After declaring for the NBA Draft following his one-and-done season at the University of Connecticut, the scouting report on Andre Drummond was simple.
He was an ultra-athletic center with good size, a raw offensive game and elite rebounding potential. He also couldn’t shoot free throws, as he went an embarrassing 26-for-88 (29.5 percent) from the line at UConn.
Over his first five seasons in the NBA, Drummond proved that scouting report right. Averaging 16.1 points and 15.6 rebounds per game in his career, he is a double-double machine, but has never been able to shoot the ball with any consistency at the free throw line, which has hindered his overall growth and trust from his coaching staff, who has had to hold him out of close situations at times based on the fact that he was prone to hacking.
He is a career 39.1 percent free throw shooter, which is indicative of just how much he has struggled to find the bottom of the net at the line.
However, after clearly making some alterations in his game this summer, Drummond looks like a completely new player for a couple of reasons. Although his 13.9 points and 15.8 rebounds per contest are right in line with his career numbers, his development in two areas has contributed to the Pistons getting off to an 11-6 start.
Free throw shooting
Drummond’s previous career-high shooting percentage from the charity stripe was 41.8 percent in the 2013-2014 season. He went 137-for-328 that year. Last season, he knocked down just 137 of 355 attempts (38.6 percent).
However, he seems to have turned the corner this season, as he has converted 46-of-72 attempts from the line (63.9 percent), which has blown his past percentages out of the water.
After knocking down 16-of-20 free throws in the preseason, coach Stan Van Gundy immediately bought into Drummond’s new form.
"Look, the sample is small, but you can watch him shoot the free throws and it's for real," Van Gundy told reporters before the regular season tipped off, per James Herbert of CBS Sports. "I've seen guys, right, they've been bad free-throw shooters and they go 6 for 10 but two of them bank in and the misses were really bad. Even the shots he's missed, so far in the preseason and stuff, everything is soft, everything is on the rim. There hasn't been anything close to a bad miss yet. Like, it's for real. He's going to shoot free throws well. I'm actually hoping somebody will start grabbing him now.”
"It's like night and day," Drummond told Nick Friedell of ESPN.com recently. "It's been an exciting process for me to see the progress that I've put in over the years, the time that I've spent, countless hours in the gym shooting free throws. Working on mechanics, working on the mental aspect, so to see the work that I've put in come out to light is exciting that it's finally here.”
The 6’11”, 279-pound center has never made much of an effort to pass the ball. In fact, he averages 0.8 assists per game for his career and averaged a career-high 1.1 last season.
This season, Drummond has recorded 3.4 dimes per game and has been tasked with playing an important offensive role from a facilitating point of view. His consistency has been impressive as well, as he put up seven-straight games of four or more assists until Monday night’s blowout loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, in which he had three in 25 minutes.
His ability to find the open man has added another dimension to Detroit’s offense and has undoubtedly made him more dangerous.
“We’re playing through him a lot,” Stan Van Gundy said of Drummond before he had five assists against the Lakers last week, per Keith Lagolis of NBA.com. “Our approach in the off-season was to try to zero in on our guys’ strengths and play through them. Andre is a very good ballhandler, passer. He can drive the ball to the basket. He can make plays out on the perimeter. We’re trying to utilize that, so he has the ball in his hands quite a bit… We’ve never played through our center the way we’re playing through our centers so. He’s going to have the ball a lot and I think he’s just going to get better as time goes on.”
Therefore, while Drummond’s point and rebound numbers are similar to his career averages, he has taken on a completely different role and seems to be playing with the utmost confidence at the moment. Judging by the comments of his coach, it seems as though the Pistons expect him to continue progressing and evolving in other areas of the game as he looks to become one of the best all-around centers in the league.