Following a busy summer that saw the Los Angeles Clippers land Doc Rivers, J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, Clipper Nation will notice that not much changed with LAC's bigs.
While Antawn Jamison might add some offensive flexibility, the Clips will still be rolling out a starting lineup featuring Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan at the four and five spots. The franchise’s cornerstone Griffin has been making significant improvements on the defensive end, but Jordan has been another story.
Despite massive potential, Jordan has yet to act on all of his athletic gifts. Nevertheless, under new coach Doc Rivers, Jordan has the chance to anchor a top-flight defensive unit.
Before analyzing Jordan's defensive potential, it is important to recognize his moments of development.
The last couple of seasons, DJ has been lauded for his offensive and defensive improvements, but those have only translated into minor impacts on the game. Last season, Jordan was hailed for working closely with shooting guru Bob Thate over the summer to develop a soft jump hook and other post moves around the basket.
Jordan showed off a bit of his summer work in a preseason game against the Utah Jazz. In a 96-94 win, Jordan dominated Utah’s interior defense en route to 11 points and a game-high 16 boards. Early into the season in a rout of the San Antonio Spurs, Jordan scored 20 points and hauled in 11 rebounds, while defending Tim Duncan.
Despite his early season success, Jordan was unable to keep up his productivity. By the postseason, he had become an afterthought on offense, and a near liability on defense. Playoff averages of 3.7 PPG and 6.3 RPG made Jordan a nonexistent threat, and reaffirmed the gradual regression that Clipper Nation recognized throughout the season.
Earlier this summer, scouts recognized Jordan as an early standout in Team USA mini-camp. A summer with Coach K is sure to benefit any NBA player, but Clipper fans are reserving judgment on Jordan’s summer development until he proves himself over a sustainable period of time.
Moving forward, Jordan does have a few things going for him that he did not have last year. Perimeter acquisitions of Redick and Dudley will space the floor a bit better, and give Jordan more room to operate in the post.
Redick is also a much better ball-handler than last year’s starter Willie Green, giving the Clips another pick-and-roll handler alongside Chris Paul in the backcourt.
More specifically, the acquisition of Doc Rivers is cause to re-evaluate Jordan’s potential. Rivers has taken a vested interest in Jordan as an integral cog in a complex defensive scheme. Clipper fans can expect Jordan to be playing big minutes rather than sitting on the sideline during crunch time, as he often did under former head coach Vinny Del Negro.
Last season, Jordan played an average of just 5.0 minutes per fourth quarter, fewer minutes than either Ronny Turiaf or Ryan Hollins. In six games against the Memphis Grizzlies in the postseason, Jordan only appeared in three contests, averaging a telling 1.8 minutes per fourth quarter. Jordan’s miserable free-throw shooting and questionable hands caused Del Negro to play Lamar Odom and Hollins.
DJ’s performance is often dictated by his energy level, and when it is compromised he can become ineffective. Playing limited minutes tacitly reaffirmed Del Negro’s distrust of Jordan, sending him to the sidelines for the fourth quarter.
Given how thin the Clippers’ frontline is this season, Rivers cannot afford to have Jordan on the bench in big moments. As disjointed as his defense has been over his career, DJ's defensive presence is still significantly better than that of Jamison or Byron Mullens.
As such, there is hope that Jordan can transition from a decent individual defender into the anchor of a top-five defense next season. Rather than try to turn Jordan into the equivalent of Kevin Garnett in Boston, Rivers might actually see more of a Kendrick Perkins-like potential.
Looking Back to Boston
Although Perkins and Jordan are vastly different in terms of size and athleticism, Jordan could fulfill a similar role to Perkins on the Boston Celtics’ 2008 championship team.
Playing on the first iteration of the Ubuntu Celtics, Perkins upped his defensive game, and posted a dominant defensive rating of 95.2. As a frame of reference, that number would have given Perkins the seventh-best defensive rating in the league last season, just lower than Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol.
In cleaning up Celtics’ defensive possessions, Perkins also excelled on the boards, finishing the 2007-08 campaign with a defensive rebounding percentage of 19.0. While it might be unreasonable to expect a defensive season from Jordan akin to that of Perkins, DJ's potential is shrinking as he gets older.
Benchmarking his performance against that of Perkins would be a good way for Rivers’ coaching staff to evaluate his contributions and create metrics to track Jordan’s progress.
While the Clippers will not have Kevin Garnett, Tony Allen, James Posey or any other established defensive presence like those championship Celtics, the Clips will still boast an above-average defensive squad. If Lob City intends to move into the upper echelon of top defensive teams, then it will take some serious development from Jordan in the middle.