Much has been made about the star power on the Los Angeles Clippers, led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. However, Big Threes have dominated the NBA the last two seasons, evidenced by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach. If the Clips hope to make the jump to championship contender, then Jordan will need to become the third member of Lob City’s Big Three.
Prior to the season, Rivers did everything to build Jordan’s confidence and include him in the Big Three conversation.
Beginning by placing Jordan alongside Paul and Griffin on media day, Rivers hopes to imbue Jordan with a sense of confidence that former Clippers' coaches Vinny Del Negro and Mike Dunleavy were unable to achieve. By opening night, the Clippers' faithful had nearly forgotten that Jordan was almost traded for Kevin Garnett as part of the Rivers acquisition.
Among Rivers' adulation included a challenge to become an all-defensive player:
“I’m looking at DeAndre Jordan as an all-defensive player,” Rivers said. “I think he should be on the [all] defensive team, I think he should be a candidate for the defensive player of the year award. I’m putting a lot on his plate.”
Jordan has been enjoying his finest season of his career, becoming a better team defender and a monster rebounder. Despite his woes at the free-throw line, DJ is active and confident.
Let’s dive into his improvement.
Jordan’s maturity on defense has been demonstrated by his poise and communication on the back line. Once tempted to break rotation at the opportunity of a big block, Jordan is manning the back line and barking out orders to his defense.
DJ commented on his new-found vocals:
“I’m screaming pretty much the whole game,” Jordan said. “But as long as that keeps us on a string and everybody knows where to go, as long as they hear my voice, then I’m doing my job.”
Jordan is still far from realizing his total defensive potential, but his development has been impressive. Unfortunately, the rest of the Clippers' defense has not followed suit.
Still struggling to learn Rivers’ complex defensive scheme, the Clips are giving up 106.8 points per 100 possessions, the second-worst mark in the league. That has not slowed Jordan, who is averaging a career-high 2.3 blocks per game.
Although Jordan is shooting just 45.8 percent from the free-throw line, Rivers has still exercised confidence in his young center by giving him heavy fourth-quarter minutes as a defensive anchor despite the potential for the Deck-A-DJ. Jordan is playing a career-high 36.7 minutes per game, averaging 7.7 in the fourth quarter.
To add some perspective, Jordan appeared in just 30 fourth quarters all of last season, averaging 5.0 minutes per quarter. Clearly, Del Negro felt that the cost of his free-throw shooting would outweigh the benefits of his defensive presence.
Heavy fourth-quarter minutes will give Jordan the repetition that he has required in order to hone his defensive prowess in crunch time. Rivers’ confidence in his center has already paid dividends on the court. Fixing some rotations and working on quicker hedges will only make Jordan a better defensive player as the season goes on.
Soaring to New Heights
Even with his uber-athleticism, Jordan has struggled throughout his career to rebound at a high level, often being out of position and using his athleticism to try to compensate for poor box outs. Over his five-year career, the 6'11" center is averaging a measly 6.8 rebounds per contest.
This season, Jordan is proving to be a much-improved rebounder.
According to STATS, Jordan is also rebounding well in traffic:
The @LAClippersDeAndre Jordan averages the most contested rebs per game (rebs. gathered where an opponent is within 3.5 ft) at 5.8 #SportVU— STATS (@STATS_Hoops) November 19, 2013
His energy on the defensive end has allowed him to gobble up double-digit rebounds in nearly every game. Over his first 11 contests, Jordan had eight games of double-digit rebounds and five games with more than 15 boards.
Jordan’s rebounding activity has energized him on offense as he is putting up a career-high 11.2 points per game. DJ’s first 11 games saw him finish with four double-doubles. Last season he had just 12 double-doubles despite appearing in all 82 games.
Much of his improvement should be chalked up to Jordan’s work over the summer, but there is no denying the impact that Rivers has had on DJ's outlook on the game. Jordan's commitment to the glass can be seen in the way he has discussed team rebounding:
“I just don’t ever want to be out-rebounded as a team,” Jordan said. “That was our problem last year. We gave up a lot [of] offensive rebounds and it cost us some games. So that’s definitely a main focus of mine this season.”
So far, Jordan’s focus has yielded dividends. While the Clippers are still working out some defensive kinks, Jordan appears to be right on track for a monster year.
Statistics used in this article accurate as of November 18, 2013. Statistics used in this article from NBA.com/Stats and ESPN.com.