For most of his career, Andre Drummond has been known as “The Big Penguin,” but when he joined the Lakers, he said he’d like “a more aggressive nickname.”
Well, luckily enough for Drummond, Lakers assistant coach Phil Handy gave us a solid nominee. Handy told Mirin Fader of The Ringer that the team’s coaching staff has a different animal they’d like to compare Drummond to.
He just has to earn it:
The coaches want Drummond to ditch his soft-spoken, gentle nature. They want him to fully understand how big he is, and how powerful he can be.
“He’s like a big teddy bear,” Handy says. “Forget about the teddy bear, I need the grizzly bear.”
Drummond is in the midst of a metamorphosis, showing glimpses of growth. Of magnificence. “It’s like the light bulb goes off,” Handy says.
Reading Handy’s quotes in that story are a solid reminder of why he’s so well-regarded as an assistant coach, gaining a reputation amongst Lakers fans a pseudo basketball Ra’s Al Ghul. Lakers Twitter was confident from the moment they saw Drummond working with Handy that the player development guru would get the best out of Drummond in Los Angeles.
Phil Handy going to have Drummond looking like young Shaq by Wednesday pic.twitter.com/1IyrWGlT53— Donny (@donny_mchenry) March 29, 2021
But those moments where the Grizzly Bear shines through have come in fits and starts. There have been games where how physically imposing Drummond can be have been truly terrifying, most notably when he went full Revenant to maul the Brooklyn Nets with LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the sidelines.
He’s had solid defensive moments too, even against matchups that aren’t ideal for him, like the Warriors:
This is a hell of a block from Drummond. Credit to him for recovering and staying engaged after Steph did a Steph thing and got past the hedge. pic.twitter.com/1F90tnLQ5F— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) May 21, 2021
Drummond rotating from guarding 1 corner to the other here is a legit great defensive play I see a lot of guys not make.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) May 21, 2021
Shoutout Dre, this is good defensive work pic.twitter.com/0mL4pIY92i
But while Drummond has been better than his loudest critics think, his play has also been polarizing enough that Andy Kamenetzky of Locked on Lakers has given him a different animal-based nickname: The ScapeGOAT, as in the greatest of all time at being blamed. It’s an apt fit, because Drummond has been polarizing enough that my co-host Anthony Irwin and I have spent multiple podcasts — including our latest one — yelling at each other about whether or not he can play a role for this team.
And while he’s indeed had moments like the ones above, he’s far from flawless defensively:
Wow. I missed this live, but Schröder is literally trying to explain to Drummond mid-play where he should be rotating.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) May 20, 2021
Drummond leaves Looney open under the rim as he receives the direction, which continues after the play as LeBron starts looking visibly frustrated. Timeout. pic.twitter.com/gGpp5ygZ9K
Tim had a whole thread of plays like that from the Warriors game that are worth a look as well, and it’s at the very least clear that if Drummond wasn’t necessarily the only problem in against Golden State, he certainly wasn’t the solution. It’s also not blasphemy or hating to suggest that Anthony Davis is a better center than anyone on the Lakers’ roster, Drummond included. Davis just showed us last playoffs that he’s the best center in the league when he plays there.
But the Lakers seem unlikely to change their starting lineup right away. For better or worse, they believe in the merits and value of their gigantic frontcourt with Drummond, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They like the physicality that group brings, and are going to make teams force them to adjust, not abandon their chosen identity preemptively.
So with that being the case, it’s worth wondering how Drummond and the team can make this all work even better, to make that group hum more consistently. And in her feature on Drummond, Mirin did report what the Lakers are asking Drummond to improve at to make the lineups featuring him work:
Lately, the Lakers coaching staff has been urging Drummond to run the floor harder. So he’s pushing himself to run and run and run. It hasn’t resulted in his getting the basketball, necessarily, but it’s resulted in his teammates getting the basketball, and getting open shots, as he puts pressure on the defense. His coaches have been thrilled.
That may not have been how things played out against the Warriors, but Drummond had the fourth-best net rating of any Laker over the final 10 games of the season. He isn’t perfect, but he’s had his moments where he’s looked like a weapon for this team. We’ll see if he can fully morph into full Grizzly Bear Mode in time to make a consistent difference in the playoffs, but if he doesn’t, at least the Lakers have plenty of other options. The team’s brain trust has earned some benefit of the doubt as they try to figure out which ones to go with when the playoffs begin.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.