If the Cleveland Cavaliers want to get the most out of Andre Drummond, they have to work on getting him elbow touches.
After acquiring him at the trade deadline, the Cavaliers had just eight games from Andre Drummond before the season was interrupted. Cleveland’s dismal record to that point meant they weren’t one of the 22 teams invited to the season restart. However, Drummond made clear he’s picking up his $28.7 million option for next season and determined to make himself an important part of the Cavaliers moving forward.
Drummond’s value as a rebounder and finisher is clear. Everything else he offers is a bit murkier, particularly on offense. However, it’s worth remembering that when his overall value was peaking in the 2017-18 season it was because Detroit found a way to let him pass and facilitate on offense, something he hasn’t regularly had a chance to do since.
The assist numbers in that chart are mostly reflective of a trend in his elbow touches, the scenario in which he was most useful as a passer. From the 2013-14 season through the 2016-17 season, Drummond never averaged more than 3.8 elbow touches per 36 minutes. In 2017-18, before the Griffin trade, that number surged to 6.8. Those elbow touches let Drummond leverage clear passing angle to cutting wings, kick the ball out to open shooters and spring his ball-handlers with screens and dribble hand-offs.
The problem was the Griffin excelled in a similar niche, squeezing out Drummond and moving him to other areas of the floor. After the trade, Drummond’s elbow touches dropped to 4.4 per 36 minutes for the rest of the season and to 3.5 the season after that. He had more of an opportunity to play that role this season, with Griffin limited to just 18 games because of injury, but it wasn’t enough to secure his future in Detroit.
Drummond also didn’t get much of a chance to handle the ball at the elbows in Cleveland — he averaged just 3.9 elbow touches per 36 minutes after the trade. But it’s a role that could make a lot of sense for him next season, given the Cavaliers’ current personnel.
It’s been two years since Kevin Love was above the 60th percentile in post-up scoring efficiency and his offensive utility now is mostly as a floor-spacer. The Cavs have a trio of promising young guard — Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. — all of whom shot better than 39 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s and who all struggled to various degrees at efficiently creating scoring opportunities for themselves off the dribble.
The Cavs could put Drummond at the elbow, use Love as an off-ball screener and spacer, and let Garland, Sexton and Porter Jr. run off screens and curls, attacking the basket against a jumbled defense or with a defender already on their hip, instead of trying to attack against a set and static perimeter. Drummond could be useful as a straight dive-man in the pick-and-roll, but using him as an elbow facilitator offers Cleveland the most potential offensive complexity.