DeAndre Jordan was supposed to be a key factor for the Los Angeles Clippers, one capable of both making stellar individual contributions and keeping Kendrick Perkins on the court more than the Oklahoma City Thunder would like. By preventing small ball, Jordan was going to make an impact beyond the one he typically creates.
And that's quite significant, seeing as Jordan broke out in a big way for the Clippers throughout the 2013-14 season.
Under Doc Rivers' tutelage, the uber-athletic big man became more than just a large athlete jumping around on a basketball court and swatting shots away from the rim with reckless abandon. He became one of the best rebounders in basketball, a capable offensive contributor and a disciplined defender who still maintained his penchant for rejection despite gaining a feel for proper rotations and patience.
But he hasn't been able to maintain that level of growth throughout the postseason.
During an opening-round victory against the Golden State Warriors, Jordan was completely and utterly dominant. He averaged 12.1 points, 15.1 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game during a series that went the distance, doing so with a field-goal percentage north of 75 percent.
Then he disappeared.
During the second-round series with the Thunder, Jordan has put up largely similar numbers—14 points, 13 rebounds and five steals (rather than five blocks). Problem is, those are the totals through two games, not his per-contest averages.
As Jason Patt noted for SBNation.com, you can actually make a rather embarrassing comparison after Game 2:
In the Clippers' 112-101 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday, Jordan was outplayed by Kendrick Perkins, which is something that really should never happen at this point in time. Perkins bested Jordan in both points and rebounds, while the Clippers big man also committed three turnovers and five fouls.
Without Jordan's top-notch contributions, the Clippers are severely weakened, and weaknesses are often exploited by teams that feature both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Oh, and Serge Ibaka, who has done a fantastic job bodying up on Jordan whenever necessary.
LAC needs more.
Losing the Rebounding Edge
Where have the boards gone?
Jordan, who averaged a league-best 13.6 rebounds per game during the regular season, was unquestionably one of the premier glass-eaters throughout the 2013-14 season. I'd argue that Andre Drummond was better, but that's not entirely relevant, so let's just move on and acknowledge that Jordan is pretty darn good on the boards.
Against the Warriors, he was better than ever, highlighted by a 22-rebound outing in Game 3 and then three straight games with at least 18 to close out the series. But those were his last outstanding performances, as he's combined to pull down 13 in two games against the Clippers.
Now opportunities have a lot to do with rebounding, which is why the percentages are more telling than the actual numbers. But those aren't exactly helping Jordan out:
|Jordan's Rebounding Percentages|
That's quite the decline, especially on the offensive glass (more on that later).
But this is especially important against a team like the Thunder that depends on per-possession excellence.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, OKC finished the regular season with a 110.5 offensive rating and 103.9 defensive rating, which left the team ranked No. 7 and No. 6, respectively. The San Antonio Spurs were the only team in the top seven for both categories, which gives the Thunder a unique brand of versatility, one that allows them to win games on either end depending on what's going more swimmingly.
One of the many reasons for this was dominance on both types of glass. Defensively, the Thunder were able to limit possessions. Offensively, they were able to gain extra ones, artificially upping their pace and their output during the average game.
When a stellar rebounder like Jordan starts to disappear, it just makes Oklahoma City even more dangerous. Giving extra possessions to Durant is never a good idea, after all.
"Every single possession, you have to have great focus and you have to be locked in, and today we were not," Rivers said to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com, after the game. That gets even harder when Jordan and the rest of his teammates allow Oklahoma City to pull down 15 offensive rebounds.
As ESPN Stats & Information noted, "The Thunder held a 17-9 advantage in second-chance points. They have improved to 42-16 when having a better offensive rebounding percentage."
It's time for Jordan to start feasting again. After all, OKC must figure out a way to keep similar stories from unfolding during the remaining portion of this series.
No Longer Gaining an Interior Advantage
Jordan is extremely dangerous on a single-possession basis. Even the slightest lapse in focus can make an opponent immediately commiserate with Brandon Knight, because the big man's athleticism allows him to complete an alley-oop with a thunderous jam from virtually any position in the half-court set.
The number of plays that end with Jordan's hands hanging from the rim is just astounding, especially because they come in seemingly innocuous situations.
One second, Chris Paul is dribbling the ball harmlessly on the perimeter. The next, he and Jordan have made eye contact, and the ball is thrown in a position where the defender can't possibly get to it.
But Jordan can. And he does.
Against the Thunder, though, those opportunities haven't been readily available. Ibaka in particular has done a fantastic job bodying up against the opposing big man, and that's taken a dangerous element away from the Clippers offense, with the exception of a few plays.
Jordan needs more of that, which came in a game during early April, not during the playoffs.
He doesn't need more of this, especially because it came during the most recent postseason contest:
Through the first two games these teams have played, alley-oop finishes seem like aberrations, the results of defensive lapses by the Thunder. They don't feel like an actual part of the Clippers' offensive system, even though they've functioned as such throughout the vast majority of the 2013-14 campaign.
But Jordan also needs to score off second-chance opportunities, cleaning up for the mistakes and misses produced by his teammates. That's one of the things that makes him so special; he's a master at grabbing offensive rebounds and then quickly putting the ball back up for an easy two points.
In the NBA, most players can jump high. Few can jump high on a second jump that comes as quickly as Jordan's does. It's one of the reasons that he's fared so well when it comes to scoring off an offensive rebound, per Synergy Sports (subscription required).
The big man scored 0.97 points per possession in that situation, which ranks only 129th throughout the entire Association. However, that number is made far more impressive when you realize that Jordan was heavily involved on the offensive glass, recording over 200 attempts in that situation. Put-backs accounted for 23 percent of his total offense.
Know how he fared during Games 1 and 2 of this second-round series?
Throughout the opening salvo of the clash between these two Western Conference elites, Jordan recorded just one offensive rebound. It came early in the first quarter, and after he kicked the ball out to Paul, CP3 swung it to an open J.J. Redick for three points.
Immediately positive results, but that was it.
In Game 2, Jordan wasn't able to record a single board on the offensive end. Not even one. It was only the second time all season he'd recorded a goose egg in that category, and the first came during an April outing versus the Portland Trail Blazers when he spent less than two minutes on the court.
This can't happen again.
During a series that features so many superstars capable of single-handedly carrying their teams to victory—Paul, Blake Griffin, Durant and Westbrook all qualify—milking every advantage possible is absolutely crucial. The Clippers and Thunder are evenly matched squads, but only if Jordan is playing like the center he proved he could be throughout the regular season and during the first round of the playoffs.
In fact, if he plays like he's facing the Dubs once more, LAC should actually feel as though it has an edge over its higher-seeded counterpart.
But so far, that hasn't been the Jordan we've seen. Not even close.