Clippers center DeAndre Jordan never has to do anything on a basketball court again and he’s already immortalized in NBA lore. If that’s hyperbole, then he’s at least a legend on YouTube and ESPN, whose recollection of sports history will eventually become everybody’s anyway.
His thunder dunk, which crushed Brandon Knight like a folding chair and is played like an ever-running reel on every dunk highlight compilation in existence, tells you almost everything you need to know about the 7-foot center from H-Town.
He’s athletically freakish, high-flying and unusually nimble for a big man. Jordan’s a bold physical specimen and a six-year NBA vet, who still has crazy upside. He jets around the court and at times displays Marcus Camby’s quickness and agility, sending balls flying into the stands quicker than a return serve from Rafael Nadal.
A gift like Jordan is a bonus in today’s NBA, where true “big men” (or some semblance of them) are as rare as an Earl Boykins stuff.
Putting his inconsistent productivity, poor fundamentals, awful free throw shooting and suspect footwork aside, Jordan is a gem-in-training. One year of college ball from 2007-2008 with Texas A&M barely got him drafted into the NBA by the Clippers in the second round of the ‘08 draft. Despite his size, Jordan was billed a “project” with “high bust potential.”
As expected, his first five years with the Clippers have been a gradual learning process. Until breaking out this season under new coach Doc Rivers, Jordan averaged a modest 6.6 rebounds and 6.7 points per game. He showed flashes of the brilliance, but overall his game lacked a killer instinct. He drove his last coach nuts with his lackadaisical defensive posture and demands for a larger offensive role.
The arrival of Rivers and being surrounded by all-star talent has resulted in Jordan having a career year with 11.8 points and 12.9 rebounds per game. His continued progression is encouraging for a Clippers squad who mad heads are picking to go to the Western Conference Finals.
“I have seen his body,” Rivers told the SportingNews.com in October . “DeAndre… it was a year ago or two years, I looked at him and said, ‘This kid should dominate defensively.” Listen, I wasn’t here last year, I don’t know what happened with that. I can say this: I thought he was focused on offense, focused on defense. He was focused on a lot of stuff. All I am trying to do is narrow his focus, try to make it easier for him.”
Rivers is here to make it easier for everybody later, by whipping them into shape now. CP3 is dope and one of the last true point guards. Blake Griffin does what he does, and Jamal Crawford is a new-age Vinny “Microwave” Johnson. They still have the components of Lob City. But Rivers is changing the philosophy in LA and like a chemist, mixing in his defensive principles in hopes of creating a championship formula. That would be a squad that has the length and strength to outlast OKC, the rebounding and toughness to throw joints with Memphis’ Bash Brothers and eventually the technical efficiency and continuity to swing with The Big Three (Miami or Spurs).
For LA, those prospects start with Jordan, who is the Clippers X-Factor. He’s stepping his game up, but for them to really do the damn thing, he has a couple more levels to go. What he’s giving now is cool, but his overall impact on the game must improve—along with his putrid free throw shooting (40.8 percent from the line).
Jordan has to decide if he wants to be Kazaam (good for a few laughs and entertaining plays). Or more like Shaq, outside of the movies. He has to become a closer. A cat Rivers can have on the floor, in the fourth quarter of a close game, like Wednesday’s contest against OKC.
Jordan contributed to the Clippers 111-103 comeback win with 15 points and nine boards. With OKC’s big men Kendrick Perkins (family issues) and Serge Ibaka (ejected for fighting) out, Jordan really didn’t have any opposition in the post. However, when the game was close late, Rivers had Jordan on the bench until the Clippers seemed to regain control of the contest. He can’t hit anything from the charity stripe and how can the Clippers rely on this cat late in the game if he can’t hit any freebies? It won’t work come playoff time, when Jordan’s length and athletic prowess will be need for four quarters. In addition, Jordan’s offensive game is still saucy and based on easy lay-ins and celebrated dunks over cats half his size.
He better hope he plays with CP3 his entire career, because no one can dish him left-handed, look away bounce passes for uncontested stuffs, the way Paul did when LA was chipping into OKC’s third-quarter lead.
Speaking of killer instinct, OKC rookie Steve Adams was giving Jordan the business at times, grabbing boards over him and even blocking one of the big man’s shots.
If Jordan is going to be the man in the middle for LA, he has to lead the defensive rush and be the rock Rivers needs him to be. You know, more serious, like Kevin Garnett. Embrace being big, bad and maybe even a champion. It’s obvious Doc thinks he has it in him. Jordan almost got traded for the 37-year-old Garnett last June as part of a trade scenario to complete Doc’s West Coast relocation. Rivers told ESPN Los Angeles that he was glad the deal fell apart. He wanted KG, but not at the expense of a much younger Jordan, who he feels can be his defensive anchor.
“I am looking at DeAndre Jordan as an All-Defensive player, Rivers told the SportingNews.com, during training camp. “ I think he should be on the All-Defensive team, I think he should be a candidate to win the Defensive Player of the Year award.”
He can’t show it if he’s not on the hardwood.
When the Clippers were locked in an all-out war late in the third, it was the relentless ball pressure of Paul and Griffin that forced Russell Westbrook into a flood of turnovers. Jordan was nursing a few fouls and holding a towel.
The Clippers are 6-3 and in first place in the NBA’s Pacific Division. The culture shift is gradually occurring and if the Clippers have a championship pedigree, Doc will maximize it. Jordan’s going to have to be part of that transformation. For a full four quarters, with a commitment from his mind, body and soul.