The Los Angeles Lakers are currently battling to keep the ship afloat as both LeBron James and Anthony Davis rehab from their respective lower-leg injuries. After a whole lot of noise but relatively little actual movement at the trade deadline, the Lakers added only one major piece to a roster sans two superstars: Andre Drummond by way of the buyout market.
I will stand up and admit that I really did not think Drummond would be helpful for the Lakers outside of his rebounding when rumors of their interest first emerged. My coworker Ryan Phillips was more optimistic and it's looking more like he had the right of it, although the sample size remains tiny. Drummond played only 14 minutes in his debut before hurting his toe and missing the following three games. He's played around 20 to 25 minutes in the Lakers' last two contests, recording two consecutive double-doubles and posting a 20-point, 11-rebound line in his new team's big win over the shorthanded Brooklyn Nets Saturday night.
Drummond is not made for anything resembling a No. 1 scoring option role. Or No. 2 or No. 3 for that matter. If he is asked only to rebound and clean up missed shots offensively with no creation or even pick-and-roll action required, he's a quality addition. That will be his role eventually, and for now his ability to put up numbers will be crucial in keeping the Lakers above water while LeBron and AD work their way back. The Western Conference is so tight standings-wise that Drummond will prove his worth on the roster by making the difference between two or three wins this month.
If Drummond is needed to play a bigger role than that, the Lakers are in trouble. He is not the difference between a championship and an early trip home, as Shannon Sharpe proclaims here.
Sharpe is certainly correct that Drummond is a more valuable addition than Rajon Rondo, but if Drummond that level of difference-maker, the Lakers will be in some trouble.
Drummond brings a similar type of play to Los Angeles that they lost when Dwight Howard went to Philly. He brings a certain verticality to the center position that neither Montrezl Harrell nor Marc Gasol can offer. Everyone knows he can vacuum up boards, and Drummond is a fine protector at the rim. He's big and athletic enough to deter drives to the paint through his presence alone. The fact that he doesn't possess the same preternatural instincts in the painted area that makes Howard or Davis great defenders is no shame, since most players do not have that skillset.
But it does mean that Drummond shouldn't be on the floor when the minutes really matter. Similar to Howard, the Lakers will probably start games with Drummond on the floor and end them with Davis at the five. That isn't a criticism of Drummond or his skills as a player, just a reflection of the reality that the Lakers' best lineups come with LeBron playing point, Davis guarding centers, and a cadre of long shooting wings around them.
In order to be the difference between winning and losing a championship, Drummond would have to be on the floor during those crunchtime minutes. Players can contribute to a championship effort without being on the court when the game is decided, of course, but that would be why we call them contributors and not the difference between a ring and disappointment. If Drummond is in a position to make that kind of difference, something has gone horribly awry.
Drummond is a good player who possesses a particular set of skills that can be immensely valuable in the right situation. He has never had the chance to prove that, though. Rebounding everything in sight and protecting the rim at an average rate can contribute to winning basketball but will not be the central force behind a championship. Drummond is one of the worst isolation scorers in the NBA and can't be relied upon to take advantage of mismatches or distribute from the high post without turning the ball over at a concerning rate.
The Lakers will be winning a championship based on the play and health of their two superstars. They are championship difference-makers. Drummond has already proven himself useful and has the talent to be one of the better role players on a championship team we've seen in recent memory. But a role-player is not the difference between winning and losing a ring when the roster also boasts two top-five players, including the greatest of this century.