Four things Cleveland can do to contain Detroit's young All-Star
POSTED: Apr 20, 2016 11:39 AM ET
Reggie Jackson and Detroit will look to better involve Andre Drummond during Game 2 on Tuesday.
CLEVELAND — No one likely is brave or foolish enough to walk up to the Detroit Pistons' strapping center and refer to him as Groundhog 'Dre. But Andre Drummond does have a little bit in common with Phil, the franchise player of Punxsutawney, Pa.
It's sort of a flipped version of the fabled rodent, actually: If Drummond gets taken out of the Pistons' playoff games against the Cleveland Cavaliers too often -- either literally or figuratively -- the way he was from Game 1, his and his team's postseason is likely to be a short one.
If, on the other hand, Drummond stays in and performs the way he did so often in his first All-Star season, Detroit's spring might last another week or two.
This is the time of year when NBA stars have to not just shine but darn-near twinkle, raising their games and their teammates to new heights with each round. And yet Drummond -- the Pistons' biggest and brightest star -- finds himself unusually vulnerable in the number of ways the Eastern Conference's defending champions can attack, nullify and even physically rid themselves of him.
Let us count the ways:
1 -- Drummond is one half of what many coaches and players consider to be among the NBA's most dangerous pick-and-roll combos, teaming with slithery point guard Reggie Jackson much of the time and occasionally with longball threat Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to wreak havoc up the middle on opposing defenses. Coping with and slowing that was No. 1 on the Cavaliers' defensive game plan and the home team did a strong job of that in its victory in the opener Sunday.
Oop to Drummond
Reggie Jackson lobs the ball to Andre Drummond for the alley-oop dunk.
"They're the best pick-and-roll duo in the game and we have to take away something," is how Cavs coach Tyronn Lue put it. By aggressively going after Jackson to force the ball out of his hands in another direction, most often by having center Tristan Thompson "show" strong from behind the pick, Cleveland's defense ate up valuable shot-clock time, changed the trigger points of Detroit's attack and kept Drummond somewhat at bay.
Even though the Pistons got hot on the perimeter, hitting 10 of 16 3-pointers by halftime, Drummond had managed only four shots and two points.
2 -- Drummond, as you'd expect from his 6-foot-11, 280-pound presence, typically is the Pistons' last line of defense, and coach Stan Van Gundy acknowledged heading into the series that the other Pistons rely on him for help and single coverage down low. That makes him vulnerable to fouling, and when the guys attacking the rim are LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, the risk of that goes up. Drummond only fouled out twice all season and got through 36 minutes in Game 1 with just three fouls, but he had 29 games in 2015-16 when he racked up four or more. That can limit his aggressiveness or presence for parts or all of games.
3 -- Even casual NBA fans are familiar by now with the "Beat-a-Drum" tactics opposing coaches have deployed against the notoriously poor free-throw shooter. Updated from the "Hack-a-Shaq" model, it's a calculation that Drummond -- whose 38 percent career clip actually dipped with his 35.5 rate this season -- can't hurt them as much from the foul line as he or his teammates can from the 3-point line or elsewhere on the court.
The Cavs didn't need to resort to the strategy in Game 1 but it always is available. Or lurking, if you're a Pistons fan. If Drummond sank free throws with the reliability of even foul-line challenged Dwight Howard (56.8), Detroit would have averaged 1.52 additional points per game this season (assuming his attempts stayed the same).
"Analytics say it's best to foul when you're ahead," Lue said. "Because zero or one points doesn't hurt you. When you're behind, you can't afford to give up any points. But I would just like to use it when they have it going -- score four or five times in a row and it's tough to guard their pick-and-roll."
Van Gundy has shown an increasing tendency to pull Drummond in those situations, trusting backup Aron Baynes and his 76.4 foul shooting to squelch the move and free up Detroit's offense deep in close games.
Consider: Drummond's success rate declined from 41.4 percent in February to 37.5 in March and 26.8 in April. So did his minutes, from 33.7 per game to 30.9 to 30.8. Meanwhile, Baynes' playing time climbed in those months (from 14.7 to 17.7 and 18.2).
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4 -- In Game 1, the Cavs showed yet another way to take Drummond out of the game or, at least, his comfort zone and sphere of influence. When Lue switched to a small-ball lineup early in the fourth quarter, moving forward Kevin Love into Thompson's spot at center, the idea was to move Love to the outside where Drummond would have trouble guarding him. Even if the Pistons big man got out to contest any potential shots by Love, it took him far from the paint where he dominates, opening up lanes for other Cleveland attackers.
So there they are, four significant ways in which Cleveland can negate Drummond without any of its players having to directly outplay him. Van Gundy probably would prefer that Lue use last season's starting lineup, the one with 7-1, 275-pound Timofey Mozgov as the starting center. But Mozgov likely will see only spot duty, providing a breather for Thompson or Love or matching up with big men not nearly as formidable as Drummond.
Detroit's roster is young and Drummond, who won't turn 23 until Aug. 10, is right there with the rest of them. Most have touted this dip into the playoffs after a six-year drought to be a learning experience and a taste of things to come for the Pistons, and none more so than Drummond.
The big fellow did flash some moves and get involved enough later Sunday to finish with 13 points and 11 rebounds in the opener, which are solid enough until you realize that Drummond logged 54 games with more than 13 points this season and 62 with more than 11 boards.
He, Van Gundy, Jackson and the other players have had two days to unlock opportunities for him in Game 2 Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena (8 ET, TNT). But most of Drummond's adjustment will come this offseason, when he duplicates the extreme dedication to his craft he showed in summer workouts in Las Vegas and Santa Barbara, Calif., and presumably returns as a better, nastier creature on the court than even this season.
So the days of Groundhog 'Dre are numbered. But over what's left of this best-of-seven series, keep an eye on how often he pops in or out of the Pistons' flow and the game itself.
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