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How Andre Drummond fits when the Los Angeles Lakers return to full strength

The Lakers are close to landing the two-time All-Star on the buyout market. What role could the former Cavs big man play for the defending champs?
6:42 PM GMT

Will Andre Drummond provide a boost to a Los Angeles Lakers team reeling from injuries to stars Anthony Davis and LeBron James?

After deciding not to make a trade before Thursday's deadline, the Lakers are close to finding help on the buyout market. Once Drummond, who reached a buyout deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers, clears waivers at 5 p.m. ET Sunday, he intends to sign with the Lakers, his agent told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

What role can Drummond, a two-time All-Star, play for the Lakers both now and once AD and LeBron return in time for the playoffs? Will he help the Lakers avoid sliding in the standings? Let's take a look at how Drummond fits in L.A.

Drummond can add shot creation

Since James suffered a high ankle sprain last weekend and joined Davis on the sidelines, the Lakers have struggled to score. They've averaged precisely one point per possession over the past four games, per NBA Advanced Stats, explaining why they've gone 1-3 despite maintaining a top-10 defense without their stars.

Adding Drummond should help because he'll put more pressure on the defense than incumbent starter Marc Gasol. While Gasol remains a strong defender and passer from the perimeter, he has become a reluctant scorer at age 36. Gasol's 11% usage rate ranks in the league's bottom 20 among players who have seen at least 500 minutes of action.

By contrast, Drummond can create offense in a few ways. Putbacks are one. Drummond has grabbed 15% of available offensive rebounds this season, nearly four times as many as Gasol (4%) and good for seventh among players with 500-plus minutes. An average offensive rebounding team over the course of the season, the Lakers have dropped to 26th since LeBron's injury, getting just 9.5 second-chance points per game (28th). Drummond alone averages 4.3 second-chance points, fourth best in the NBA.

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Additionally, Drummond might prove more effective as a screener for Lakers guards Dennis Schroder and Talen Horton-Tucker in pick-and-rolls. The Lakers have had Gasol set just 20 on-ball screens per 100 possessions this season, according to Second Spectrum tracking, as compared to 33 per 100 for Drummond with the Cavaliers and 37 for backup center Montrezl Harrell.

Given the weak guards he was screening for with Cleveland, Drummond pick-and-rolls were surprisingly effective. The Cavaliers' 0.93 points per chance with Drummond as a screener were best among their screeners who set at least 50 screens, ahead of both Jarrett Allen (0.90) and the Lakers' starting center last season, JaVale McGee (0.85).

Certainly, the Lakers won't want Drummond playing as big a role in their offense as he has this season in Cleveland. Drummond's 31% usage rate is nearly as large as LeBron's this season (32%), predictably resulting in poor efficiency. Drummond's .500 true shooting percentage is his worst mark since 2015-16, when 35.5% accuracy on free throws hampered him. (Drummond has improved to 59% over the past four seasons, competent enough to make opponents pay for fouling him.)

Ideally, Drummond will settle into a short-term role similar to when he played with Blake Griffin for the Detroit Pistons in 2018-19, using 23% of the team's plays with a true shooting percentage near league average. That would be an upgrade on what the Lakers have been getting offensively.

How will Drummond fit with AD?

As helpful as Drummond could be for the Lakers in maintaining a top-six spot in the Western Conference standings and avoiding having to rack up additional mileage in this year's inaugural play-in tournament, the more important factor is how well he fits in after Davis and James return to the lineup ahead of the playoffs.

In that regard, Drummond is a different type of big man than the Lakers have put next to Davis over his two seasons in L.A. Generally, the Lakers have favored two types of players: above-the-rim finishers who provide what's become known as "vertical spacing" in the pick-and-roll, or stretch 5s.

Dunk and 3-Point Attempts, Lakers Centers Player Season %Dunk %3P JaVale McGee 2019-20 .392 .020 Dwight Howard 2019-20 .448 .018 Markieff Morris 2019-20 .087 .565 Marc Gasol 2020-21 .014 .633 Montrezl Harrell 2020-21 .211 .020 Andre Drummond* 2020-21 .129 .021 * with Cavaliers Source: Basketball-Reference.com

McGee and Dwight Howard, who played most of the minutes at center during the 2019-20 regular season, fit into the first category. Come playoff time, the Lakers shifted more often to smaller, five-out lineups with Markieff Morris next to Davis at center.

Last offseason, the Lakers largely seemed to follow those models with the additions of Gasol (fully a stretch 5 at this stage of his career) and pick-and-roll specialist Harrell. Drummond falls somewhere in between.

Ideally, Drummond's finishing would be revitalized playing alongside two stars. We saw the opposite effect with McGee, whose rate of dunk attempts declined by more than half this season in Cleveland to 16.3% of his shot attempts prior to a deadline trade to the Denver Nuggets. But Drummond hasn't been as prolific a dunker as McGee since his early NBA days, last topping 20% of his shot attempts as dunks in 2013-14.

Instead, Drummond often prefers to post up despite his ineffectiveness doing so. His 13.9 post-ups per 100 possessions this season rank third in the NBA according to Second Spectrum tracking, yet Drummond's 0.83 points per chance on post-ups are second lowest among the 31 players with at least 100 post-ups.

The Lakers have been willing to let Harrell post up (his 8.5 per 100 possessions rank 11th), but much more frequently when he plays with the team's second units than alongside Davis. With Drummond, the Lakers might consider the approach they took with Howard, another big man who came to L.A. with a fondness for post-ups that didn't match results. Howard's rate of post-ups dropped by more than a third with the Lakers to just 2.1 per 100 possessions.

It will also be interesting to see how head coach Frank Vogel manages center minutes in the playoffs. Particularly before Davis returns, the Lakers might be able to find playing time for Drummond, Gasol and Harrell. But at some point, the Lakers will want to shift back to Davis at center based on matchups.

So far this season, Davis has played just 91 of his 755 minutes (12%) in the middle, according to my analysis of lineup data from NBA Advanced Stats -- far less than during 2019-20. Before the NBA shut down for the COVID-19 pandemic, Davis played 38% of his minutes at center, then played a majority of his minutes (60%) in the middle during the Lakers' championship run.

Given that Morris may have a hard time repeating his 42% 3-point shooting from last year's playoffs (he's making 34% of his triples so far this season), it appears the Lakers will try to repeat with a bigger group. We'll see just how much Drummond can contribute as part of those frontcourts.

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