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DeAndre Jordan Is the Key to the Los Angeles Clippers' Title Hopes

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DeAndre Jordan Is the Key to the Los Angeles Clippers' Title Hopes

For just the fifth time since becoming the Los Angeles Clippers in 1985, L.A.'s forgotten child found themselves in the playoffs this past season. For just the third time since the franchise entered the NBA in 1970 as the Buffalo Braves, the Clippers fought their way into the Western Conference Semifinals.

To put it simply, the 2012 team will go down as legendary to diehard Clippers fans as the first sign of promising light. In 2013, those very supporters are looking for the next step towards glory.

Unfortunately, making the leap will likely require the Clippers to squeeze past the Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs. Time to end the celebration and begin the improvement.

At the heart of these title hopes is a roster filled with big names and questionable chemistry. Much like 2012, when the talent was there but chemistry once again lacked, it appears as if the Clippers will look to master point guard Chris Paul to hold a crumbling fortress together.

Just don't let your expectations dictate the pace of the season. The X-factor of the franchise's success is center DeAndre Jordan.

Despite possessing athletic gifts that most could only dream of, Jordan has fallen short of early expectations due to a weak grasp of the fundamentals. With that being said, he has been hindered more by fan perception than on-court production.

DeAndre Jordan finished the 2012 season with averages of 7.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in an inconsistent 27.2 minutes per game. While most would accredit this to athleticism over legitimate basketball prowess, the same could be said for the player right next to him: Blake Griffin.

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The two play different roles within the system, of course, but the comparison holds weight when Jordan's age of 24 is brought into perspective.

The fact of the matter is, DeAndre Jordan was selected with a second-round draft pick in 2008. That alone is noteworthy, considering most second rounders never see the court. DJ6, meanwhile, can now say he was the starting center for a postseason team.

More importantly, we as analysts can finally acknowledge what's fact: DeAndre Jordan was drafted as a project player. In 2012, that project began to approach an A grade.

During games in which DeAndre Jordan saw at least 30 minutes of playing time, the Texas A&M alum averaged 9.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 0.7 steals per game. While he ended up seeing fluctuating minutes upon the signing of veteran Kenyon Martin, Jordan maintained a level head and continued to improve throughout the duration of the season.

While many will criticize his shooting ability, one cannot complain about the fact that he knows when he shouldn't put a shot up. The fact that he shot 63.2 percent from the floor is evidence of such.

While his free-throw shooting could improve, it wouldn't be hard to find an elite big men with the same struggles. What would be difficult, however, would be to track an athlete who has transformed such low expectations into high standards in the matter of four years.

In 2013, expect Jordan to to be meet and shatter the level at which he's expected to produce. If not, expect a disappointment of a season for the Clippers as a whole.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Blake Griffin & DeAndre Jordan must be on the floor together in 2013.

The Los Angeles Clippers don't need DeAndre Jordan to become Dwight Howard, their cross-the-hallway rival. What they do need, however, is for Jordan to maintain 10-point and 10-rebound game averages while remaining one of the game's elite shot-blockers. This is especially important, as Jordan's No. 1 responsibility will be to cover for Blake Griffin's defensive shortcomings.

At the heart of this play must be the evolution of Jordan's game. While his athleticism certainly doesn't hurt, the Clippers need a player who relies on his timing and intelligence more than his leaping ability.

With Jordan established as that breed of player, the Clippers suddenly become a title favorite. Their perimeter has questions but also the talent and leadership to overcome such concerns. Blake Griffin, meanwhile, is a lock for 20 and 10.

With DJ6 holding down the paint as a shot-blocker and an intimidating presence, the team suddenly becomes complete. Complete enough that competition with their Staples Center rival Los Angeles Lakers is no longer a far-fetched theory.

Expectations have grown, standards have been established and the period of leniency has ended. For DeAndre Jordan, the time is now.

For the Los Angeles Clippers, the season rests upon DJ6's broad shoulders.

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