Monday, March 5, 2012

Don't forget about Andre

With all the hoopla about Anthony Davis' amazing statistics - and I use the words statistics instead of play deliberately - people are forgetting about Andre the friendly giant. In the world of ESPN highlights being the basis for so many people's opinions of players you can imagine why Dre goes under the radar; there's nothing sexy about a kid playing like a kid and putting up freshman numbers.

However, in our stats-obsessed world, people too often forget to just look at a prospect play the game and analyse their strengths and weaknesses. The so-called eye test is often foregone in favour of checking box-scores. Now, I've made my feelings about Davis clear on this blog before, so this article will try to focus on my man Andre, not to hype him up unfairly, just an informed opinion of who he is now, what I think he'll be in the future, and why he's going to make whoever passes on him very foolish. I've seen Drummond play a few times over the course of the year, the most relevant being games against Georgetown, and more recently, against Pittsburgh.

Let's start with the Georgetown game. I'm not much of a stat-head, and the game was a while ago, but there were a few things I noticed about Drummond. First off, when he's allowed to isolate against his man in the low post, he can get buckets through sheer size and strength alone. Secondly, his footwork in the post isn't as bad as it's made out to be. The first ten minutes or so of this game Drummond was fed the ball on the block and repeatedly backed his man down, he was so dominant and unstoppable against a man-to-man defensive scheme that Georgetown swapped to a zone and subsequently doubled him every time he got the ball. That stretch of play just screamed NBA C to me, I could just imagine him being surrounded by NBA quality shooters and punishing his opponents if he's allowed to go 1v1. The wide open spaces of the NBA would do wonders for him, especially the defensive 3-second rule. He also displayed a good instinct for rebounding, but lost interest in the game once he was no longer being fed the ball. I will say this though, if I were Drummond, and I'd had so much success scoring early, only to have my guards spend the remainder of the game jacking up jump shots, I'd lose interest too. The UConn offence isn't really designed for Drummond to be much of a scorer, and this particular squad really lacks a true point, with both Napier and Boatright playing more like undersize 2-guards. I have to make a mention of Davis here, because he plays for a coach who knows how to get his big guys easy buckets, and his teammates are a lot more willing to share the ball than Drummond's. UConn would lose that game, and the adjustment to compensate for Drummond was a big part of the reason why in my opinion.

Moving on to the game I watched today, the game against Pittsburgh, and a few things immediately jumped out at me. Firstly, that Drummond has great timing on his shot-blocking, there was a sequence where he repeatedly denied the Pitt big man under the rim, and his length is astounding. Secondly, he shows very little interest in fighting for offensive rebounds if you body him up, defensively he'll pull down the boards, but he seems to content to be pushed out of the paint when Lamb or Napier clang another shot off the iron. At the very least he'll be an engaged defender at the next level, because he seems to take pride in protecting the rim. His agility is also uncanny for someone his size; on a few occasions he was picking up the point guard on the perimeter, and he was able to move laterally so well that the smaller players would be intimidated and ignore the mismatch. He had one enormous block where he shuffled alongside the driver only to rise up behind him and smack it against the board at precisely the right moment. Like I said, his timing is great, and it's not just under the rim. In a strange turn of events, he decided to stalk down the PG from behind on one possession, and with a deceptively long stride and reach he simply knocked it out of his opponent's hands. The nonchalant manner in which he did it made me shake my head at just how good this kid could be. He'd be a terror defending the pick and roll at the pro level, as he'd had no qualms just switching onto the PG. However, like in the Georgetown game, he wasn't featured much in the offence, and the opportunities for him to score in the post were limited. However, he did display great vision when passing out of the post, often finding open jump shooters on touch passes; if anything, Andre is unselfish to a fault, and for the most part would pass the ball before looking for his own shot. This aspect of his game reminds me somewhat of Greg Monroe of the Detroit Pistons, a guy who has a great skill-set, but also a high basketball IQ who you can run your offence through in the post. That said, as the game wore on, and he was overlooked in the post a number of times, he would lose interest in establishing position, and looked to score off a back-door pass rather than creating his own shot. The regularity with which he was doing this suggested it was by design, and using a player of Drummond's skill in this way leads me to further question Calhoun's ability to use big men offensively at the college level beyond lobs and dunks.

To sum up, Andre is still going to be the best player out of this freshman class in my opinion. So many aspects of his game are tailor-made for the NBA, and his deficiencies are just as much a result of the UConn offence as any permanent mark against him. For all the praise Anthony Davis receives for his shot-blocking prowess, in the games I've seen him play, he spends a lot of time camped under the rim, blocking the shots of guards who are already being pressured by Kentucky's excellent perimeter D into forcing the shot. With the defensive three-second rule coming into play in the NBA, I can see Davis struggling to be anywhere near as effective as he is in college, whereas UConn plays a more pro-style man defence, so the jump to the pros should be an easier adjustment for Drummond. Overall, Andre Drummond should be viewed as a high risk-high reward prospect going forward, but only because he needs to go to team which knows how to use big men appropriately. If any player is susceptible to busting due to circumstance, it'll be Drummond, because while he could go down as an all-time great if he maximises his potential, his character on the court is team-oriented, and he won't dominate unless his coach gives him the opportunity.

Ideal destinations for Drummond would be;

· Boston (if they fell into the lottery and lucked out); Rondo is great at getting his bigs involved, and Rivers is an excellent motivator.

· New Orleans; a franchise desperate for a superstar, with Gordon unlikely to remain, and being injury prone regardless. Drummond will allow NOLA to trade away Kaman, and Dre can learn from Okafur until he's ready to start full-time. Monty Williams has proven himself to be a very capable head coach too, which is a bonus.

· Cleveland Cavaliers; Varejao is getting on in years, and Thompson is more of a PF, so Drummond would be a great partner for Irving. Jamison has seen plenty of shots in Scott's offence, which means Drummond should see a lot of the ball, which would play to his strengths.

· Brooklyn Nets; Yes, they already have Lopez and they are making a play for Dwight Howard, but Brook wasn't offered an extension, and Deron Williams would help Drummond like he helped Jefferson and Boozer get easy buckets while he played with them. Let's face it, Dwight probably won't end up in Brooklyn regardless, so it's not a big concern.

· Orlando Magic; There will most likely be a giant Dwight-sized hole in the Orlando roster, so if the Magic pull the trigger and trade him before the deadline, there's a good chance they'll fall into the lottery, and Drummond would be a perfect fit for a franchise which has a history of building around Cs.

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