After snapping their 4 game losing streak by beating the Cavaliers on Friday, the Lakers are going to get former Cav Andre Drummond in the buyout market per reporting from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski:
Getting Drummond without having to give up anything off your roster is, to put it mildly, a very good thing. Very smart people around the NBA can and will disagree about how valuable a player Drummond is right now. The debates about how important his rebounding are, how well his size actually translates to finishing ability in the paint, how he balances pass/shot decisions, and much more will all rage on with people on both sides of each argument.
That said, Drummond is a talented player who has made two All-Star games in his career and, at 27 years old, is still in his prime. The Lakers will literally get him for the pro-rated veteran’s minimum for the rest of this season. That, despite any arguments we can have about his utility as player, makes this a good signing. At the very least, he’s a rotation level big man with good physical tools and skill level. At the most, he can be an impact offensive player who plays more to his talent level and whose weakness are more masked when put into a better team context.
That last point, to me, is what matters most when thinking about adding Drummond. As the best player on your team, Drummond is very likely going to be an inefficient scorer whose counting stats do not translate to wins on the floor. As the 4th or 5th best player on your team, his counting stats will surely suffer, but his impact can grow as the best players on your team slot him in the appropriate sized role where the smaller asks translate to a narrower focus that can lead to a higher level of play. At least, that’s what the Lakers are surely hoping.
Whether that hope is rewarded remains to be seen. That said, I do think a couple of things in Drummond’s tool box can and will help the Lakers. For one, as much as we can wonder about how impactful his rebounding actually is,1Defensive rebounding is often the function of many factors and high totals there do not always mean an elite skill. I think that applies more to his work on the defensive glass. On the offensive backboards, however, I think Drummond’s impact is more real and will help the Lakers. Drummond averages 4 offensive rebounds a game. His ability to establish and maintain deep rebounding position occupies space and defenders in ways that can 1). lead to his teammates getting cleaner shots at the rim and 2). easy baskets for Drummond when a team that thrives on getting to the rim get up a lot of shots in the restricted area force the type of help that opens up free paths to rebounds when his teammates miss those shots.
The Lakers, when completely healthy, have several high level rim attackers that Drummond is likely to see time with in LeBron, AD, Schröder, and THT. When those guys get to the paint and take shots, Drummond’s work as an offensive rebounder will matter. He’ll get easier putback chances and will occupy defenders in ways that help his teammates. And when those players do end up helping, he’ll be the recipient of dump off passes and cleaner finishing chances that he’d get when playing with players like Colin Sexton, Darius Garland, and Reggie Jackson — guys who are good NBA players, but simply not the caliber of Bron/AD/Dennis.
Bron, in particular, has an opportunity to make Drummond’s life easier in ways that he’s not really had his entire career. Bron is elite at pretty much everything offensively, but two of the ones that stand out most are his ability to draw extra defensive attention and then make the right read out of those possessions with passes that set up teammates for easy scores — particularly players who can get into open spaces around the restricted area. In Bron’s 2+ seasons with the team we’ve seen JaVale, Dwight, Kuz, and Trez all benefit from Bron’s passing skill and acumen with none of them really playing the exact same style to benefit from Bron’s skill.2Kuz is more of a cutting option from the perimeter, JaVale was almost a pure lobe threat who also had some shiftiness when relocating, Dwight was almost all strength and vertical presence who used hand-fighting and bully tactics to generate space, and Trez uses short area quickness and feel to create separation to relocate and present passing windows.
To think Drummond can’t or won’t benefit in similar ways would be strange. By simply playing with Bron, Drummond should see an uptick in shot quality and efficiency offensively. I also think that when playing with AD and/or some of the other offensive threats the Lakers can place next to him, that Drummond should get cleaner post ups and isolation plays that simply were not available to him when playing for lesser talented teams in Cleveland and Detroit.
It should also be said, that Drummond does some have some individual skill that could help the team when the ball finds its way into his hands and it’s not a quick scoring chance. Drummond does have a little bit of feel as a passer from the high post and when facing the basket. While you’ll never mistake him for Marc Gasol, he’s been asked in the past to be the hub of an offense and those reps will serve him well in some of the sets the Lakers run now and the decisions they ask their bigs to make. He can pick out cutters and can operate out of dribble handoff situations where his wide frame can set good screens for his teammates.
Further, while he’s not a classic P&R dive big, he can set good screens and he can get downhill when given a lane. And while he’s not a great lob threat, he can make that play when given some room to elevate and, as noted earlier, playing with Bron will help him get some easier dive opportunities than he’s gotten earlier in his career.
