What is the Impact of Andre Drummond Signing with the Lakers?

When the Lakers opted against making a move for Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline, many in the sports media saw it as a missed opportunity.

The Lakers needed to inject some legit talent into that roster, as with LeBron and AD hurt, they’re clearly unable to win games against all but the worst teams in the league (like Orlando). Lowry was that needed talent.

Trading for Kyle Lowry would’ve meant sacrificing Dennis Schroder, KCP and THT, plus a first round pick in 2026. The pick is irrelevant given that the Lakers are in win-now mode, but I actually think the Lakers made a defensible choice in standing pat at the deadline.

Maybe it wasn’t a good decision, but it’s absolutely defensible.

Kyle Lowry is 35 years old. His age isn’t really too important given that the guy can clearly still play–I have him as the 36th-best player in the NBA right now–plus the Lakers are in win-now mode. But he’s still showing some signs of age, mainly on defense.

What really concerns me is how Kyle Lowry would’ve fit with LeBron. LeBron is the primary point guard/ball-handler on that Lakers team, and so if you take that away from Lowry, you’re taking away much of what makes him the 36th-best player in the NBA. You’re basically asking him to become a spot-up shooter, because behind being a distributor, shooting the ball is probably the second-strongest part of Lowry’s game. Is it really smart to give up all your depth for Kyle Lowry when, after LeBron returns, you won’t even be able to take full advantage of Lowry’s potential?

So while there would seem to be a huge discrepancy between Kyle Lowry at #36 in the NBA and Dennis Schroder, who I have as #80 in the league, Kyle Lowry’s numbers would’ve come down after LeBron’s return, and the output gap between him and Schroder would’ve narrowed.

Plus, I really like Dennis Schroder. He can get to the rim and he’s not too bad shooting the ball. He’s just an energy player, and I like guys like that. Schroder is also a plus defender this year while Kyle Lowry is a minus defender this year. However, we learned yesterday that Schroder rejected the Lakers’ offer of a 4yr/$84mil contract extension because he believes he’s worth more than that, and will probably become an unrestricted free agent after this season. So now Schroder is just as much of a rental as Lowry would’ve been. That hurts long-term, but still, we’re focused on this season.

I also don’t think the Lakers should give up on KCP. He was absolutely instrumental in their playoff run last year, hitting big shot after big shot. I think KCP deserves the benefit of the doubt here. He’s defintiely having a terrible season, I won’t deny that, but we’ve seen what this guy can do when he’s playing at his best. I wouldn’t give up on him just yet.

As for THT, I don’t think he really impacts the game too much at this stage in his young career, but apparently the Lakers were unwilling to part with him because they think he has a really bright future. We’ll see.

But I don’t think THT was the main hang-up of the trade. I think the Lakers balked because Kyle Lowry would lose a lot of value once LeBron comes back. He’d make them better in the short-term, but his impact long-term (I.e. playoffs) would be smaller. So the Lakers passed on him.

There was one other factor that made the Lakers okay with passing on Kyle Lowry: they knew they could pick up Andre Drummond on the buyout market, which would be an impact signing without having to sacrifice depth. So I think the Lakers made the right decision when you look at it in terms of “Trade for Kyle Lowry, or just sign Drummond on the buyout market?”

If it was a choice between 35-year-old Lowry or 27-year-old Drummond, I think the Lakers made the right choice. They can preserve their depth, and I think Drummond will be able to make more of an impact not only right now while LeBron and AD are out, but when they come back and the roster is at full strength, too.

Right now, I have Andre Drummond as the 58th-best player in the league, but the 46th-best on a minutes-adjusted basis. And that’s playing with the Cavaliers, one of the worst teams in the league. I think he can be even better than that on the Lakers–potentially much better. Kyle Lowry is my 36th best player in the league, but on a minutes-adjusted basis, he’s 49th, which is slightly worse than Drummond. So there you go:

Drummond is better, and cheaper. And his efficiency will absolutely go up playing with LeBron.

