The Los Angeles Clippers are legitimate title contenders this year, and not just because of the play of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. DeAndre Jordan’s improvement and development has allowed the Clippers to thrive this year, winning a franchise-best 57 games during the regular season. His elevated play and defensive intensity are one of the reasons why the Clippers have a realistic shot at winning a title this year and in the near future.
Let’s rewind a bit and remember where Jordan was coming from at the beginning of this season. His defensive intensity waned last year under Vinny Del Negro. To complicate things more, Del Negro refused to play him late in games, and sometimes during the entire fourth quarter, due to struggles at the charity stripe. All of that changed when the Clippers traded for Doc Rivers, according to Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles.
Jordan is the Clippers' defensive captain. It was a responsibility Doc Rivers gave Jordan as soon as Rivers became the team's head coach and senior vice president of basketball operations in June. But he not only wanted Jordan to be the defensive captain, he wanted Jordan to be one of the Clippers' three captains, along with Paul and Griffin. He told everyone that he left one "Big Three" in Boston for another "Big Three" in Los Angeles.
Pundits can talk about trades, draft picks and free-agent signings, but internal growth is the reason why the Clippers have improved this season. Most notably, Jordan’s expanded confidence has allowed Rivers to install his defensive system and principles, all of which revolve around Jordan’s defensive calls and adjustments.
Statistically, Jordan has plenty of room to improve, especially as a rim protector. According to SportVU, Jordan contested 10.3 shots per game at the rim, allowing 5.1 to go in. While those numbers are on par with his playoff averages, allowing opponents to shoot 49.4 percent at the rim puts him in the same range as Anthony Davis. Neither player is considered an exceptional rim-protector right now, but the potential is certainly there for both.
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Another area of massive improvement is in the rebounding department. Not only did Jordan lead the league in rebounding, but he also pulled down a league-best 71.6 percent of rebound opportunities when facing 10 or more opportunities per game. To put that in perspective, Jordan cleared 5.5 percent more opportunities than one of the best rebounders in the game, Kevin Love.
Jordan’s development on the glass has made him a staple in the Clippers offense and defense. Guards are able to leak out in transition due to Jordan’s ability to clean the glass. That meshes seamlessly with how Doc Rivers wants to play offensively: fast and in transition. Additionally, his athletic ability and length creates extra possessions offensively, mainly on long tap-out rebounds that lead to open perimeter shots. Length and athleticism are something Jordan has in spades but cannot be taught. CBS Sports’ Zach Harper defines Jordan’s attributes in Rivers’ system perfectly.
At the center of this entire defensive equation is DeAndre Jordan. The human pogo stick with the 7'6" wingspan has all the makings of what you would want in a defender. He's 6'11" and has a lot of muscle definition. He can jump out of the gym at the blink of an eye and replicate that same jump on an instantaneous second attempt. His wingspan allows for a maximum vertical reach that Red Bull would have to sponsor a descent from that height.
This season, Jordan’s physical attributes have aligned with his defensive recognition, allowing an important development to his pick-and-roll defense. This improvement has made the Clippers extremely difficult to score on when the game slows down.
Jordan possesses great quickness and length and is athletic enough to handle Rivers’ aggressive hedging in his pick-and-roll coverage. Additionally, Jordan is able to sink off the ball screen, like in the video above, when Rivers changes coverages. He is quick enough laterally to cover guards while protecting the rim at the same time, something he was capable of but unable to display adequately in the past.
It seems unlikely that Jordan will ever be capable of carrying a team offensively, but on the other end of the floor, it is certainly possible. The Clippers are difficult to beat when Griffin and Paul are scoring in unison. However, it is Jordan’s defense that makes the team elite. When Jordan is engaged defensively, the Clippers can survive without an onslaught of points. That is how the Clippers will compete for a title. Jordan’s development has been crucial this season and certainly puts the Clippers in the title discussion this season and into the future.