The Detroit Pistons are tired of losing. After securing a playoff spot in the 2015-16 postseason led by the pick-and-roll pairing of Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, the Pistons have fallen short of the playoffs in consecutive seasons. These shortcomings led to a multitude of changes in the Motor City.
Those adjustments began at the trade deadline last season. With Detroit’s playoff hopes dwindling, owner Tom Gores took a risky leap. He traded the young and talented Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, and Boban Marjanovic to the Los Angeles Clippers for star forward Blake Griffin. The pairing of Griffin and the Pistons is shaky as of now. Detroit’s struggles continued even after the deal for Griffin, finishing just 11-14 in the 25 appearances Griffin made. Griffin, Drummond, and company played the majority of these games without Jackson, who missed 37 games over the course of the year.
More changes came in the offseason for the Pistons, who are adamant in ensuring Griffin will be put in a position to lead the reshaped franchise to its lofty expectations. The team fired president of basketball operations and head coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower.
The most important move for the Pistons this offseason came on the coaching front when they were able to nab reigning Coach of the Year, Dwane Casey, off the coaching market.
Maintaining a desire to win, these adjustments will befall the Pistons without the continued development of franchise center Andre Drummond. Drummond made the All-Star team for the second time of his six-year career, but the league’s top rebounder will have to perform at an even higher level next season.
Drummond has shown steady growth since he entered the league in 2012. Last season, he displayed improvements across the board, jumping from the league’s worst free-throw shooter at 38.6 percent to 60.5 percent.
Without his improvement at the charity stripe, Drummond would have found himself on the bench in key moments of games last season, an issue he dealt with in the past and one that’s unacceptable for max contract-level players.
On the offensive side of the floor, Drummond transitioned to playing outside of the post, the area of the floor he was glued to in past seasons. Detroit began to run him at the top of the key, as he helped steer the offense through dribble handoffs and cuts toward the baskets.
These types of sets are so important for Luke Kennard. Have him start off the ball and give him screens so that he can curl into a shot. pic.twitter.com/AlGKBPsAyL
— Aaron Johnson (@AJohnsonNBA) February 6, 2018
Drummond doubles as both the passer and a screener, as seen in the clip above. After Kennard curls off the screen from Tolliver and receives the ball from Drummond, the big man can then roll to the basket for either a pass inside or the opportunity to clean up the glass.
His growth as a distributor was staggering. Per 100 possessions, he averaged 4.5 assists last season. Last season he had 19 games where he finished with five or more assists after never posting a five-assist game in the first five seasons of his career.
Drummond averaged 15 points, 16 rebounds, three assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.5 steals per game last season. He led the league in defensive rebounds and offensive rebounds. Drummond boasted a 5.0 VORP according to Basketball-Reference, the ninth highest in the league. He was one of only four players to record 100 or more blocks and 75 or more steals last season, joining Josh Richardson, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Anthony Davis.
Yet Drummond must do more.
For the Pistons to be more than an eight seed, Drummond has to round out other facets of his game. This offseason, He has been in the gym practicing his outside shooting, almost religiously.
When Drummond spoke to The Score at the Team USA minicamp last month, he confirmed that he plans on shooting from the outside next season.
“I don’t do stuff (on the court) just to have fun,” he told The Score. “If I’m taking those shots, (it’s because) I’m working on it for the upcoming season. Those are shots that I’m gonna be taking. I make at least 200 corner 3s every day before I leave the gym. I’m getting them up. I’m getting the same shot up over and over again, so I’m getting more comfortable with it. It’s been great so far,” he explained.
If you’ve checked his Instagram stories this summer, you’d see video confirmation of what he said. He’s posted countless videos of him taking catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, whether it be out of pick-and-rolls or spot ups. These videos have also shown Drummond attempting mid-range shots from baseline to baseline.
In that same conversation with The Score, Drummond explained expanding his range was a conversation that he and Casey had.
“It’s something the coaches and I talked about it. Working on the corner 3-point shot, working on my ball-handling, still working on my touch around the basket, too, but opening my game up a lot more. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Expecting Drummond to become a league average three-point shooter next season would be reckless, but lengthening his game outside of the paint would be a pleasant addition to Detroit’s new-look offense under Casey.
Improving his ball-handling, another aspect of his game Drummond has mentioned working on, would help make him a more effective player when working with the ball in his hands. Given his blend of size, strength, quickness, and athleticism, Drummond could be a deadly as a face-up player with an improved handle. He flashed a much higher basketball IQ last season but will need to spend more time working against legitimate defenses for Detroit to entrust numerous possessions in his face-up game.
Playing with exceptional playmakers in Jackson, Kennard, and Griffin, Drummond can maximize the efficiency of his touches and quicken Detroit’s style of play by running the floor hard. When he does, he is nearly unbeatable, as he is often quicker, stronger, and more athletic than his defender.
The pairing of Griffin and Drummond is most intriguing as to what Casey can explore with the two offensively. With improved outside shooting from Griffin, and Drummond’s finishing ability, envisioning a Detroit offense featuring pick-and-rolls between the two is not outlandish.
4-5 pick-and-roll in semi-transition, scoop lob for a finish through traffic. It's fun watching Blake and Andre get acquainted. pic.twitter.com/QvZ1JQn7Kp
— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) February 6, 2018
Griffin is a bulldozer at his position, as Drummond is at center. With developed chemistry between the two, 4-5 pick-and-rolls can be a deadly attack at the rim with sharpshooters such as Kennard, Reggie Bullock, and Glenn Robinson III waiting to unleash from deep. It could turn into a pick your poison type of situation.
Defensively, Drummond excelled last season…when he wanted to. At times, he swallowed up shots as he did rebounds, but there were also moments where Drummond sat back and hovered, losing himself from the play.
In the clip above, Drummond doesn’t rotate back to the basket after lacksadiscally moving outside of the paint to help defend a pick-and-roll between Tyler Dorsey and John Collins. Because he sways so far to the right of Dorsey, the guard is able to ignore Collin’s screen and beat Luke Kennard to the left side of the hoop for a lightly contested layup.
But this time he aggressively committed to helping on the pick-and-roll and when Emmanuel Mudiay burst towards the rim, Drummond stayed with him and annihilated his shot out of bounds.
The key with Drummond is being actively engaged – which he improved upon last season – but still has a ways to go in that respect. He has all the physical tools to be dominant on the defensive side of the floor, but between his mental focus and IQ, his defense still needs refinement.
If Drummond’s development is stymied by the arrival of Griffin and the ball dominance of Jackson, Detroit may be destined to collapse. Griffin will certainly command a heavy dosage of touches, both inside and outside. As for Jackson, he is an inconsistent scorer with a past that paints him as a ball-dominant shot chucker. While that is no longer the case — when healthy, Jackson is a sufficient point guard to pair with Drummond — he cannot become resistant to giving up the ball for Griffin and Drummond.
After turning just 25 years old, Drummond will now be entering the prime of his career, which is a scary sight, considering what he’s already done through six seasons. As he comes closer to connecting the final pieces of his puzzle together, Detroit eagerly awaits, with its future success propped up on his shoulders.