schroder is the primary pick-and-roll ball-handler for 40.2% of plays he’s involved in — the 25th-highest frequency in the league among pick-and-roll ball handlers who have played at least 20 games — and Harrell and Marc Gasol have benefited inside the arc from playing alongside him.
Per pbpstats.com, Harrell’s 2-point percentage is 66.3 when playing with Schroder and 63.9 without him; Gasol shoots 52.2% inside the arc with Schroder and just 28.6% without him. For additional context, Davis shoots 58.1% with him versus 55% without.
Whether it’s on a pick-and-roll or if he’s able to collapse the defense, Schroder’s seen success alongside the big men. If L.A. hopes to augment Drummond’s efficiency — which should be a primary focus — developing chemistry between a shifty guard and an interior-loving big could be propitious.
Scream for screens
The Lakers are among the league’s best in several categories, but they’re not exempt from improvement. A department they’ve lacked in his sufficient screens. L.A. is 29th in points generated from screen assists.
You see it often with Alex Caruso or another ball-handler when he’s dribbling in place while Harrell attempts to find the proper angle on a screen, killing valuable time.
None of Harrell’s screens produce enough space for James or Wesley Matthews to work with, and you can see Harrell’s confusion in his lateral movement at the very end before Matthews has the ball again.
Drummond generates 3.0 screen assists a game, instantly becoming the best Laker in that regard. Not only that, but his size also forces defenders to take rough angles to avoid contact — look at how Danny Green bends his hips to elude Drummond. And if you pause at the four-second mark, look at how much space Drummond has to work with, though the pass arrives late.
Whether it’s off-ball screens to create room for shooters like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kuzma, Caruso or Matthews or attempting to use him in the pick-and-roll game with Schroder — but beware, Drummond’s in the 10th percentile as a roller because of his inability to finish — Drummond’s body can be beneficial for creating space.
Drummond has the tools to be a productive center. It’s why Detroit handed him a massive contract — they hoped he’d take those tools and launch himself into the upper echelon of centers. Though it didn’t happen, reimagining the idea of Drummond is the key to success for both himself and for L.A. Disconnect Drummond from the player he wants to be and tap into the player he should be — that’s how the Lakers can optimize him.
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