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The NBA lockout was in full swing, and rumors of the one and done rule being changed to force players to be at least two years removed from their high school graduating class and 20 years old before entering the draft had major implications for Drummond.
For UConn, adding the consensus #2 freshman prospect meant a serious boost to their hopes of repeating as national champions.
Expectations can be a funny thing, though, as Drummond quickly found out, as it became obvious very early on that the 18-year old was nowhere near ready to make the immediate impact his recruiting ranking suggested he would.
UConn's season as a whole ended up being a major disappointment, as the entire team struggled to play up to their talent level and ended up bowing out in the first round of the NCAA tournament with an emphatic loss to Iowa State. Team chemistry, ball-movement and offensive execution were significant issues all year long, as the players and coaching staff rarely appeared to be on the same page.
With the NCAA denying UConn's waiver request and essentially banning the team from the 2013 NCAA tournament (barring an appeal), as well as potentially the Big East tournament, the prospect of returning to school became significantly less attractive for Drummond and everyone else on the team's roster.
While this might make Drummond's decision slightly easier, the onus is now on NBA decision makers to decide exactly how to evaluate his pro potential.
On one hand, Drummond's long-term potential is obvious. With his tremendous size, frame, length and mobility, his elite physical tools put him in the same class as NBA centers such as Andrew Bynum, Greg Oden, Dwight Howard and Derrick Favors. Not turning 19 until August, he was the second youngest prospect in college basketball this year after Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
On the other hand, Drummond's actual on-court production this season was nowhere near what you would expect from a future NBA lottery pick, at least on the offensive end. He ranks just 76th in points per-40 minutes pace adjusted among the 85 collegiate players in our top-100 prospects ranking, and 47th in PER.
His solid offensive rebounding rate and shot-blocking production are encouraging signs which give us a pretty good idea of which areas he's most ready to contribute in immediately in the NBA until the rest of his all-around game hopefully rounds out.
While Drummond played over 28 minutes per-game this season, his minimal usage rate indicates just how small of a factor he was in UConn's offense. Part of this is due to the chaotic nature of his team's highly unscripted half-court offense, which relies heavily on the whims of their very trigger-happy guards Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Jeremy Lamb, and their ability to make contested fade-away jumpers in isolation situations. However, the lion-share of the blame for this falls on Drummond himself, though, as he rarely looked like he actually wants the ball.
Despite possessing a significant size and bulk advantage on pretty much every big man he matched up against this season, Drummond was not very physical looking to assert himself inside the paint. He doesn't do a good enough job using his thick frame to carve out space on the block and make himself a target, and isn't one to put his hands in the air and aggressively call for an entry pass.
Even when wide open and cutting to the rim, it's tough to tell if Drummond actually wants the ball sometimes based on his body language, especially in games where things don't seem to be going his way.
Some of this might have to do with his struggles from the free throw line, where he converts an abysmal 29.5% of his attempts. This actually became a bigger issue as the year moved on, as he made just 18% of his attempts over the last 10 games of the season.
When he did receive the ball with his back to the basket, Drummond was generally ineffective in post-up situations, converting just 22 of his 68 (32%) field goal attempts this season according to Synergy Sports Technology.
Besides not knowing how to establish deep post-position, his footwork, countermoves and off-hand lack significant polish, while his jump-hook is not a consistent weapon at all yet, as he appears to possess just average touch. Drummond has an odd habit of trying to shoot an odd two-handed turn-around jumper instead of a traditional hook, which is easily blockable due to its very low release point.
Whoever drafts him would surely be well-served hiring an experienced big man coach who can work with him on a daily basis and help him learn how to play with more toughness, confidence and aggressiveness. Such attention should help him a great deal, as he clearly has far more potential as a back to the basket threat than he was able to show this season.
As mentioned already, Drummond did a solid job of using his physical tools to his advantage crashing the offensive glass this season, ranking in the top-10 amongst collegiate prospects in that category.
His combination of size, length, agility and quickness getting off his feet allows him to get around and over opposing big men pursuing loose balls on a regular basis, even if he doesn't always have the coordination or polish to translate these plays into points. Considering the tools and instincts he shows here, it's not difficult to see this part of his game translating fairly seamlessly to the NBA.
