CAMDEN, NJ – People often talk about making things exist. This seems to be what happened in the case of Andre Drummond who now plays for Doc Rivers.
As a high school student, Drummond played with Adam Jones, a young man the Rivers family adopted. Ever since Rivers had known Drummond and his mother for so long, Drummond had always hoped to play for the longtime NBA coach.
“We’ve had this running joke for as long as he’s been in the league,” Rivers said Thursday, “every year, ‘When are you going to pick me up?’ When i called [to recruit him to the Sixers], I said: ‘I’m calling to come and get you, you have to make the decision.’ ”
For Drummond, it’s a dream come true.
“It’s definitely a surreal moment for me just to have the opportunity to play for him,” Drummond said on Saturday. “Just a guy I’ve known my whole career and something we’ve joked about my whole career. To have the opportunity to play for him now is such a blessing and I am delighted to do so.
That said, that’s probably not where the big veteran expected to be heading into his 10th NBA season.
Drummond is on a minimum one year veteran contract to support arguably the best center on the planet. This after being a four-time rebound champion, two-time All-Star and winning an All-NBA selection in 2015-16.
In the last few years, basketball has changed dramatically. The Warriors’ run was fueled in large part by the historic three-point shot from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Great men like Drummond, who spend their time almost exclusively in the neighborhood, have given way to the great.
Once the centerpiece of pistons, Drummond’s adjustment didn’t go well. He was traded to the Cavaliers as part of a salary cap. After a strong start in Cleveland, Drummond was bought out after the team acquired young big man Jarrett Allen. His passage with the Lakers went wrong.
Thus, Drummond finds himself in Philadelphia, seeking to rebuild his worth and stature in the league.
“Two or three years ago Andre was doing max and my first question was, ‘Why are you where you are at? Let’s do something about it, ”Rivers said. “I’m telling you he’s in great shape, he’s doing great things right now. We just have to make him keep doing them.
Reviews from his teammates have been overwhelmingly positive so far. Drummond played with the “Blue Team,” which is essentially the Sixers’ second unit. The formation of Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, Georges Niang and Drummond pushed the starters to the start of training camp. Drummond and Niang replace Dwight Howard and Mike Scott as substitutes for the Sixers five and four respectively. There’s an easy point to make that both players represent upgrades.
Drummond said he could sense a “camaraderie” among the group at the start.
“I think I’m fitting in well,” Drummond said. “I think I find myself, I find my rhythm, I find a good little rhythm with the guys I play with. I think the guys adapt very well to me and vice versa, I adapt well to them It’s been a lot of fun the past three days so I’m looking forward to the season.
While some of the shortcomings of their games overlap, there’s reason to believe Drummond can be better here than Howard was. Drummond is still an elite rebounder and quite disruptive throughout the defensive end.
Offensively, Drummond has proven to be a solid passer, averaging 2.6 assists every 36 minutes since 2017-18. (For reference, Howard averaged one minus full assist every 36 minutes during this time frame.) It’s a trait Milton was once caught off guard.
“Drummond, just his skills, he has so many skills for this job,” Milton said Wednesday. “I also didn’t know how good a passer he was.”
Drummond confirmed this fact on Saturday.
“When I first got here we played a pickup game together,” Drummond said, “and I was throwing a lot of backdoor passes and they ended up being turnovers, and he said: “Yo, I didn’t really know you could pass the ball that well. There were a few games where I threw the ball and it landed in his hands and went out of bounds. I think after three, four days and these weeks of playing together we found a good rhythm and it was great to play with him.
Milton and Drummond got together before training to go over things and create some chemistry. Aside from his penchant for offensive fouls, Howard was an excellent scout. Drummond’s more disciplined but still effective picks should be a welcome addition for a player like Milton who uses ball screens as well as any perimeter playmaker on the Sixers.
Drummond’s main goal seems to be to stay within himself. When he was forced to be an offensively focal point, it didn’t go well. If he’s only focused on the things he’s doing well – rebound, rim protection, scouting, rolling – he should be doing just fine.
“We know what it is,” Joel Embiid said Thursday. “Great rebounder, has good hands, can pass the ball. The times we challenge him to reach the free throw line, he was able to do more. Over the years he got better, but as we know from a few years ago he was a bad [free throw shooter]. Through hard work, he seems to have improved a lot.
It’s crazy to think that Drummond is still only 28 years old and at the peak of his career. Now he has accepted a smaller role with a coach he always wanted to play for. There is reason to believe this could be some sort of career rebirth.
He received rave reviews from within the team. Time will tell if the Sixers are capable of bringing Drummond’s success to life.