We put Portland guard Damian Lillard on the cover of Dime issue No. 72 because his rise to a likely Rookie of the Year honor follows the dominant NBA trend of the moment. Lillard is the newest breed of the point guard who takes over, following Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook and more. Acknowledging that doesn’t mean we’re blind to the equally as impressive rookie seasons by Andre Drummond and Anthony Davis, however. Davis and Drummond are one-and-doners who resemble polished NBA veterans half a season into their careers. Though Drummond is injured with a stress fracture in his back and will be out likely the next month, and Davis dealt with injuries from the season’s very first week, both are tremendous when healthy.
Who’s better, though? Is it rebounding machine Drummond or all-around talent Davis? We argue. You decide.
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The argument for Andre Drummond isn’t based on a comparison of skill with Anthony Davis, but rather how they affect the game. With the exception of teams with Michael Jordan or LeBron James, championships are won by dominating down low. Think of the teams hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy and you’ll also realize they had at least one paint-controlling big man. Superstars Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan combined to win 8 out of 9 championships at the turn of the century. Since their run of dominance, the duos of Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins, and Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were critical in determining championships. Tyson Chandler was credited with changing the culture of the Mavericks with his defense.
Both Davis and Drummond have the ability to influence games like the big men before them. The difference between the 6-10 19-year-olds is the 50-pound size advantage that Drummond holds over Davis. Though both have growth to do, Drummond clearly will be the more imposing force in the long term. Drummond is in the same mold as Shaq, Duncan and Dwight Howard in terms of overpowering opponents down low.
Despite the new breed of scoring point guards centers still win championships. For all of Davis’s skills, he won’t dominate an NBA game like he did at Kentucky as a power forward. The best case comparison for Davis is often Kevin Garnett, who despite an illustrious career, doesn’t have the size to control the paint by himself. Davis, with his similarly thin frame, will also need a sidekick.
Beyond the historical comparison, Drummond is already changing games despite being criminally underused by Pistons coach Lawrence Frank. The stat comparison (13.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 21.17 PER for Davis vs. 7.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 22.66 PER for Drummond) appear to favor heavily to Davis until you factor in that Davis (29 mpg) is playing nearly 50 percent more minutes than Drummond (20 mpg). If he played a comparable amount of minutes, his averages project out to a very Tyson Chandler-esque 11.1 ppg, 11.55 rpg and 2.55 bpg.
Drummond is clearly far from a finished product. The guy’s free throw percentage (36.5 percent) is worse than a lot of players’ three point percentages. His offensive game is limited to dunks, alley-oops and putbacks. His impact, however, is much larger than his skillset. A la Chandler on the Knicks or a healthy Howard, his rolls to the basket cause defenses to collapse and leave shooters or surrender a surefire two points. With the emphasis on floor spacing in today’s game, Drummond’s ability to draw the defense into the paint will prove more valuable than Davis’s shooting ability.
There are glimpses of his potential, however, like when he stole a pass from the Lakers, dribbled down court and dished to Brandon Knight for a dunk last week Sunday. Davis is the bigger name right now and deservedly so after he led Kentucky to the NCAA Championship, but Drummond’s impact right now, along with his untapped potential, makes him the better player. NBA titles, with very few exceptions, go to teams that can control the paint. Drummond is the next stud center that will become be a perennial All-Star and game changing player.