Let's play a little game of word association, shall we? Ready?
When I say DeAndre Jordan, what's the first word that comes to mind?
For a lot of you, I'm sure the answer was "overrated" or maybe even "overpaid." That's a commonly held belief, and those are two labels that Jordan hasn't quite been able to shake since the Los Angeles Clippers matched on a four-year offer sheet worth $43 million signed back in 2011.
When you're dealing with a player of Jordan's size and athletic gifts, it's perfectly natural to be a tad disappointed that he's not one of the league's very best. In the court of public opinion, when expectations aren't met or potential isn't fully lived up to, the backlash is swift and fierce.
But is Jordan's reputation as an overrated and overpaid center truly earned? Let's explore.
When promising young big men like Jordan hit free agency, they're bound to get overpaid. That may be particularly true when it comes to restricted free agents, as opposing teams won't waste time with small offers that will be easily matched.
On the surface, Jordan's salary of over $10 million a season seems much too large, but that's before factoring in positional scarcity and the overall market.
Even with that in mind, Jordan is actually only the 15th-highest-paid starting center in the league. At least in that sense, his contract is perfectly average. So long as you're comparing apples to apples, Jordan's compensation doesn't seem all that unfair.
That's especially true when you consider how important Jordan is to the Clippers. With Blake Griffin unable or unwilling (which might be more accurate) to protect the rim defensively, all the duties fall on Jordan. Ryan Hollins, he of disastrous rebound rates and fouls aplenty, is his primary backup.
Point being, at least for the Clippers, he's worth every penny. When you consider the alternatives out there that aren't on rookie deals, there are very few players of Jordan's caliber that come at a substantially better value.
Another big reason why Jordan should no longer be classified as overpaid is because of his consistently improved play.
After years of looking over his shoulder while playing under Mike Dunleavy and Vinny Del Negro, Jordan can finally play without the fear of being yanked out of the game for a single mistake. In not so many words, Griffin reiterated this thought to Michael Martinez of FoxSports.com:
It's the confidence the coaching staff instills in him, and him embracing that role. Every guy is going to embrace a role like that. He's doing an unbelievable job. He gobbles up every rebound around him, offensive glass, defensive glass, blocking shots, altering shots.
Doc Rivers is playing Jordan a career-high 35.3 minutes a night, and the 25-year-old center is rewarding him. With the aid of true starter's minutes, Jordan has quickly established himself as one of the league's very best rebounders, as his 13.4 boards a game are second in the league only to Kevin Love.
Although he's not the least bit prolific, Jordan's league-leading field-goal percentage of 64 percent isn't bad, either.
But perhaps most importantly, Jordan has been more vocal and less prone to mistakes on the defensive end this season. Although it's a noisy statistic, Jordan has posted an individual defensive rating of 97, which is by far a career high. Ditto for his Win Shares per 48 minutes and his blocks per game (2.3).
This, of course, isn't to say that Jordan is a perfect defender, or even a great one. He's often a step behind on making the right rotation or closeout, and his individual post defense leaves something to be desired.
Ultimately, though, most teams would happily take a 7-footer that finishes at the rim, rebounds at an elite level, runs the floor and contests shots, even if that's all they could do. But that's falsely assuming that Jordan is a completely finished product.
In that sense, it's fitting that Jordan is probably most frequently compared to Tyson Chandler, another hyper-athletic big man that was a late bloomer. Like Jordan is doing now, Chandler enjoyed his real breakout season when he was 25 years old, playing next to an elite distributor in Chris Paul in New Orleans.
The career parallels are easy to see, but Jordan is starting to add little wrinkles of Chandler's game to his own repertoire as well. On the offensive glass, Jordan will use Chandler's patented "backtap" technique to keep possessions alive. It's a small thing to add, really, but it lends credence to the belief that Jordan will find ways to continue improving.
If you thought DeAndre Jordan was going to be the next Dwight Howard, it's time to let that go. Jordan will almost certainly never be dominant, at least not by the traditional definition of a dominant center.
That doesn't mean that Jordan can't be and isn't already an incredibly effective and important player on the floor. There are definite flaws, like his sub-40 percent free-throw shooting, but there are also many strengths that often get taken for granted. Jordan isn't a "high-skill" player, but that doesn't mean he's overrated.
If nothing else, consider this: Jordan is the starting center and one of the most irreplaceable players on a title contender that sports a top-10 offense and defense in terms of efficiency.
Does that mean everything? Of course not. Does it mean something, though? You bet.
One day, the perception of Jordan may catch up with reality. For Chandler, it took a championship for that to happen. For Jordan, it might take the same.
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