CAMDEN, N.J. — People often talk about speaking things into existence. That appears to be what happened in the case of Andre Drummond now getting to play for Doc Rivers.
As a high schooler, Drummond played with Adam Jones, a young man that the Rivers’ family adopted. Since Rivers had known Drummond and his mom for so long, Drummond had always hoped to play for the long-time NBA coach.
“We’ve had this running joke for however long he’s been in the league,” Rivers said Thursday, “every year, ‘When are you going to come get me?’ When I called [to recruit him to the Sixers], I said, ‘I’m calling to come get you, you got to make the decision.’”
For Drummond, it’s been a dream come true.
“It’s definitely a surreal moment for me just to have the opportunity to play for him,” Drummond said Saturday. “Just a guy I’ve known my entire career and something we joked about my entire career. To have the opportunity to play for him now, it’s truly a blessing and I’m excited to do it.”
With all that said, this is likely not where the veteran big man expected to be heading into his 10th NBA season.
Drummond is on a one-year veteran minimum deal to back up arguably the best center on the planet. This after being a four-time rebounding champ, two-time All-Star and earning an All-NBA selection in 2015-16.
Over the past few years, the game of basketball has changed immensely. The Warriors’ run was fueled largely by the historically great three-point shooting of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Big men like Drummond, who spend their time almost exclusively on the block, have given way to stretch bigs.
Once the centerpiece of the Pistons, Drummond’s adjustment hasn’t gone smoothly. He was traded to the Cavaliers in a salary cap dump. After getting off to a strong start in Cleveland, Drummond was bought out after the team had acquired young big man Jarrett Allen. His stint with the Lakers went poorly.
So, Drummond finds himself in Philadelphia, looking to build back his value and stature around the league.
“Andre two or three years ago was making max and my first question was, ‘Why are you at where you’re at? Let’s do something about that,’” Rivers said. “I’m telling you he’s in great shape, he’s doing great things right now. We just got to keep him doing them.”
The reviews from his teammates have been extremely positive thus far. Drummond has played with the “blue team,” which is essentially the Sixers’ second unit. The lineup of Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, Georges Niang, and Drummond has pushed the starters early in training camp. Drummond and Niang are replacing Dwight Howard and Mike Scott as the Sixers’ backup five and four, respectively. There’s an easy argument to make that both players represent upgrades.
Drummond said he can feel a “camaraderie” amongst the group in the early going.
“I think I’m fitting in well,” Drummond said.”I think I’m finding myself, I’m finding my groove, I’m finding a nice little rhythm with the guys that I’m playing with. I think the guys are adjusting to me very well and vice versa, I’m adjusting well to them. It’s been a lot of fun the last three days, so looking forward to the season.”
While some of the deficiencies in their games overlap, there are reasons to believe Drummond can be better here than Howard was. Drummond is still an elite rebounder and fairly disruptive overall on the defensive end.
Offensively, Drummond has proven to be a solid passer, averaging 2.6 assists per 36 minutes since 2017-18. (For reference, Howard has averaged a full assist less per 36 minutes in that span.) It’s a trait that Milton has already been caught off guard by.
“Drummond, just his skill set, he has so much skill for that position,” Milton said Wednesday. “I didn’t know how good of a passer he was either.”
Drummond confirmed that 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 was like, ‘Yo, I didn’t really know you could pass the ball that well.’ There were a few plays where I threw the ball and it landed in his hands and just went out of bounds. I think now after three, four days and these weeks of playing with each other, we’ve found a nice rhythm and it’s been great playing with him.”
Milton and Drummond have been getting together before practice to go over things and build chemistry. Outside of his penchant for committing offensive fouls, Howard was an excellent screener. Drummond’s more disciplined but still effective picks should be a welcomed addition for a player like Milton who uses ball screens as well as any perimeter playmaker on the Sixers.
The main goal for Drummond it seems is to stay within himself. When he’s been forced into being a focal point offensively, it hasn’t gone well. If he just focuses on the things he does do well — rebounding, rim protecting, screening, rolling — he should be just fine.
“We know what he is,” Joel Embiid said Thursday. “Great rebounder, got great hands, can pass the ball. The times that we challenge him to get to the free throw line he’s been able to make more. Over the years he’s gotten better, but as we know a couple years ago, he was a bad [free throw shooter]. Through hard work he seems to have gotten a lot better.”
It’s crazy to think that Drummond is still just 28 years old and in the prime of his career. Now, he’s accepted a smaller role with a coach he’s always wanted to play for. There’s reason to believe this could be a career renaissance of sorts.
He’s gotten rave reviews from within the team. Time will tell if the Sixers are able to speak Drummond’s success into existence.