That said, there are things to be concerned about with Drummond offensively and we should not expect everything to go smoothly just because he’s now on the Lakers. Drummond can have tunnel vision in the post and doesn’t show great feel as a passer with his back to the basket. His possessions skew shot too often and there’s a “black hole” element to him that will need to shift on a team this talented. Additionally, because he often works himself into disadvantageous positions, his finishing numbers in the paint beguile his physical tools. Drummond isn’t an great leaper and isn’t a great foul shooter, so his propensity to go away from contact leads to misses that you typically wouldn’t expect from someone with his girth.
Also, because Drummond is not a floor spacer, his utility on offense will almost all be rooted in his ability to play from the dunker’s spot or at the elbow. Now, the Lakers have plenty of sets that can optimize bigs from those spots. But he will not be a threat from higher on the floor, which neutralizes him as a passer in some of the team’s delay sets or when playing through their bigs above the break.
Defensively, Drummond can close possessions with a rebound, but does not often do enough to facilitate those misses with is own defensive skill and effort. While Drummond’s 1.5 blocks per game for his career aren’t bad, his effort and instincts on that end haven’t traditionally been super high. He can often be seen standing still as offensive players whir around him and, from my viewings of him, he doesn’t seem like the type of active communicator who helps create a high level team defensive structure. And that’s born out in his team’s defensive numbers over the life of his career.
The Lakers, then, may end up being a bit of a culture shock for Drummond on that side of the floor, to say nothing of the general environment of a team that hopes to compete for a title and the attentiveness possession to possession that requires of every rotation player as teams advance later into the season through the playoffs.3Even if comparing Drummond to Dwigth and JaVale here, Dwight had been to the Finals in Orlando and JaVale had been on those Warriors teams that were in the Finals every year. Drummond has been to the playoffs twice in his career and never gotten out of the 1st round. Getting him to perform defensively is much more of a question mark than integrating him offensively and trying to leverage his strengths on that end will be much harder.
The good news is that, once this team is whole, I’d expect him to play significant minutes next to some of the team’s best defensive players who can help him raise his baseline level. Lineups next to Bron, AD, Dennis, KCP, Caruso, and Kuz could make his life easier on that end of the floor. They can help cover up some of his mistakes and the general asks of him should be lower, particularly when paired with Bron and AD. That said, those guys will not be back for a while and Drummond will need to tread water as the backline defender in groups in which is physical presence will need to actively help the team on that end. From his history, it’s more than fair to question that he’s up to the task. I think you’ll find many people who believe he won’t be.
In the big picture, then, there’s a balance that will need to be struck both in terms of integrating Drummond and in his deployment on any given night. Reporting around his choice to come to the Lakers has noted that he’d “have the chance to compete for the Lakers starting center position”. While I’m not saying Drummond starting won’t or shouldn’t be the case, I will say that I hope his role isn’t so large to impact Gasol or Trez negatively in the big picture.
All of these guys will need minutes and reps; all of them can help the team. Vogel will need to find a way to make this work and with only 48 minutes at center a night, he may end up needing to get creative, particularly with Trez’s minutes or adjust guys’ roles based on matchups and how any one of them might be playing on a given night.
Now, that’s not the worst problem to have. But just as it was earlier in the season, the more rotation level guys you have, the harder the job can be when trying to sort through who plays and for how long. Remember, it got to point earlier in the year that Vogel ditched his 11 man rotation for a 9 man group because he was finding it difficult to give everyone enough minutes to get into the type of rhythm that inspired their best performance. The Lakers have just added another quality player and not removed anyone from their roster. Vogel will have some hard choices when everyone gets back and won’t have a lot of time to get a look at how everyone fits before the playoffs are starting.4To say nothing of where the Lakers will be in the standings and how important those last regular season games are for them to avoid the play-in game and have firm footing heading into the playoffs in the first place.
Even when saying all that, though, adding Drummond is a no-brainer. He’s too much of a talent and context of his role with the Lakers should be favorable enough that the expectation is that he would be a positive addition who helps the team. To get him for nothing but a roster spot and a minimum salary, you have to do it. Whether it goes as well as hoped will come down to a lot of factors, but if you’re asking me whether I think a LeBron and AD led team with Frank Vogel coaching can get good play from a player of Drummond’s talent and profile, I do and I think he’ll help this team in the right sized role.