Can Doc Rivers Transform DeAndre Jordan into Defensive Player of the Year?

Jeff Nisius@JeffNisiusContributor IIAugust 20, 2013

With Doc Rivers set to take over the Los Angeles Clippers, many questions about what the team will look like going forward have popped up. One of the most important questions is: How will DeAndre Jordan play under the tutelage of Rivers?

There is no secret that the Clippers need a motivated and improved Jordan in order to reach their ultimate goal of coming out of the West. Unfortunately, Jordan has yet to appease fans and management with his overall play.

All things aside, DeAndre Jordan needs to be on the floor for more than the 24.5 minutes per game he averaged last season. Not only will his defense need to improve, but finishing 442nd in free-throw percentage simply can't happen again.

Jordan knows that his inability to connect at the line is impacting his minutes, and has worked tirelessly to improve.

“I think it was such a culture shock last year of having to change my shot,” Jordan said. “But what I’ve been doing for the past however many years hasn’t been working so I have to change it. … I’ve been focusing on one shot now and I’m going to shoot that same way and I’m going to get ton of reps up and they’ll start to fall.”

His frustration is warranted, but like it or not, Doc Rivers will be unable to play Jordan if he is a consistent liability at the foul-line.

So the first thing Jordan needs to do is somehow, someway, begin to show that he can hit one-of-two from the line. Without that, he just simply is not good enough overall to be guaranteed 30-plus minutes each night.

Although the first part of the equation relies on Jordan’s shooting, the remaining responsibility is split between Rivers and Jordan.

Obviously, Jordan needs to take the initiative to putting in the hard work necessary to improve his reactions, positioning and fundamentals. Rivers can help him with each aspect to improve his defense, but Jordan has to be able to accept Rivers’ tutelage, however Rivers approaches it.

From all accounts, Jordan seems willing to do such. He began last season noticeably improved on both sides of the ball. Even Gregg Popovich noticed Jordan’s improvement.

"I just wonder what he did over the summer," San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said. "When I started watching him at the beginning of the year, he's just different. He plays more confidently."

What else does Jordan need to work on in order to become a good defender, let alone Defensive Player of the Year?

As mentioned earlier, he needs to react quicker on defense. Spotting his rotations quicker and sliding into position will greatly improve his impact defensively.

To Jordan’s credit, he has begun to improve in that area. This can be recognized partially from his fouls per game dropping over the past three years. Jordan recorded only 2.3 fouls per game last season, down from 2.9 in 2011-12 and 3.2 the year prior.

Additionally, Jordan has become a better man defender. According to 82games, the Clippers’ center held opposing centers to a PER of 15.9, down from his miserable 20.2 rate the year before.

Surely, Doc Rivers has seen these statistics and noticed the improvement Jordan has made over the years, but more will be required. Rivers’ system depends on having a defensive anchor in the middle and adjusting the other four defenders to overload the strong side of the offense.

For example, Kevin Garnett was the Boston Celtics’ defensive anchor under Rivers. Garnett is a smart defender who can spot rotations and call out the defense for the perimeter players. Jordan needs to watch tape of Garnett and understand where to spot and adjust his rotations so the rest of the defense can follow his lead.

Rivers will need to rely on Jordan, but also Blake Griffin to keep the defense aligned.

“We have to be a connected defensive team and those two guys in a lot of way will be our defensive captains,” Rivers said. “DeAndre and Blake will be our defense.”

The key for Jordan’s growth under Rivers will depend on how quickly Jordan picks up the system and is able to adjust his mind and body, in order to adapt to what Rivers needs from him.

So will DeAndre Jordan turn into a Defensive Player of the Year contender? That remains to be seen and seems somewhat unlikely. However, I’ll defer to Doc on this one.

“One hundred percent, I think that’s what he will be,” Rivers said. “When other teams show up, they should look at him and say, ‘This is not going to be a fun night.”

Sounds good to me.