DeAndre and Russell - The Student and the Legend

At the beginning of the season, DeAndre Jordan made the switch from wearing #9 on his jersey to wearing #6. He wore #6 in high school and in college as a tribute to one of the best defensive bigs to ever play the game, the great Bill Russell. It’s only fitting that in his first game after the number switch, DJ swats away 8 shots and has everyone thinking he’s all of a sudden a legit defensive presence. After the game, Chris Paul said DJ deserves the game ball while Blake Griffin listed him as a potential candidate to win Defensive Player of the Year.

The only problem was that DJ only mustered up 5 rebounds in 31 minutes of play (which looks worse when you take into account he was matched up against the likes of Andris Biedrins and Kwame Brown). While we’ll never know exactly how many blocks Russell averaged per game (blocks and steals were not recorded during that time), he did record an insane number of rebounds from the get-go (career average of 22.5 rebounds per game!). Russell was the prototype of the ideal defensive and team-oriented big man and for DJ to put a #6 means that he’s got some things to work on.

As it stands, DJ is pretty one-dimensional. Listed at 6’11″ (or 7 feet with those svelte red/black Under Armor boots), his game is pretty limited to playing above the rim. Offensively, he’s a force underneath the basket, but completely incapable on all other parts of the floor. He lacks any semblance of a post game and if he’s not within dunking range (which, believe it or not, starts at the dotted half-circle), he’s looking for a distributor or forcing up an awkward-looking shot. There was talk that he’d be working out with Hakeem Olajuwon this past off-season (DJ’s from Houston), but still no sign of anything resembling the “dream shake”. Maybe DJ learned more from Olajuwon on the defensive end, as Hakeem the Dream also happens to be the NBA’s all-time leader in blocks as well as #4 on the list of all-time great defensive rebounders. Pretty awesome deal when you’re able to get help from such a guy and at the same time trying to model your game after Bill Russell.

On the defensive end, DJ’s is developing into a pretty reliable weak-side defender, offering help when needed, but he still struggles when he’s faced with a one on one situation in the post. His lack of positioning and sub-par footwork usually leads to losing any advantage in the paint, and as a result, early foul trouble. You rarely see the guy make a concerted effort to barrel his way into an advantageous position to grab a board and, as a result, DJ currently relies more on his amazing 9.5′ reach instead of utilizing his body for shield, balance, and power. For a guy of his stature, he MUST become a better rebounder. Bill Russell’s method of rebounding is the exact opposite. He made a career out of perfecting his fundamentals.

DJ needs to focus on his positioning before the shot rather than scrambling after the shot is taken. In other words, effective rebounding is proactive rebounding. Wear your opponent like a backpack and use a low arm-hook for leverage and to keep your opponent in check. Utilize proper footwork to keep yourself in the advantage. Use your body as a shield and reach out, not vertically, for rebounds. At the moment, the doesn’t seem to be any power in DJ’s rebounding form and he’s drastically out of position. His career average of 5.7 boards a game has more to do with the ball coming to him rather than vice-versa. Next time the clippers play, try not to watch the ball handler and keep your focus on DJ. Once that ball's in the air notice him ball watching while the opposing big men box out. It's frustrating to watch.

One reason Deandre’s constantly out of rebounding position is due to his tendency to go on shot-blocking sprees. Things are especially worse when he gets that testosterone boost after he gets a couple blocks under his belt. Many times, this causes DJ to fall victim to the devestating pump-fake, which not only puts him in foul trouble, but also leads him to being in a less than ideal rebounding situation since being a second late is already too much ground to make up.

“The idea is not to block every shot. The idea is to make your opponent believe that you want to block every shot.”- Bill Russell

Russell’s patience in the defensive end of the court enabled him to become a more efficient rebounder and shot blocker. He learned early on that it paid to keep defenses guessing and trying to block every shot pretty much had you showing all your cards. If an opposing player notices you're jumping up on ever attempt, he's gonna be dictating your actions, not the other way around.

It was all about purity of purpose for Russell. He wasn’t interested in entertaining the crowd. You’d never see him try and swat a ball into 7th row of seats. As a defensive stopper, his objective was to give his team any advantage possible, and while deflecting the ball out of bounds would prevent the shot, it would also send it right back to the opponent for another possession. DJ seems to be fueled by the reaction the crowd gives when he makes an exaggerated block and it seems the whole “lob city” mentality urges the players to play this way – exaggerate this, exaggerate that. If DJ truly wants to model his game after Russell, he needs to approach the game in a different light and with more purpose. Make “educated blocks” by guiding the ball back into play and into the hands of a teammate. Become a student of the game and study player tendencies. Just refrain from being another JaVale McGee and looking like a human pogo stick, trying to block everything in sight, and yelling in the process – because that’s not team ball, that’s just selfish.


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