Friday afternoon, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN dropped the first big “Woj Bomb” of trade season:
Detroit and Atlanta have been engaged in talks on a trade centered on Andre Drummond, league sources tell ESPN. No deal imminent, but Detroit is talking to Hawks and several other teams on Drummond, sources said.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 3, 2020
It has long-been thought around the NBA that the Atlanta Hawks would be a primary suitor for Andre Drummond this coming summer, after Drummond opts out of his current contract with the Detroit Pistons. As Wojnarowski notes, no deal is imminent, but that Detroit and Atlanta are negotiating.
What Wojnarowski also notes is that Detroit is also talking to “several other teams”. One of those “several other teams” could include the Boston Celtics, but the opinion here is that it shouldn’t.
Let’s start with Drummond himself. Who wouldn’t like a 26-year old legitimate center? Combine his age and position with a robust stat-line of 17.6 points on 53.7% shooting, 15.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.8 blocks, and 2.0 steals per game and you’ve got a player most NBA teams should be lining up to snag via trade. When you consider Boston is perceived by many to have a hole at the five, Drummond is seemingly a perfect fit. He’s young enough to match with the team’s timeline and once re-signed, he’d fill the center spot for years to come.
However, that’s an overly simplistic approach. As we’ve learned since the end of last season to this point in this season: fit matters. Maybe more than anything else. So, before we dive into the logistics that make a Drummond trade unlikely, let’s talk about fit.
Does Drummond fit Boston’s offensive and defensive schemes? For all of his prodigious talent, the answer to that is a resounding no. Since Brad Stevens got to Boston, the Celtics primary center has been asked to do two things: play inside-outside on offense and be able to hold their own on the perimeter in switches on defense. Drummond doesn’t fit either of those descriptions.
Let’s start with offense. 96% of Drummond’s field goal attempts this are two-point shots. Of those shots, a whopping 92% come in and around the paint (0-10 feet). That’s in line with Drummond’s career shot-profile. Given it is Drummond’s eighth season in the NBA, it’s fair to say he’s never going to be a weapon outside of the paint. As a reference point, only last year did Drummond try to extend his range to arc and it was a disaster, as he shot just 5-of-38 on three-pointers.
So, that would mean in Boston, Drummond would largely be a pick-and-roll or post-up big. That sounds great, but the Celtics aren’t really all that heavy a pick-and-roll team with their bigs. They use a lot more of an isolation and motion-based offense vs the traditional pick and roll game. When they do run pick-and-roll, it’s usually with similarly-sized players or a wing-small combo. As for post-ups, that’s Enes Kanter and no one else. It’s only a weapon the Celtics use against over-matched second unit centers.
In that sense, because of their ability to hit jumpers, players like Amir Johnson, Al Horford and Daniel Theis have been the primary centers for the Celtics over the years. And when Horford was asked to start at the power forward spot, Boston’s best lineups featured Aron Baynes as the starting center. Stevens wants someone who is a threat to step out and hit shots. It’s really that simple.
What about defense? Drummond’s not a bad defender. His individual Defensive Rating this season is 102 per Basketball-Reference. That’s a bit higher than the last few years when he was at or below 100. But Detroit asks Drummond to basically hang out around the paint. If you’re an avid-watched of the Celtics, think about how Enes Kanter is being asked to play defense, and you’ve got an idea of what Drummond has done for the majority of his career.
So, the Celtics already have one guy who does that. They aren’t likely to add another. Stevens wants his five man to be able to switch and pick up perimeter guys and hold their own. Theis and Robert Williams both do that, as does Grant Williams in small-ball lineups. Heck, Steven will go to Jaylen Brown or Marcus Smart at the five to get the switchability he wants on the floor before he changes his preferred style of defense too much.
How does Drummond shape up as a defender compared the three primary centers Boston has used this year? Remember Drummond’s Defensive Rating of 102? Here are the Defensive Ratings of Theis, Kanter and Robert Williams this year:
· Theis – 101
· Kanter – 100
· Williams – 95
What about the rebounding? Drummond is leading the league in rebounding once again. If he wins the rebounding title again, that will make it four times in the last five years. Outside of his rookie season, when he was a part-time player, Drummond has grabbed at least 13.2 rebounds per game every year. So, yes, he’s a terrific rebound. But what does that do for the Pistons as a team? Not a whole heck of a lot. This season Detroit ranks 20th in Defensive Rebounding%. For reference, with all of their “troublesome” center options, the Celtics rank 14th in Defensive Rebounding% this season.
Alright, so maybe Drummond isn’t a massive upgrade on offense or defense, but he wouldn’t exactly be a downgrade over anyone Boston plays at center today. That’s a totally fair point. But the cost to acquire Drummond is prohibitive. Drummond’s salary for 2019-20 is $27.1 million, plus an 8% Trade Bonus. That puts Drummond’s real trade number at $29.3. To trade for him, any team in Boston’s situation would have to get to about $23.3 million to match salary in a trade.
That leaves Boston only a couple of paths to trade for him:
A. Trade Gordon Hayward
B. Cobble together salaries
Let’s start with Option A. If you like this option you’re crazy. Hayward, as he has shown over and over again this season, is a perfect in Boston. His presence allows Stevens to play between two and four similarly-sized players who can switch on defense and play inside-outside on offense. Hayward is the Celtics best playmaker and his stats per-36 minutes are as good, or better, than all of his Utah seasons. The only reasons you consider moving Hayward in a trade is if you’re getting back a true superstar who fits Boston’s style. Or if you believe his recent foot issues are chronic and will continue to cause Hayward to miss considerable time moving forward for the rest of his career.
That leaves Option B. It’s not crazy, but it’s not very good. Remember, you have to get to about $23.3 million to match salary for Drummond. Let’s say the Celtics top-six players are off-limits, because there is no reason to acquire Drummond while downgrading so much elsewhere. That means Kemba Walker, Brown, Jayson Tatum, Hayward, Theis (need his versatility to offset Drummond) and Smart are out. Even if you traded everyone else, you’re still short on salary matching by about $3 million.
That means Smart has to be in the trade. His $12.5 million salary would allow Boston to keep a couple of other players out of a trade for Drummond. But if you think the Celtics are trading Smart in any sort of a deal that doesn’t return a star, you haven’t been watching the last few years. He’s the Celtics heart and soul.
Add it all up, and it doesn’t make sense cap-wise or basketball-wise for the Boston Celtics to trade for Andre Drummond. And that’s before mentioning he’s due for a new contract just as Brown’s extension kicks in and a year before a presumed max extension would start for Tatum, along with Walker’s max deal. And Drummond isn’t opting out this summer for anything less than the max, especially when the Atlanta Hawks will be looming with a full max offer. That’s a really expensive team with precious little depth.
Maybe the Celtics do need to upgrade at center, even if their overall profile says they don’t. Maybe they won’t get past someone like Joel Embiid in a potential playoff matchup. But Drummond isn’t the guy to solve that problem. Not now. Not ever.