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July 09, 2024

Andre Drummond excited for Sixers return thanks to Joel Embiid recruitment

As he enters his age-31 season, veteran center Andre Drummond has returned to the Sixers to back up former NBA MVP Joel Embiid.

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Drummond 7.8.24 Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Andre Drummond has returned to the Philadelphia as the Sixers look to stabilize their lineups that do not include Joel Embiid.

A FaceTime from a former nemesis and teammate changed Andre Drummond's future.

The free-agent-to-be received a call from Joel Embiid, who Drummond battled with on the floor and on social media for years before teaming with in 2020-21. Embiid had received word that Drummond was considering a return to Philadelphia.

"We always stayed in constant communication," Drummond said. "He FaceTimed me, like, 'Bro, are we doing this?'"

"His excitement overall was truly the pushing factor of me coming here," Drummond said.

Drummond's first stint as a member of the Sixers was impressive, but his time in Philadelphia was cut short when the Brooklyn Nets insisted on the veteran center being part of the trade package that enabled the Sixers to turn a disgruntled Ben Simmons into James Harden.

Now, Drummond is back, and all parties involved hope and expect that his experience with the Sixers lasts a bit longer this time around.

Drummond and the Sixers agreed to a two-year deal worth about $10 million last week, with the second season of the deal containing a player option. The writing was on the wall that Drummond would be Embiid's primary backup, and the path to that reality was cleared when the team waived incumbent backup center Paul Reed in order to free the requisite cap room to sign Caleb Martin to a four-year deal.

"[Philadelphia] feels like home," Drummond said on Tuesday afternoon, speaking to the media for the first time since agreeing to return to the Sixers "To have the opportunity to be back here again, to play in front of these fans, I'm very excited."

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Not a lot of people can credibly make a claim that Drummond is capable of making: he is one of the single greatest in NBA history at performing a key function of the game. For Drummond, it is rebounding. He has averaged 16.3 rebounds per 36 minutes over the course of his career, and only two players in the history of the NBA have topped that figure: Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Not too shabby.

In 79 games (10 starts) with the Chicago Bulls last season, Drummond had the best rebounding season of his career, averaging 9.0 rebounds per game despite only logging 17.1 minutes per contest. His 18.87 rebounds per 36 minutes was the second-highest ever posted by a player not named Russell or Chamberlain in a single season with at least 1,300 minutes played, barely trailing Dennis Rodman's 18.9 in 1994-95.

On a Sixers team that is fully embracing small ball  prioritizing athleticism and versatility over rebounding and muscle in its core pieces — Drummond's old school nature will be particularly valuable as the team tries to avoid a catastrophe on the glass like it had early on during its first-round series loss in last year's NBA Playoffs against the New York Knicks. Even teams built on finesse need doses of power, and Drummond figures to provide them.

"I think that's why I'm here," Drummond said when asked about the series. "To eliminate a lot of those issues. So, I'm happy to be valued in that sense, to see the bigger picture — not just be here for the season, but see my skillset in the playoffs."

Drummond also averaged 8.4 points per game last season, good for 17.7 points per 36 minutes. Drummond is a complete non-shooter — and a historically poor shooter from the free throw line — but has a good catch radius as a lob threat, and his ability to be a force on the offensive glass enables him to cash in a ton of easy buckets. On that end of the floor, his job will be to screen defenders as hard as he can, roll to the rim with the same intensity and crash the glass if a shot misses.

Drummond is not Nikola Jokic, or even Embiid for that matter, but he does have some sneaky passing chops when he avoids getting too excitable. Former Sixers head coach Doc Rivers would often quip about Drummond's ability to make a creative, impressive read as a passer on one possession, and the next time down throw the ball six feet over his teammate's head. His role as a playmaker will be limited, but the Sixers can utilize Drummond's occasional passing skills in a pinch.

The Sixers signing Drummond before the 2021-22 season came as a bit of a surprise, not just because he had spent the vast majority of his career as a starter, but also because he was one of Embiid's original highest-profile foes. Once Embiid's nemesis, he quickly developed what appeared to be a strong relationship with Embiid as he blossomed from one of the league's brightest young stars into one of the sport's most dominant players. 

"I had a chance to catch him early in my career in Detroit," Drummond said. "He was hard to stop, and he's still hard to stop, he's gotten even better."

After many trials and tribulations for a promising prospect in Reed, the Sixers have opted for maximum stability and reliability in their backup center spot by bringing Drummond back into the fold - and it is hard to blame them. After starting almost exclusively for just short of a decade, Drummond has spent the last three seasons establishing himself as one of the league's best backup bigs. Now, his steady production will once again benefit the Sixers.

"I'm excited to be here," Drummond said. "Excited to try again and be here for the entire journey."

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