Andre Drummond and how players learn in the NBA

Andre Drummond was the talk of the league.  Dunking, blocking and physically dominating on the fast track to superstardom, the 19 year-old giant’s adjustment to the NBA game was close to seamless.  He played to his prodigious natural gifts but showed calm, poise and feel far beyond his years, too. It wouldn’t be long before Drummond became such a hit, many forgot what a risk he was once perceived to be.

Drummond’s playing time seemed to lag behind his success.

Detroit head coach Lawrence Frank limited Drummond to just 20 minutes per game despite the rookie’s sizeable individual production and overall impact, holding close the a convention of “bringing him along slowly” as Drummond’s play begged for more exposure. Few players in league history combined Drummond’s athletic pedigree with such precocious immediate results; feed him minutes and reap the benefits, groupthink urged.

But Frank and the Pistons had a less popular and more controversial plan in mind to best foster Drummond’s evolution. And no matter the increasingly antagonistic public perception, they were sticking to it.

In a panel discussion at the 2013 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, former Miami Heat and Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy supported nuanced deliberation with respect to player progression.  

“The Washington Wizards went through a time where they took JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche and all those guys and they just let them play… The idea is that the players will continue to get better; I don’t buy that.  ‘If I can play the way I’m playing and I don’t have to change anything to get my playing time, why am I gonna change it?’ The only way to get better is to say, ‘These are our standards, this is the way we play

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HoopSpeak Network

Andre Drummond is on the march

When Greg Monroe jokingly suggested that Andre Drummond’s nickname should be “Big Penguin,” he certainly wasn’t taking into account Drummond’s enormous wingspan and habit of flying through the air to snatch his meals high above the rim.

And as Drummond entered the 2012 Draft, that he possessed these physical abilities seemed to be the only givens about his game. Questions were everywhere: Would he be in shape? Did he love basketball enough to improve some of his glaring weaknesses (he is only shooting 40 percent from the free throw line)? Was he Kwame Brown or Dwight Howard?

For now, stop looking for the nuances and artistry traditionally associated with franchise big men. Here’s what counts: Andre Drummond can dunk and rebound at the highest level in the NBA.

Look at this comparison to Team USA starting center Tyson Chandler’s numbers this year, focusing on per/36 numbers and advanced stats. (Click image to enlarge.)

The two big men have identical PERs and Drummond is already a better rebounder and shot blocker, while fouling and turning the ball over at virtually the same rate.  Basically, many advanced stats suggest at 19 years old, Drummond is a consistent free throw shot away from mimicking Chandler’s production.

Of course, Drummond is still a long, long ways from understanding team defensive concepts well enough to improve consistently defensive patch holes left by his weaker teammates the way Chandler does. Sure Drummond blocks and alters shots — sometimes from out of nowhere like a shark exploding out of the ocean with a seal in its jaws — however the Pistons don’t play better defense with him on the court.

But no one should expect 18 year olds to deliver on defense. Even a player like Kevin Garnett, who will likely be remembered as

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Notes from 2012 Draft Media Availability scrum

Ever read about how Bob Ryan got to hang out with the great Celtics teams of the 1960s? He’d go drinking with them, get meals, fly on the team plane. He saw them in unguarded, unscripted moments where they revealed their insecurities, idiosyncrasies, and was able to understand their genuine character.

Sounds nice, right?

Well the NBA Draft Media Availability Session is basically the exact opposite of that. There’s almost no back-and-forth and the formality of the setting squelches any hope you’ll really find something out about the players.

Here’s how it works: Twelve top prospects show up in two waves of six for 30 minutes each, and the assembled media goes to where they are sitting (at 6 different tables) and starts peppering them with questions.

Here’s who was there: Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters, Harrison Barnes, Damian Lillard, Andre Drummond, John Henson, Tyler Zeller, Myers Leonard and Austin Rivers.

Here are my (printable) thoughts:

These kids have been coached, and well. The NBA now puts top draft picks through a class to teach them how to handle the media, and it showed. These young men (the oldest is 22) were like polished politicians, staying on message and avoiding anything besides statements related to a) how hard they would work (very) and b) that they are happy to play anywhere. They were all well-spoken and looked like the knew what was coming. Andre Drummond looks slim. He claims to have lost around 20 pounds and be down to 260. Drummond has been working with Idan Ravin famed hoops trainer (covered by Chris Ballard in this Sports Illustrated profile), and I have to think it’s going to make a big difference when he comes into the league. People make a big deal about college

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