A few quick points:

  • Losing Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee in the offseason hurt the Lakers a lot more than people initially thought. They were clearly unable to fill the void with Trezz and Marc Gasol. And this was to be expected: Trezz is not a true center so we can’t expect him to be one. That’s not his game. And Gasol is getting up there in age and clearly not the player he once was. Andre Drummond is a true center, he’s in his athletic prime, and he will be able to finally provide the Lakers that inside presence that they’ve missed since Dwight and JaVale left.
  • Drummond as a first option on a team is not a recipe for success. I’ll give you that. But Andre Drummond as a third option on a championship contender? I really like it. Teams won’t be able to key on him defensively. You can’t even think about doubling him. He’s going to abuse dudes out there.
  • LeBron has a way of getting the best out of players, and I think he will get the best out of Drummond. Remember when people said Anthony Davis was a “stats guy” who didn’t make his teammates better, had very little playoff experience, and was not the answer for the Lakers? Well, once he got paired up with LeBron, he became a different guy. He was often the finisher in the playoffs, and he absolutely made the difference for the Lakers in their championship run last season. I think LeBron will get the most out of Andre Drummond the way he got the most out of Anthony Davis.

I really do think we’ll see Andre Drummond playing some of the best basketball of his career in LA. The LeBron Effect tends to bring that out in guys.

However, we must address the elephant in the room regarding Andre Drummond.

Hack-a-Drummond

We have to talk about the free throw shooting. Andre Drummond is a career 46.7% free throw shooter. In his 8 career playoff games, he’s only shooting 36.4% from the free throw line, which is absurdly bad. You’re not going to be able to have him on the floor at the end of games because opposing teams are going to just send him to the line. He has slightly improved his free throw shooting over the past few years, and this year he’s shooting 59.7% from the line, but he is still absolutely a liability at the end of games. I remember watching him in the playoffs some years ago and the other team just kept hacking him and putting him on the line, and he was unable to make the free throws. I felt bad for him, because other than free throw shooting, he’s a dominant basketball player. It just felt unfair that teams were able to neutralize him by essentially manipulating the rules.

But there was another guy who played center for the Lakers and was a notorious liability from the free throw line: Shaq. Shaq was a career 52.7% free throw shooter, and when he led the Lakers to a three-peat from 2000-2002, his free throw shooting percentages for those seasons were as follows: 52.4%, 51.3% and 55.5%. I know the game has changed since Shaq’s prime, but there is precedent for winning titles despite opponents exploiting the Hack-a-Shaq strategy against you. Many of the great centers in NBA history were bad free throw shooters–Wilt Chamberlain was a career 51.1% from the line. Bill Russell was 56.1% from the line career. Dwight Howard is a career 56.5%. Kareem shot 72.7% for his career, and that’s one of the better marks for the great centers. Hakeem Olajuwon was 71.2% for his career, Ewing was 74%.

It’s important to remember, though, that the NBA made a rule change in 2017 that discourages Hack-a-Drummond: if you intentionally foul a player away from the ball, he gets a free throw, but his team also gets possession after the free throw, too. This is in the final two minutes of all four quarters. This rule change does not eliminate Hack-a-Drummond, but it does mitigate it somewhat.

It’s a long ways away and I’m sure Frank Vogel will figure it out, but in crunch time during the playoffs, the Lakers can move Drummond to the bench and bring Trezz or Marc Gasol in as the closer at center. Or even move AD over to the 5 and have Trezz play the 4 at the end of close games. Drummond will still be able to be highly effective for the first three-and-a-half quarters of games.

Now that we’ve addressed the elephant in the room, let’s move on to how he actually impacts the team.

The Lakers now have the clear-cut top front court in the whole NBA. Drummond can both score and play stout defense down low. He’s an elite rebounder, and the Lakers need that badly right now with AD out. As far as the Western Conference goes, the Lakers now have an answer for Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokic.

