Last season was unpredictable for Drummond. When he was on the court, he gave the Bulls a presence around the rim, finishing second on the team with 6.6 rebounds per game despite averaging less than 13 minutes. But his playing time was rarely consistent.
Drummond would go weeks without getting more than six minutes in a game — even sitting out as a healthy scratch for five of seven games in mid-January — then would turn around to log more than 15 minutes the following week.
When Drummond exercised his $3.36 million player option for 2023-24 in June, he sat down with coach Billy Donovan to define more specific expectations for this season.
“We really took a deep dive into what I can do to help this team on both ends of the court,” Drummond said. “My passing ability, being able to get our guys open when I do have the ball, (being able) to set screens and duck in and be able to pass the ball and post — those are some of the things I’ve been good at throughout my career.”
The stop-and-start rhythm of Drummond’s playing time was a symptom of greater issues for the Bulls. The offense leaned more and more heavily on DeMar DeRozan as the season progressed. As a result, every other player’s role flattened out.
Drummond always will have shifting responsibilities. He’s less effective against small-ball rotations but can pummel teams that rely on stretch forwards. But last season it wasn’t always clear what the Bulls wanted from the veteran center.
“For Andre, some of that role for him changed,” Donovan said. “It went from one thing to another.”
Drummond has seen a slight uptick in court time so far this season, playing more than 12 minutes in all three games and averaging 14.3 entering Monday night’s 112-105 victory over the Indiana Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. He also hopes to factor as more of a playmaker this season, utilizing his passing out of the paint as an option to spread the floor and feed perimeter shooting.
Drummond acknowledged that the Bulls rely heavily on isolation plays to fuel the offense, particularly when Zach LaVine or DeRozan is on the court. That can make it tough for posts to assert themselves, but Drummond and starting center Nikola Vučević have to find ways to create movement away from the ball.
Playmaking would require improved decision-making from Drummond, who had 75 turnovers to 33 assists last season. But Donovan believes Drummond and Vučević can operate as an axis to move the ball through the paint.
“From a spacing perspective, we’re putting him in positions where he knows exactly what he’s supposed to be doing,” Donovan said. “We need him to have a clear head and a clear understanding of what he’s got to do.”
That clear understanding includes areas for growth, even for a 12-year veteran. Donovan challenged Drummond, 30, to clean up specific details of his game.
Drummond’s calling card is his ability to overpower defenders in the paint, drawing fouls as he muscles his way to the basket. But he didn’t always take advantage of those opportunities, making only 53.6% of his free throws and 66% of his shots at the rim last season.
Donovan also hopes to utilize Drummond more effectively in transition. Despite being 6-foot-11 and 279 pounds, Drummond can be nimble for his size in the open court — just ask Oklahoma City Thunder center Chet Holmgren, whom Drummond dropped to the hardwood with a transition crossover in the season opener.
Donovan wants Drummond to establish post-ups quicker in transition to create opportunities to seal and score on mismatches before defenses can get set — a tactic that relies on Drummond’s shot-making around the rim to prove effective.
If Drummond can improve in these areas, the shift in his role this season would be natural — not just a menace around the rim but a full-fledged asset for the offense.