The Los Angeles Clippers' DeAndre Jordan finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting, an honor that went to Chicago's Joakim Noah with 555 points (Jordan had just 121). Despite Noah's distant lead, not everyone's on the same page—certainly not Clippers head coach Doc Rivers.
He's sticking with his guy.
And he has his reasons.
Jordan led the league with 13.6 rebounds per contest. He was third in blocks with 2.5. And there's plenty that the basic statistics won't show, namely the big man's mobility and improved understanding of where to be on the defensive end.
Noah didn't rank in the top five for either rebounds or blocks.
It's widely accepted that few do all the little things better than Noah, but it's hard to ignore Jordan's numbers. The fact that the Clippers are more known for their scoring than their defense may have hurt him in the voting. Defense has long been the hallmark of head coach Tom Thibodeau's Bulls, and Noah anchors that defense. NBA.com's Steve Aschburner outlines what the team was able to accomplish collectively:
Chicago ranked second in the NBA with a defensive rating of 100.5 points allowed per 100 possessions, second in defensive field-goal percentage (43.0) and first in points allowed per game, 91.8. Noah had a league-best defensive rating of 96, according to basketball-reference.com, while averaging 11.3 rebounds, 1.51 blocks and 1.24 steals.
He had 22 consecutive games with at least 10 rebounds and one block, the second-longest streak in NBA history, according to an infographic on NBA.com's Clippers page.
In June, Rivers set his hopes high for Jordan, according to the Los Angeles Times' Stephen Bailey:
Rivers said he’s never coached a player with the explosiveness of Jordan, who’s averaged 1.5 blocks a game over his five NBA seasons. Rivers thinks he’s so talented, he should be next season’s defensive player of the year.
"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.’'
But in February, Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney wrote a thorough indictment of Jordan's defensive decision-making, noting:
...the Clippers, despite Jordan’s presence, allow their opponents to shoot one of the highest percentages in the restricted area in the league — a whopping 62.9 percent, ranking between the porous interior defenses of the Jazz and Cavs.
It may take improved consistency for Jordan to establish himself as a favorite for future Defensive Player of the Year honors. While his production is there, the rotations and communication aren't yet what they could be.
Nevertheless, Jordan will remain integral to L.A.'s defense and game plan. He has another season worth $11.4 million on his contract, and it wouldn't be at all surprising to see the organization sign a longer pact with him before too long.
There are few centers capable of making comparable contributions, and even fewer that fit so seamlessly into the Clippers' uptempo, above-the-rim approach. Jordan should remain indispensable on both ends of the floor.