Besides his work on the offensive glass, Drummond's next most consistent source of production comes from running the floor, which isn't surprising considering how incredibly mobile he is. While not overly graceful with his running style, Drummond gets up and down the court as quickly as any true center we've seen in quite some time, which is obviously all that matters. His excellent hands make him an extremely reliable target for his guards to throw lob passes to, and the tremendous explosiveness he possesses elevating around the rim allows him to finish these plays with ease, sometimes powerfully and in highlight reel fashion.
One part of his game which may have more potential than we've seen thus far is as a pick and roll finisher. The pick and roll is not a major part of UConn's offense, and when their guards do run it, they rarely do so looking to pass. With the superior spacing NBA guards enjoy due to the deeper 3-point line, this is a much bigger part of most teams' offense, and Drummond seemingly possesses ideal tools to benefit from that.
While Drummond's offensive game didn't make any noticeable improvements over the course of his freshman season, his play on the defensive end surely did. With his size and bulk, he's extremely difficult to post up on the block, not allowing opposing big men to back him down too easily, using his terrific length extremely well to contest their shots with both hands, and often being able to send their shots back without even leaving his feet.
Drummond has excellent timing as a shot-blocker, both playing man to man defense on the ball, and rotating from the weak-side. He ranks as the 6th best shot-blocking prospect in college basketball, and is able to do so without fouling very often, committing just 3.2 fouls per-40 minutes.
Additionally, he does a very good job of keeping almost all of his blocks in-play and not just swatting them out of bounds, which gives his team a chance to take possession of the ball.
Not just a presence inside the paint, Drummond is also very much capable of stepping outside as well, being very effective on the perimeter for a player his size. He bends his knees and gets in a low stance exceptionally well, showing incredibly nimble feet sliding his feet and moving in all directions.
His mobility on defense should make him an extremely valuable asset to have in pick and roll situations, as he doesn't seem to have any problem hedging screens and recovering quickly or even switching out and staying in front of guards when the situation calls for it.
Where he will need to improve is on the defensive glass, though, as the 6.0 defensive rebounds he grabbed per-40 minutes ranked 32nd among the 50 centers in our NCAA prospects database. He does not do a great job of boxing out here and appears to show just average instincts pursuing loose balls off the glass, sometimes being completely out of position and/or going after rebounds with one hand.
Drummond's draft stock is seemingly at a low point right now as many appear to be disappointed with the way him and his team finished the season. It's tough to see that lasting very long, though, as once he gets into workouts NBA decision makers will be able to see with their own eyes what a rare physical specimen he is and how much room he has for improvement over the next few years, as well as talk to him and see how well-spoken he is off the court. We have him as the #2 prospect in this draft in our top-100 rankings, which is based on our own opinion of players.
The fact that he's such a well-conditioned athlete who can seemingly play significant minutes on a nightly basis is obviously a huge plus in the hectic schedule of an 82-game season.
The biggest question NBA teams will be asking will revolve around how much he can improve on his technique, offensive skill-set and mental approach as he gets older. His feel for the game in general is still a work in progress, as he's the type of player who can make incredibly good and bad plays, sometimes on consecutive possessions. He doesn't appear to be going 100% at times, and there have been some concerns raised about exactly how passionate he is about the game of basketball due to his laid-back demeanor.
Sliding a few spots in the draft may actually not be the end of the world for Drummond, as it would lower the expectations he'll have to deal with early on and allow him to ease his way into the NBA, which will likely take some time. As someone who is extremely affected by the ebbs and flows of games and obviously still in a very early stage of maturation, going to a strong organization with positive figures around him on and off the court would clearly be very beneficial.
Still, it would be very surprising to see Drummond sitting for very long in the Green Room on draft night, as his positives far outweigh the negatives, especially when considering his age, how rare players of his nature are, and how difficult they are to acquire. When it's all said and done, Drummond is obviously a project, but he's one that any team in the NBA would like to work with.