Following an ugly 96-93 win over the Orlando Magic on Sunday, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel could barely contain his giddiness when discussing the addition of Drummond, which was formally announced by the team just before tip-off.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) March 29, 2021
“We’re thrilled. He’s one of the best centers in the league,” a smiling Vogel told the media. “Someone that every defensive coordinator is gonna have to account for … while they’re trying to slow down AD and LeBron and our guards. I think he’s gonna give us a big lift.”
Drummond should help the Lakers in the immediate and not-too-distant future. As they navigate the next few weeks without LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the defending champions simply need as much talent and scoring ability on the court. Drummond is putting up 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds per game in 2020-21.
“He’s one of the most dominant rollers, lob catches, rollers, offensive rebounders in the game. Screeners,” Vogel said. “The list is long for how he’s gonna contribute to our group. I do think he’s gonna have an impact on our group offensively.”
Dennis Schröder talked about Drummond’s potential impact on defense.
“He’s definitely going to put a lot of pressure on the rims. … He can change a lot of shots, block a lot of shots. We’re looking forward to that for sure.”
The 27-year-old center should provide an extra rebounding force to create easy transition buckets. He'll be a dangerous pick-and-roll dive man, and his verticality and rim domination on both ends is an element the Lakers don't currently have — assuming he’s fully engaged and embraces his role ahead of free agency.
“We got a hard-working guy,” Markieef Morris said. “He’s gonna change the game a lot for us, with his size, his rebounding ability, his ability to block shots. Being around this type of team is gonna raise his level of play, just like it do everybody else. … He’s a rebounding machine.”
Kyle Kuzma, who tallied 21 points and 11 rebounds on Sunday, wryly cracked that his first thought when Drummond was inked was the in-house competition on the glass.
“I got somebody to battle with on the boards now,” he said. “I think that’s something that’s really really gonna stand out. Especially when we get AD back. Me, him, Brown, and Drummond fighting on the boards.”
Kuzma is averaging a career-high 8.9 rebounds per 36 minutes in 2020-21. For his career, Drummond has pulled down 16.1 boards per 36.
Kyle Kuzma said his first thought upon seeing Drummond signed was: “I got somebody to battle with on the boards.”
He said the competition for boards between him, Drummond, AD, and LeBron is going to make it tough for opponents on the glass.
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) March 29, 2021
Kuzma admitted to looking ahead, too, and shouted out Drummond’s potential impact in certain playoff matchups.
“My mind is always in playoff mode. Once you get a taste of it, your mindset and how you think about the game and approach it is from a playoff mentality.”
The fourth-year forward cited the Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers, and Portland Trail Blazers as possible foes with impactful bigs in the middle.
Kuzma praised Drummond's pick-and-roll skills and his quick hands, which render Drummond a surprisingly good thief (1.4 career steals per game) and deflector for a 7-footer. As someone with a newfound devotion to hustle plays, Kuzma’s focus on those aspects of Drummond’s game is fitting.
The Lakers (30-17) will get two days off before they face the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday. They’ll have a rare practice on Tuesday, which will be their first real chance to begin acclimating Drummond.
Schröder was looking forward to both the rest and the opportunity to work with the newest Laker.
“Chemistry-wise, I don’t think it will be a problem,” he said after the Magic win. “I came here and all the guys treated me and how they got me in right away. I never had that before. That side, I have no worries. When we get in and have practice, everybody commits to the same thing. Andre Drummond, he's been in the league and he knows what he does good.”
All that is encouraging and optimistic. After a sloppy but low-key important win over the fire-selling Magic at Staples Center — the shorthanded Lakers' second consecutive W following four straight Ls — in the wake of the Drummond news, the team is feeling energized by the late-season signing of the two-time All-Star.
Trezz on Drummond: "He's a strong solid player on both sides of the floor…It’s definitely gonna be a breath of fresh air…We can’t wait for him to get here and we’re going to welcome him with open arms”
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) March 29, 2021
However, the addition of Drummond, while a no-brainer, doesn’t come without its complications.
For one, as Schröder indicated, practices barely exist these days, so L.A. will be dependent upon film sessions and live action to incorporate the center. He'll have to adjust to the current group first, then readjust once the stars get healthy.
Vogel is also facing a tricky balancing act at the center position — before and after Davis returns.
The Lakers have five bigs in the rotation: AD, Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell, Markieff Morris, and now Drummond. Those five players have an average of 9.8 years of NBA service under their respective belts, and each has achieved a slew of individual and team accolades. In other words: there’s pride at play.
This season, Morris is averaging 18.4 minutes per game with 16 starts. Harrell is playing 25.3 minutes per game, while Gasol has started in all 37 of his appearances (19.8 MPG). That’s before getting to Davis, who will slide to center when it really counts.
In related news: NBA games are 48 minutes long, and rotations shorten in the postseason.
All this is to say: the trickiest part of the Drummond addition may not be the acclimation into the system or developing pick-and-roll chemistry with James or Schröder, but rather the rotation juggling Vogel will have to pull off to keep each veteran satisfied and engaged.
Drummond signed up to play in L.A. on a bargain with the promise of jelling with James and Davis as a starter for a contender.
Harrell — fresh off another double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds) vs. Orlando — has been a stellar sixth man, but he struggles against bigger lineups, and Drummond’s presence now gives Vogel an easy alternative.
Morris — who plays 4 and small-ball 5, will likely see his minutes decline when James returns, even if he keeps producing (12 points and 11 rebounds on Sunday, continuing his best stretch of the season).
Gasol — who just overcame a brutal battle with COVID-19 — may see his role diminished more than anyone. The Spaniard brings qualities that Drummond doesn’t, namely whip-smart passing and 3-point shooting, but the more explosive Drummond will be the go-to man when Vogel wants a traditional center out there.
In the playoffs, Drummond and Davis will stagger minutes, with Drummond likely starting then sliding into a second-unit role, perhaps alongside Harrell.
“He’s a strong solid player on both sides of the floor,” Trezz said on Sunday. “We can’t wait for him to get here. We’re going to welcome him with open arms.”
Fortunately, these are team-first, seasoned competitors who seem to value the title chase above all else. Still, Vogel better have strong hands, because he may need to massage some egos.
“All I can say is we’re gonna need ‘em all,” Vogel said. “For this playoff push we’re about to endure, we have a really condensed second half of the season. And every playoff series is different.”