As Drummond grows comfortable in new role, assists soar, turnovers fall

Andre Drummond and the Pistons hope to snap their 7-game losing streak at Atlanta.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Stan Van Gundy called it. Andre Drummond’s assists totals were up dramatically through the first few weeks of the season – doubling, then tripling and now quadrupling his career average of less than one per game – but so were his turnovers.

And Van Gundy, who tweaked his offense this year to make greater use of what he saw as untapped playmaking potential in Drummond, predicted that while he anticipated Drummond’s assists to rise even higher he also expected his turnovers would start to fall as he grew more comfortable as a facilitator.

That’s exactly what’s happened.

He’s already exceeded his previous career high for assists in a season at 99 – with 57 games remaining – topping last year’s previous best of 90. He’s also likely to break his previous career high for turnovers. But the tradeoff still favors the Pistons by the numbers. And the trend lines offer even more encouragement.

Last season Drummond committed about five turnovers for every four assists. This year it’s turned around. And of late the gap is eye opening. Over his last seven games, Drummond has recorded 38 assists and only 15 turnovers.

“It’s almost three to one, which is phenomenal,” Van Gundy said before Friday’s game with Golden State, in which Drummond recorded four assists against three turnovers. “You go through the centers in the league and if you get a guy over one to one, assist to turnover, it’s pretty damn good. For him to do what he’s been doing in terms of passing the ball is outstanding. He’s really playing the game well offensively.”

Only three centers – DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Jokic and Marc Gasol – average more assists per game than Drummond’s 4.0. Cousins has a 1:1 ratio, also averaging 5.1 turnovers. Jokic averaged 4.6 assists to 2.2 turnovers and Gasol’s numbers most closely parallel Drummond’s, Gasol at 4.2 and 3.0 to Drummond’s 4.0 to 3.1. That’s pretty heady company for Drummond given Gasol’s been acting as a hub of the Memphis offense for nearly a decade.

Drummond’s quick feet, soft hands and wide base and strength make him a natural for executing dribble handoffs out of the high post or by the elbows – where the lane lines meet the foul line. He’s picked up a number of assists, many of them on Avery Bradley shots, that way. But he’s also proven an adept back-door passer, hitting Bradley beautifully through a narrow window for a layup in the second half against Golden State, who’s learning when to thread the needle and when to play it safer.

“For me, I always think somebody’s open. That’s the biggest gift and the biggest curse,” he grinned. “If I see somebody have a step, I’m passing it. But sometimes, you’ve got to really think and make the right plays.”

“Like a quarterback in football, you have this great confidence you can get the ball into any little window,” Van Gundy said. “But you have to learn not to take low-percentage chances or at least to know when to take them and when not to.”

It’s also a matter of familiarity with his role and with the preferences of teammates for how and where they like the ball delivered.

“The more he sees things, the better he can react,” Van Gundy said. “It’s like anybody who has the ball in their hands a lot, though. It’s the same with point guards. There are still going to be games that’ll be high turnovers. If you’re going to put the ball in the guy’s hands that many times, you’re going to have to live with some of it.”

“Having the ball in my hand all the time and making plays, it was bound to come to a point where I knew where to get the ball to, who and when to give the ball to somebody,” Drummond said. “Just making the right decisions when I have it.”

When Van Gundy made the decision, based in part on conversations he had with his brother Jeff and others whose opinions he values, to diversify the offense and expand Drummond’s role in it over the off-season, it might have looked good on paper – but its implementation would only be as effective as Drummond’s openness to making it work. And on that count, it’s been everything Van Gundy hoped.

“He’s been really easy to coach this year. He’s really tried to do anything that we give him and I think he’s focused on winning and trying to help the team. He’s not really focused on numbers. He’s playing better and he’s involved in every play. He’s having a lot of success.”