Nobody in the West really has an answer for AD, LeBron and Drummond–plus Trezz coming off the bench.

The Clippers are going to be completely overmatched trying to throw Serge Ibaka and Ivica Zubac at AD and Drummond. It’s a very lopsided matchup in the Lakers’ favor.

The Lakers’ strategy right now is obvious: they’re just going to pound everybody down low and protect the rim because nobody has enough size to handle their bigs. They’re going to absolutely dominate the paint.

Drummond and AD are both great defenders, and Drummond’s rim protection combined with AD’s versatile defensive skills–not to mention LeBron’s defensive renaissance this year–make the Lakers easily one of the best defensive teams in the league, if not the very best.

There’s another big plus to having Drummond on the Lakers now: he will give AD the freedom to play exactly as he wants without having to always worry about being a traditional big man. AD is not a traditional big man and does not like to play as one. Drummond will fill that role now. AD can space the floor again, and even play on the perimeter, like he used to when the Lakers had Dwight and JaVale. Signing Drummond frees up AD big-time, and that should scare the rest of the league.

If AD is free to space the floor, then that’s good for LeBron, too. If both AD and Drummond are down low, that clogs up the lane and makes it harder for LeBron to get to the rim. But AD won’t need to be planted under the rim now with Drummond on the team.

With Kyle Lowry on the team instead of Drummond, the Lakers would’ve still needed AD to play the traditional 5 role more. Because it’s either him, Trezz or Marc Gasol. And that’s just not the way AD is meant to play.

To sum that up, they now have a guy who can fill the Dwight/JaVale role once again, only this guy is a lot better than both Dwight and JaVale. If the Lakers were a Championship team with Dwight and JaVale at center, they’re absolutely a Championship team with Drummond.

The Lakers are now probably the best rebounding team in the league, too.

Now, Drummond’s offensive game is fairly limited. For his career, 64% of his field goal attempts have been between 0-3 feet from the hoop, and he shoots 64.3% on those shots. So that’s good. But when you move out to 3-10 feet away from the basket, he’s only a 37.5% shooter–however, only 30.4% of his career field goal attempts come from that range.

The Lakers are going to ask him to clean up around the rim with put-backs and offensive rebounds, and he’ll be great at that. But I think LeBron’s passing ability will get Drummond so many more easy buckets than he’s used to getting on bad teams like the Pistons and Cavs. Lobs, pick and rolls, and just generally finding him when he’s open–I think LeBron really unlocks a whole new level to Andre Drummond’s offensive game.

Of course, that’s once LeBron comes back. And that might not be for another 4-5 weeks. But don’t sleep on Dennis Schroder’s ability to generate buckets for his teammates in LeBron’s absence. Schroder is now averaging 6.3 assists per game since LeBron went down on March 20, up from his season average of 4.9. I think Schroder and Drummond on the pick and roll will be decent.

***

The one question looming over all of this, however, is: Does this make the Lakers better than the Nets?

It certainly looks like the Nets are the team to beat in the East, assuming they stay healthy. With KD, Harden and Kyrie all healthy, the Nets are major favorites in the East, and in my opinion, favorites to win the whole thing. They just have so much perimeter talent. And they just added Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge to give themselves some low-post depth.

Now, both Griffin and Aldridge have not been great this season. I have Griffin as the 90th best player in the league and Aldridge as the 100th-best.

However, it must be said that players who go from bad teams (or bad situations in which they’re unhappy, as was the case with Aldridge in San Antonio this year) to good teams tend to start playing better. Remember how people were talking about Blake Griffin not dunking in like 2 years? Well, barely a few games into his tenure with the Nets, he was dunking again. I expect Aldridge to look like he found the fountain of youth as well. I don’t think he’ll ever be Prime L.A. again, but he will probably be better than he was with the Spurs. Whether or not that burst of New Team Rejuvenation lasts or wears off quickly is the real question.

