While they will always be part of the game, injuries suck. It’s why the Los Angeles Lakers look like a much different team without LeBron James and Anthony Davis. No, it’s not the lottery Lakers from the 2010s, but the team’s performance in the last few games makes it seem awfully close.
Andre Drummond’s addition to the squad after parting ways with the Cleveland Cavaliers last week would have somewhat quelled those concerns. He may not have the skills that would offset the loss of both stars, but he addresses certain needs that would at least keep the team afloat during this uncertain stretch of the season. He has also shown that he is capable of performances like that against the New York Knicks.
His debut, however, was both forgettable and unfortunate. In a 112-97 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Drummond was immediately thrust into the starting center role and finished with four points, one rebound, two assists, one block, and three turnovers in a little over 14 minutes. However, he exited the game for good early in the second half and was later diagnosed with a big right toe contusion.
It was another unlucky development for Los Angeles, especially considering the current slump and wave of injuries the’ve been facing this season. Drummond’s impact on the Laker defense was immediate, as it initially stymied the Bucks and generated eight 3-pointers for Los Angeles in the first quarter.
Naturally, Milwaukee adjusted in the second quarter and capitalized on Los Angeles’ lack of offensive playmakers. Drummond’s injury, which occurred after Bucks center Brook Lopez stepped on his toe, only added to the Lakers’ woes.
Drummond was a great fit for head coach Frank Vogel’s defensive system. The common perception was that the two-time All Star can block anything that goes his way, and while that does hold true, one of his best assets are his quick hands in the passing lanes, which Vogel noticed during Drummond’s first practice with the Lakers.
Prior to moving out west to Los Angeles, Drummond was averaging 17.5 points, 13.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game for the Cavs. His .243 rebounding percentage through 25 games with Cleveland is second in the league (behind Jontay Porter) and ahead of the likes of Rudy Gobert, Clint Capela, and Enes Kanter. The UConn product’s energy on the glass would have added to the 45.2 rebounds the Lakers were averaging and the extra possessions would have somewhat made up for the dearth in playmaking.
While he is not the dynamic playmaker the Lakers sorely miss with the absence of Davis and James, Drummond’s .161 assist percentage is a career-high and would bode well as he slots into the role of Marc Gasol. Gasol is still known as the better passer, but the All-NBA Third member’s passing numbers will at least indicate that he won’t be a black hole on offense and can help generate better looks for his teammates.
Moving forward, Los Angeles will have to figure out how they will keep Drummond healthy and on the floor during the crucial stages of the game. He may be known for his defensive chops, but Drummond has had trouble guarding Joel Embiid, with their beef well-documented on social media.
Although he has dramatically improved his free-throw shooting over the years, Drummond is nevertheless potentially susceptible to being targeted for his sub-par performance from the free-throw line. Back on January 21, 2016, Drummond set the NBA single-game record for missed free throws with 23 (on 36 free throw attempts!) in a 123-114 win over the Houston Rockets. Later in the offseason, the NBA changed the rules to further penalize teams who would resort to that strategy.
Cons aside, what also made the addition of Drummond appealing is that he’s only 27. The Lakers can lock him up with a long-term extension in the offseason and he can form a solid core with Davis, James, Kyle Kuzma, and pending free agents Dennis Schröder, Talen Horton-Tucker, and Alex Caruso.
At this point in the season, Los Angeles needed a shot in the arm (no pun intended), and the addition of Drummond gave them a big man that could disrupt opposing teams and create some space for Lakers’ shooters. However, his toe injury threw another wrench into their plans to remain competitive without Davis and James in a uber-competitive Western Conference.
Would the Lakers have improved dramatically with the addition of Drummond? The short-term answer is no, but it may have made navigating through the fourth-toughest schedule for the rest of the season much easier.