DeAndre Jordan, Not Chris Paul or Blake Griffin, Is the LA Clippers' X-Factor

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DeAndre Jordan, Not Chris Paul or Blake Griffin, Is the LA Clippers' X-Factor
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Can DeAndre Jordan become the third arm of Lob City's Big 3?

In a league dominated by trios of stars, the Los Angeles Clippers will be looking for DeAndre Jordan to partner with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in creating Lob City’s newest Big Three.

The Clippers are still Paul’s team, but Jordan will have a huge impact on LAC’s championship chances this season. If he is able to transform into a defensive monster under the tutelage of Doc Rivers, then the Clippers could be contenders. If he folds against burly front lines, then the Clips could find their championship aspirations deflated.

DJ is still a work in progress, but time is running out on his ability to justify his $43 million dollar contract. With a new coach on the scene, will this be the year Jordan finally lives up to his unbelievable athletic potential?

For all intents and purposes, DJ is the Clippers’ X-factor this season. Here are three components that could indicate just how big of an impact the 7-footer has in Lob City.

 

Defense

DeAndre Jordan has to focus on defensive development in 2013-14.

Under Rivers’ complex defensive scheme, Jordan will be relied upon to be the anchor that Kevin Garnett was for the Boston Celtics. While Jordan might struggle to emulate Garnett’s mechanics, he can focus on communication and making sure that he is always in the right spot.

KG is known for barking out orders from the back line, and the Clippers desperately need Jordan to assume that role alongside Griffin in Los Angeles. Jordan has the athletic prowess of Garnett, but lacks the patience to execute effectively.

Consistent play throughout the season will also be key. In a 16-0 December last season, Jordan was a dominant individual defender boasting a 102.3 defensive rating. In a lackluster March, that number ballooned to 108.2.

Given the futile task of defending Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in the playoffs, Jordan’s defensive rating jumped to 111.6, nearly two points higher than the team average of 109.7.

Moving forward, the Clippers need Jordan to be their defensive anchor beginning opening night against the Los Angeles Lakers. How he performs on defense will set the tone in the interior and serve as an early indicator of LAC’s defensive ceiling.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images
Can DJ become a consistent force on defense?

 

Free-Throw Shooting

Among Jordan’s major setbacks last season was his atrocious free-throw shooting.

During the regular season, Jordan converted just 38.6 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe. In six games against the Memphis Grizzlies in the playoffs, Jordan converted only 22.2 percent of his attempts. Of players that attempted at least 100 free-throws last season, DJ had the second-worst average in the league, slightly better than the Detroit Pistons’ Andre Drummond.

Jordan’s free-throw shooting became such a liability that he was often benched during fourth quarters out of fear that he would be intentionally fouled. Both the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich and the Golden State Warriors’ Mark Jackson have used such tactics to keep DJ off the floor.

These types of intentional foul situations hurt the Clippers on two fronts. Not only do these fouls stop the clock and put Jordan at the line, but they also erase any offensive momentum that Paul and Co. may be enjoying.

Simply, Jordan needs to improve his free-throw shooting. Even if he can convert about 50 percent of his attempts, then the Clips will have another advantage with him on the floor.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Mind over matter: Jordan will have to overcome years of awful free-throw shooting this season.

 

Confidence

Perhaps the key to Jordan’s success will be measured by the confidence and swagger that he plays with this season. DJ is a completely different beast when he is playing freely and running up and down the court.

What can we expect from Jordan under new head coach Doc Rivers?

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Running all over Tim Duncan in early November, Jordan put together one of his finest performances in which he scored 20 points, grabbed 11 boards and blocked four shots. Clipper Nation witnessed an aggressive DJ exploiting Duncan’s age and getting out in transition. Like many NBA bigs, there is a positive correlation between Jordan’s energy level and his performance on the floor.

Take Jordan’s performance in a 129-97 victory over the visiting Pistons in March.

The game will be remembered for DJ’s monster jam over Brandon Knight. However, that moment was indicative of the high level that DJ was playing at throughout the game, as he abused Detroit’s undersized front line.

Although the Texas A&M product turned in a modest 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, he shot 60 percent from the free-throw line and finished with a game-high plus/minus of plus-36.

Under Coach Rivers, Jordan should be imbued with a new sense of confidence. Rivers is known as a player’s coach, and one that will help boost DJ’s swagger in a way that former coach Vinny Del Negro was never capable of. Rivers’ actions will carry far more weight than his words, however. Giving Jordan the fourth quarter reps he needs to succeed will be a major boon to his progress. Playing him in crunch time will only reaffirm Jordan’s critical role on the team this season.

It will be a challenge, but if Jordan can play at a high level then the Clippers might have their own formidable Big Three to challenge a deep and talented Western Conference.

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