The Lakers’ big man rotation of AD, Drummond, Trezz and Marc Gasol is still leaps and bounds better than the Nets’ rotation of has-been big men DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin. It’s no contest.

But the Lakers are really going to have to dominate inside against the Nets because they are no match for the Nets’ perimeter scorers. The Nets’ big three is built almost completely different than the Lakers’. The Lakers’ Big three is positions 3, 4 and 5, while the Nets’ is positions 1, 2 and 3. LeBron is obviously extremely versatile and can play the 1 or the 4 or even a small-ball 5 if he really wanted to.

At the end of the day, it’s a clash of styles: the Nets are the “new school” perimeter-oriented team while the Lakers are the classically built inside-out team. Today’s NBA is geared more towards a team like the Nets.

But things are starting to change these days. Big men were “out” for a while, but now they might be coming back in-style. It’s not just the Lakers; look at the 76ers, built around Embiid. The Nuggets, built around current MVP-favorite Nikola Jokic. Giannis isn’t exactly a true “big” in the traditional sense of the word (although he is a very large human being), but he’s definitely an inside-out player. The Bucks’ formula is pretty simple: let Giannis dominate inside and surround him with knockdown shooters. The Jazz are anchored by Rudy Gobert. The Suns have DeAndre Ayton, the Hawks have John Collins, the Heat have Bam, the Bulls have Vucevic, Zion Williamson is taking the league by storm right now and dominating around the basket, Julius Randle has become a top-10 player in the league.

There are only really a few top teams in the league right now that don’t have dominant bigs: the Nets, the Clippers and the Mavericks. Even the Blazers, a very perimeter-oriented team, have Jusuf Nurkic.

The pendulum swung away from bigs for a while (the Steph Curry Revolution), but now it may be swinging back towards them (the Embiid/Jokic revolution?), and teams who bought too heavily into the “size doesn’t matter” mantra could be in trouble here.

Key word: could.

If the Finals is indeed Lakers-Nets, it will be the true test: are big men still obsolete, or was small ball just a passing fad? The Nets have built their team around the idea that small ball is the future, while the Lakers see a league beginning to embrace interior size again and have positioned themselves accordingly.

I still think the Nets have the advantage, assuming KD is fully healthy and Kyrie Irving decides he wants to play basketball again, of course. Threes are still worth more than twos.

However, remember last year in the bubble, LeBron put the clamps on James Harden in the 2nd round. LeBron really just knows how to defend Harden, although with Harden on the Nets now it’s a whole different story.

I think the Lakers are deeper, but I don’t know if they’ll be able to score enough to keep up with the Nets. There’s just so much firepower there.

But Andre Drummond does make things a lot more interesting.

While I definitely think it would’ve been nice for the Lakers to add a proven, high-basketball-IQ veteran point guard–remember how good Rondo was in the playoffs last year?–to be the floor general not only with LeBron hurt, but also when he’s resting mid-game, I think it was more important to find a big man to fill the Dwight/JaVale role and free up the floor for AD.

I just think Drummond works better for the Lakers when they get LeBron and AD back than does Lowry. Lowry might have been better over the next month as the Lakers try to win some games and stay afloat in the standings without LeBron and AD, but I don’t think he would’ve been quite as good a fit once LeBron and AD come back.

The Lakers clearly aren’t panicking and worrying about missing the playoffs or getting a low seed in the playoffs; they care about winning once they get to the playoffs.

So in terms of helping the team win games right now with LeBron and AD sidelined, obviously Drummond will help somewhat, but there’s no way he’s going to carry this team to a winning record. He just hasn’t historically shown an ability to consistently win lots of games as a #1 option. But he’ll be better than starting Marc Gasol at the 5, that’s for sure.

The real upside to the Drummond signing is when this team is at full strength.

Austin Frank

Sports blogger

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