We're running a series of "exit interviews" of the 2011 Los Angeles Clippers. An overview and analysis, player by player, of all 14 Clippers who ended the 2010-2011 season on the roster. In this edition: breakout center DeAndre Jordan.
Name: DeAndre Jordan
2010-2011 Key Stats: 7.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.8 bpg, .686 FG%
Years in the NBA: 3
Years with the Clippers: 3
2010-2011 Salary: $854,389
Contract Status: Restricted Free Agent
In a Nutshell
This wasn't just a case of more stats and more playing time leading to a fairly linear increase in production. DeAndre Jordan made a leap last season - maybe not the leap, but still a jump that portends of greater things to come. This after his first two seasons in the league had just about everyone wondering if he would ever improve, and rightfully so. Though only 22 and brimming with potential - that dreaded word often synonymous with unrealistic expectations - Jordan had appeared lost in that dangerous territory between "he's young, give him more time" and "he's probably never going to get it."
Well, Jordan finally got it last season, or at least he showed more signs than ever of turning all that talent into tangible results. He got an unexpected nudge into the starting lineup when Chris Kaman crumpled to the floor with a severe ankle sprain in just the seventh game of the season. And while it took several weeks for Jordan to really get going, when he finally did, he morphed into a candidate for Most Improved Player. By season's end, Jordan had started in 66 games - almost three times as many as he started in his first two seasons combined - logging new highs in just about every statistical category while beginning to resemble, for perhaps the first time in his career, a quality center.
Which leaves the Clippers with quite the offseason dilemma: Who commands the ‘5' next season? Is it Kaman, the proven but injury-prone veteran with the generous salary? Or is it Jordan, the younger upstart who, as a restricted free agent, is due for a big payday himself? Do the Clippers keep both of them and hope the time-share works out? Tough questions made even more difficult by Jordan's emergence in 2010-2011.
The most obvious difference we saw in Jordan last season came on the defensive end, where he's always had the tools but lacked the fundamentals to properly use them. While that may remain true to an extent, Jordan's awareness and general basketball IQ are beginning to catch up with his tremendous physical gifts. Last season he showed greater refinement in such areas as man-to-man defense, weak-side help, rotations and lateral movement. Jordan's length and intimidation provided the perfect complement for Blake Griffin's shaky, sometimes reluctant D, and gave the Clippers an enviable last line of defense.
Jordan led the team in blocked shots and may very well have led the league in number of rejections that deposited the ball in the seats. It'd be nice to see him tone it down a bit on the weak-side acrobatics - re-directing a shot to a teammate is far preferable to spiking it out of bounds - but Jordan's shot-blocking was a welcome sight for the Clippers, whose only other legitimate shot-blocker (Kaman) missed 50 games. Meanwhile, Jordan was relentless on the glass and, even despite all the boards Griffin gobbled up, finished 12th among all centers in total rebound rate.
On offense, Jordan remains a one-dimensional player, but credit him for sticking to the one thing he does really, really well - he only shoots the ball when he's right next to the rim. More specifically, he dunks the ball as well as anyone, and he rolled, leaped and cut his way to the hoop for more slams than anyone outside Dwight Howard and Griffin. Jordan made a superb 72% of his attempts in the restricted area last season, solidifying his reputation as one of the best finishers in the league. We're starting to see him take more and more advantage of his ability to get deep post position, and once he gets the ball within arm's reach of the basket, it usually results in a dunk.
Like other centers with his unique combination of size, athleticism and leaping ability - Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler and JaVale McGee are the only ones I can think of - Jordan struggles, mightily, with things like ball skills, shooting range and back-to-the-basket moves. In terms of offensive dexterity, Jordan is as raw as it gets (though, in what was probably my favorite play of the season, he somehow pulled this off). Of his 341 field goal attempts last season, Jordan took just 22 shots outside the restricted area, demonstrating just how uncomfortable he was when not directly under the basket. Meanwhile, Jordan's .452 FT% posed an irresistible invitation to opponents to foul him, making him a shaky play near the ends of close games.
Jordan's improvement on defense was tempered by the fact that his focus remains inconsistent. He's still a 3-second violation waiting to happen, he still falls for seemingly every pump fake and he still has trouble staying out of foul trouble. A lack of concentration also hurt him on offense, where he posted the third-highest turnover rate among centers.
Such lapses will continue to weigh Jordan down as he tries to sharpen his game. Some players just suffer from poor instincts, and that's likely the case here - Jordan's still very young, and he demonstrated a better feel for the game last season, but you still worry that he'll always be his own biggest enemy, especially when it comes to producing regularly. Indeed, it was not uncommon to see Jordan dominate the paint on both ends in one game before fading into the background the next night and raising questions as to whether he truly can be a reliable starter.
Future with the Clippers
After a breakout year in 2010-2011, Jordan has put himself in line to make millions next season, with more teams than just the Clippers willing to give him a significant pay-raise. New York, Houston, Miami and a few other clubs all need a center, and Jordan is enticing as an athletic youngster with plenty of upside. Jordan will be a restricted free agent this offseason, which means the Clippers have the right to match any offer he receives.
Neil Olshey has insisted that the Clippers are making it a priority to re-sign Jordan, but what happens if another team throws a four-year, $32-million deal at someone who, by coming out of college too early, already cost himself a lucrative contract? Some reports have Jordan's value on the open market, ignoring the probable lockout and new CBA, as high as $11 million per year. While that's likely too much - contracts are virtually guaranteed to shrink regardless of what happens this summer, and Jordan, as attractive as he is, still doesn't have much of a track record - I could certainly see something in the range of $7-8 million. Would the Clippers be willing to spend that kind of money on a player with some glaring deficiencies?
The answer to that question depends in part on whether the Clippers can move the soon-to-be-expiring contract of Kaman, who is set to make $12.7 million next season. As a uniquely skilled 7-footer, Kaman is an intriguing player, but he turns 30 next April and has missed at least 50 games in two of the last three seasons. It's unclear how much the Clippers could get for him, though the size of Kaman's expiring deal should make him attractive to more than a few teams.
Then there's the possibility that the Clippers simply keep both centers next season, a scenario that would create a "good problem to have" - two big men who bring completely opposite looks to the table. Coincidentally, Olshey has repeatedly talked about the advantages of having two starting-material centers. Such an arrangement would necessarily involve complications in determining the starter and the division of playing time, but it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Assuming both players stay healthy, having either one come off the bench means they would have some quality depth. Ironically, Kaman's injuries made the Clippers rather shallow up front for most of last season, but at this point you just know you're not getting 82 games out of him.
It's difficult to predict exactly where all this is going, especially with a new CBA in the works, but the Clippers know that keeping Griffin and Jordan, his best friend, together makes a lot of sense. And though it would have to come at a reasonable price, retaining Jordan would go a long way toward furthering the Clippers' youth movement, while letting him walk could muddle Griffin's future with the team. The guess here is that, one way or another, Jordan sufficiently impressed the Clippers' FO last season, and he and Griffin will blossom into perhaps the most imposing frontline in the league within a few years.
Other 2011 Exit Interviews