On Thursday, the Cleveland Cavaliers did make a trade involving a big man, but not the one people were expecting. Cleveland sent Brandon Knight, John Henson, and a second-round pick to the Detroit Pistons for two-time All-Star Andre Drummond, a move that seemingly came out of left field. The addition of Drummond has its pros and cons, but is overall a bit confusing considering the situation the Cavs are in.
First, what did they give up? The answer is not much at all. Knight has missed all but 16 games this season, and wasn’t a big part of the rotation even when he was healthy. There wasn’t any room for him with the plethora of young guards ahead of him on the depth chart.
Henson had a decent role, providing rim protection in just under 15 minutes per game. This was after he missed a good chunk of time at the start of the year. The second-round pick will be the lower selection between Cleveland Golden State in 2023. So the Cavs have not lost anything significant; Knight and Henson are both on expiring contracts and were almost guaranteed not to be back with the team next season anyway.
In return, Cleveland lands Andre Drummond, who does provide some name recognition. He’s probably not as good a player as his reputation makes him out to be, but that doesn’t mean he’s bad. This season, he is averaging 17.8 points, 15.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.0 steals, and 1.7 blocks in 33.8 minutes per game. Very good numbers. In fact, Drummond has led the NBA in rebounding in each of the last three seasons, and in four of the last five.
At 26 years old, Drummond is in his eighth NBA season. He has averaged a double-double every year he’s been a full-time starter, and since 2013-2014, he’s played in at least 78 games each season. But throughout his career, Drummond’s Pistons teams haven’t found much success, even with Blake Griffin playing alongside him.
Since drafting Drummond in 2012, Detroit has made the playoffs twice, and were swept in the first round both times, once by the Cavs in 2015-2016, and then by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2018-2019. Drummond’s impressive stats have been mostly empty numbers on bad teams.
It’s unfair to blame Drummond for the Pistons’ lack of winning, but it does lend credence to the argument that he isn’t as good as he may seem on paper. As Matthew Schmidt wrote, Drummond is limited offensively. He hasn’t developed an offensive game past pick-and-roll scoring, put-backs, layups, and dunks. He can’t face-up defenders, he doesn’t have a wide repertoire of post moves, and he’s basically useless outside of the paint. He’s also a poor free-throw shooter, hitting 58% of his 5.2 attempts this season. His career clip is just 46% from the line.
John Beilein’s system works best with an athletic center who can switch onto smaller, quicker players, facilitate for others from the paint, and spread the floor by knocking down three-pointers. Drummond can do only one of those things.
At a minimum, Andre Drummond can help add extra possessions for Cleveland’s offense, and give Collin Sexton and Darius Garland an athletic big man to run the pick-and-roll with. Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance Jr. are fine in the pick-and-roll, but neither has the size and athleticism of Drummond.
On defense, Drummond does provide elite rebounding and some solid rim protection. But he won’t be switching onto guards or small forwards. Out of all centers who have played in at least 30 games this season, Drummond’s defensive rating of 110.9 ranks 10th-worst. To be fair, it is lower than Nance Jr., Kevin Love, and Thompson. But expecting Drummond to fix Cleveland’s defensive woes is unrealistic.
Drummond’s contract situation is interesting. He makes $28 million this season, the final year of his deal. However, he does have a player option for next season worth nearly $29 million. This summer’s free agency class is expected to be relatively weak, so Andre Drummond could end up being one of the better players on the market. He could decline his option and go to the highest bidder, or he could exercise it and test FA in 2021 instead. If he does decide to stick around for one more year, Drummond would essentially be Cleveland’s big free agent signing. The organization would have a season and a half to evaluate Drummond, and determine whether or not they want to offer him a long-term deal.
He is a seasoned veteran, but Drummond is still only 26 years old. He is entering the prime of his career, but he’s still six years older than the Cavaliers’ young core of Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, and Kevin Porter Jr. Does he really make sense for this team long-term? Probably moreso than Kevin Love, who is five years older than Drummond, but still not all that much. Is Drummond a player that a team should build around? No. Is he a nice complementary piece for a playoff ready team seeking help at center? Absolutely. But that’s not where the Cavs are right now, and Drummond is making nearly $30 million a year.
Does Drummond really make the Cavaliers that much better? He’s certainly not going to elevate this team to the playoffs. More likely, he’ll make a difference of between 1-3 spots in the final standings. And that could be all the difference between landing the first overall pick and selecting outside of the top five. This is a relatively weak draft class, especially compared to last year, but having a higher pick is always better for a rebuilding team.
Drummond’s role with Cleveland will be something to monitor. He replaces Henson, who was on the floor for less than 15 minutes a night. Beilein has to find a way to divide 48 minutes between Love, Drumond, Thompson, and Nance Jr, not to mention Ante Zizic. Drummond’s passing ability makes for some interesting combinations with Love and Nance, who are good passers in their own right.
Beilein loves ball movement, and with those three big men, the ball could move quite a bit. It’s just a shame Drummond isn’t able to provide any floor spacing, otherwise we might have been able to get a glimpse of the real system that Beilein wants to run.
Andre Drummond certainly makes the Cavs better. But is he worth the financial commitment? That remains to be seen. He’s certainly worth the trade package that Cleveland gave up for him, and will make the rest of this season more entertaining.