Why Andre Drummond Will Be the NBA's Next Big Breakout Superstar

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 4, 2013

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When your coach admits he didn't think you had this much talent, that's when you know you're tracking in the right direction. 

And that's exactly what Detroit Pistons head coach Maurice Cheeks said of Andre Drummond, per Vincent Goodwill and The Detroit News

I didn't [think he was this good]. Joe (Dumars) told me he was on an upswing, but I didn't know. I (only) watched him a few times, but I didn't know he would be as good as now. Trust me, he reminds me about his double-doubles every day.

That was delivered after Drummond recorded 31 points, 19 rebounds, six steals and two blocks against the Philadelphia 76ers Sunday night, a performance he followed up with 10 points and 18 boards against the defending champion Miami Heat

How's that for helping prove that actions speak even louder than words? And Cheeks' words already spoke volumes. 

Drummond has been fantastic this season, and he's proving to the world that he's well ahead of his developmental timetable. It's a career arc that finishes with him as a superstar. 

Efficient Offense 

November 17, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) dunks to score a basket against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Pistons center has already developed into one of the most efficient sources of offense in the league. Although he's not a threat to win the scoring title, there's a lot of value in having a guy who can hit double figures in the scoring column every night while leading the league in field-goal percentage. 

And that's exactly what Drummond is doing. 

The 6'10" youngster is averaging 12.9 points per game while shooting a scorching 64.8 percent from the field. No other qualified player in the NBA is even remotely close to the latter number, although plenty surpass the former. 

Now to be fair, many of his shots come right at the rim. Below you can see the distribution of his attempts thus far: 


Hey, he's at least made one shot outside the paint! That's after drilling a grand total of three during his rookie season, including a lucky three-point heave as time ran down. 

Yes, Drummond's offensive game is limited. But that doesn't make it any less valuable. 

In addition to becoming an incredible finisher of alley-oop lobs, Drummond is emerging as a valuable player in other aspects of the game. He's improved almost across the board in his second season in the league, per Synergy Sports (subscription required): 

YearPost UpRoll ManCutOffensive ReboundTransitionOverall

Although he's declined as a transition player, he's gotten much better everywhere else. In fact, only two players have scored more points per possession cutting to the basket, and he ranks No. 10 overall. 

Not too shabby for a 20-year-old who came into the league so raw he could be mistaken for sushi, huh? The other impressive aspect of Andre Drummond's game is how much more often he's creating his own offense.

After posting up 22 times throughout the 2012-13 season, he's already just seven back-to-the-basket finishes shy this year. On top of that, 66 percent of his shots have been assisted on, according to NBA.com/stats (subscription required). While that's up from his rookie season, he's also been more involved in the offense. 

And that's the true key for Drummond: involvement. 

While he'll never be a dominant scorer, he could very well start to look like Dwight Howard on the more glamorous end of the court. He's so physically dominant and has shown enough developing footwork that he is more than capable of becoming a 17 PPG scorer while shooting well over 50 percent from the field. 

Already sounds like a stud, right? For the rest of the league, too bad that's not even the best part of his game...

Versatile Defensive Play

Oct 10, 2013; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Miami Heat shooting guard Ray Allen (34) attempts a lay up against Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) during the fourth quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Heat beat the Pistons 112-107. Mandatory Credit: Raj
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The best part of his game? That would be defense.

Even though Drummond has emerged as an elite rebounder, he should be most proud of the efforts that already flash "future Defensive Player of the Year contender." He won't win the award this year—not with his teammates struggling to fill in the gaps beside and in front of him—but he'll certainly be in the conversation for years to come. 

Let's run the same exercise that was used above, this time to show defensive improvement in terms of points-per-possession data from Synergy: 

YearIsolationPost UpRoll ManSpot UpOverall

Oh look, it's another one of those across-the-board improvements!

Now that he's got a year of professional experience under his belt, Drummond has emerged as one of the better individual defenders in basketball. He's ranked 45th in overall points per possession allowed, which ain't too shabby for a 20-year-old tasked with defending the rim while the rest of his team struggles. 

But that's not where the laudatory aspects of his game end. 

Drummond has become one of the better possession-enders in the NBA, as he just racks up the steals and blocks.

Thus far, he's averaged 2.0 steals and 1.2 blocks per game, a rather elite combination. Right now, there isn't another player in the NBA meeting or exceeding those averages, and only six players are putting up 1.5 swipes and one rejection each contest: Drummond, Anthony Davis, Paul Millsap, DeMarcus Cousins, Josh Smith and Rudy Gay. 

And it keeps getting more impressive. 

The steals that Drummond gets don't just come from errors that other players make in the paint. He has remarkably quick hands that allow him to commit thievery of guards and other players known for their ball-handling skills. 

Here's the first that Vincent Goodwill was referring to in the above: 

Yep, he got this one.
Yep, he got this one.NBA.com

And the second: 

And this one too.
And this one too.NBA.com

Drummond consistently makes defensive plays that a massive human being like himself shouldn't be able to make. He'll eventually have the versatility to guard all five positions on pick-and-roll switches, and that's an asset that few players boast. 

Want him to bang around in the paint? Sure. 

Need him to step out and guard a shooter? No problem. 

Ask him to end a possession with a steal or block? Whatever. 

Desire a switch on every pick? Piece of cake. 

Drummond has all the tools on defense, and the product is scary enough now even though he has yet to put them all together every night. The future could be the stuff of nightmares.

The Big Problem

There's only one major flaw in Drummond's game: free-throw shooting. 

It makes him a liability late in games, as teams can unleash the dreaded hack-a-Drummond strategy and watch as he fails to hit either of the ensuing freebies. And if he can't play at the end of games, it's hard for him to make a decisive impact down the stretch. 

Following his 2-of-6 outing against the Miami Heat, the former Connecticut Husky is now "up" to 32.2 percent at the stripe. 

According to Basketball-Reference, only 15 seasons have ever been recorded in which a player shot under 40 percent from the line and took at least 100 attempts. Drummond is already on the list after knocking down 37.1 percent last season. 

Now he's challenging the worst of all time: Chris Dudley, who made 58 of his 182 attempts in 1989-90 (31.9 percent). Sadly enough, he may surpass him this year. 

But that doesn't stop him from becoming a superstar. 

D12 is the standard here, as he's proven that a player can be both a superstar and a max-contract player despite a serious case of free-throw woes. 

As long as Drummond continues developing on both ends of the court, there's no doubt he can enter into the same class. Sure, it would help if he cut back on this detrimental aspect of his game, but it's not an absolute must if he wants to become an unquestioned stud. 

And that's exactly what he's tracking toward. 

When Andre Drummond entered the league last season as the ninth overall pick, there was no doubt about his massive potential. But he was also extremely raw, and it was supposed to take him years before he made a serious impact. 

Well, he still has all of that potential. It's just contained in a much more NBA-ready package than we ever imagined. 


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