Average ball-handling and mediocre shooting aren’t traits you associate with one of the greatest guards in NBA history, but for much of his career those were the limitations of Clyde Drexler – notorious for dribbling with his head down and displaying one of the strangest shooting forms in basketball, kicking his feet up to his backside and launching a flat jumper to the rim with mixed results.
Yet instead of allowing those seemingly backbreaking flaws to define him, he perfected several other areas of the game in order to make his impact felt at a very high level.
Cuts, Cuts, and more Cuts
Clyde had a non-stop motor, working tirelessly to find creases in the defense to get himself free for a shot at the basket where he was a tremendous finisher.
The slightest slip in attention span from a defender would result in two points given up to the Blazers and later Rockets, as Michael Jordan found out repeatedly in their match-ups together throughout the 90’s.
The hardest type of player to defend is one that never stops moving off the ball. Clyde didn’t give his opponent much time to rest on defense.
Turning the ball over against a Drexler led team was usually a death sentence, as he was as good an open court player this league has seen – utilizing all world athleticism and great finishing touch to capitalize on fast break opportunities.
It is not hyperbole to suggest that everyone else on the floor appeared to be moving in slow motion once he gathered a head of steam – this is where the “Glyde” portion of his nickname comes from.
While Drexler was never a great man to man defender, he excelled at creating deflections that led to turnovers and soon points on the other end of the floor. Clyde is one of the very best this game has seen at turning defense into offense.
Post up scoring
Bryant and Jordan are the consensus answers for greatest back to basket scoring guards, but Clyde isn’t too far behind them. He had strong footwork, a reliable turnaround and used his physicality to create easy finishing opportunities or get to the free throw line.
6’3″ Joe Dumars got all he could handle from the 6’7″ Drexler in the ’90 NBA Finals – averaging 26ppg on 55% from the field, largely taking advantage of his size in the paint.
While Clyde didn’t have a consistent jumper until the very end of his career with Houston, he could always be relied upon to nail open shots from mid range coming off screens. His tendency to keep himself active and move without the ball made it easy for teammates to set him up in his spots.
Crashing the glass
Arguably the best offensive rebounder this game has seen at the position, Clyde tirelessly worked to crash the glass using both timing and athleticism to come out of nowhere to snatch boards away. He ranks 47th in career offensive boards, flanked by big men twice his size.
Although he wasn’t a good enough ball handler to have an offense run through him in the halfcourt, he consistently made great reads and a selfless decision making. In 1986 he averaged eight assists per game, among the highest single-season marks for a nonpoint guard in NBA history.
Clyde did not have much in terms of an off the dribble game, lacked a signature crossover and would be ill-suited to operate the P&R offense that’s such a staple of the league today.
But what he did have is a relentless approach to the game of basketball, and with legendary athleticism gave him a way to influence games outside of positional norms. Perfecting that style and making it his own is what makes him a legend of this league.