As the Clippers continue to improve and reach the cusp of Western Conference supremacy, development of their young players becomes vital. Blake Griffin is the superstar and Eric Bledsoe is an emerging spark plug, but perhaps the key of the entire process is DeAndre Jordan.
Projected as a first-round pick in high school, Jordan’s collegiate career kicked off at Texas A&M University. Scouts flocked to see the athletic marvel fly up and down the floor blocking shots and wrecking rims. However, Jordan’s potential took a backseat to his actual performance and skill level.
Scouts noticed that Jordan had a hard time establishing position on the block and that his skill level on offense did not allow him to compensate for his positioning. Additionally, Jordan’s defense was also lacking, considering his physical abilities and size advantage. He would frequently get pushed around in the paint and was not the type of rim protector that they were expecting to see.
Fast forward to his NBA career and the same things were said about Jordan during his first three seasons. The Clippers desperately needed a solid defensive presence to build their defense around as teams found it increasingly easy to score against the duo of Griffin and Jordan. While Jordan’s offensive game may have progressed, he only made a handful of shots outside the paint and his impact on offense revolved around his ability to grab rebounds and go up for a dunk.
Entering this season, Jordan knew he had yet to live up to his new contract that would pay him $10 million per year. He used the offseason to improve his defensive ability, but, more importantly, his offensive skills.
The hard work was noticeable immediately, as Jordan displayed a plethora of post moves and solid footwork in the season opener. Even Charles Barkley remarked that he looked like a completely new player. Indeed he does.
Jordan wanted to be taken seriously as a player after being pulled late in critical games last season because he was not a factor on offense and was average at best on defense. The improvement has paid off not only for Jordan—who is posting career high marks in usage, PER and scoring—but for the Clippers as well, who are markedly improved on defense, ranking second in defensive efficiency compared to the middle third of the league the past few seasons.
A major factor in the Clippers' success so far this season has been Jordan’s improved play. More importantly, Jordan’s defensive rating of 97 is a career high. When comparing this season’s with his career rating of 105, it is easy to see why the Clippers’ defense has improved dramatically.
While no major changes were expected heading into this season, there was no guarantee the Clippers management would not have made one involving Jordan this summer, especially during the most important offseason in franchise history. Chris Paul becomes a free agent and the Clippers would do nearly anything in order to insure Paul continues his stay in Los Angeles, such as moving Jordan for more pieces to the puzzle should Jordan fail to develop. However, that seems far from the case now.
Furthermore, Griffin and Jordan have become best friends and that is clearly showing in the way they push each other to improve their talents. Griffin is a notoriously hard worker and that seems to have rubbed off on Jordan, much to the organization’s delight.
The old mantra is that big men take longer to develop than any other position. That seems to have been proven true as it took Jordan three full seasons to piece together his game in order to become a more compete all around player. Now he looks like the center the Clippers have needed.
While eleven games a career does not make, there is no doubt Jordan looks the part of a legit NBA center on both sides of the ball. The key is to stay consistent and to continue to improve. It is easy to forget that Jordan is only 24 years old and that his potential is still through the roof. It is also important to remember that eight months ago Jordan was only playing 22.6 minutes per game in the playoffs because of his limited development. However, with Jordan improving and playing at the level he is currently, the Clippers have transformed into legitimate title contenders.
Something they likely would not be without the young big man.