Name: DeAndre Jordan
2012-2013 Key Stats: 8.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg. 1.4 bpg, .643 FG%
Years in NBA: 5
Years With Clippers: 5
2012-2013 Salary: $10,532,977
Contract Status: Signed for two more seasons at about $11M per.
In A Nutshell:
Based on the overall sentiment towards him among the citizens of Clips Nation right now, you'd think that DeAndre Jordan had had a disastrous season. It may not feel like it right now, especially after a playoff loss in which the Clipper bigs were completely outplayed, but in fact Jordan had easily the best season of his career and made significant strides in his development. Jordan has always been an 'upside potential' player, a guy with all the tools who everyone admitted still needed to develop. Trouble was, through his first four seasons in the league, there really wasn't any progress. It may still be slower than you'd like, but this season Jordan did make real, tangible progress.
DeAndre has had the misfortune for the past couple of seasons of coming out of the gate fast, playing his best basketball early in the season and then regressing as the season wears on. Why that happens is anybody's guess -- it's probably a matter of focus, but it could have to do with conditioning as well. Regardless, he did it again this season. Among the fan base, those fast starts serve to get everyone incredibly excited about him, only to be disappointed by the end of the season.
But here are some facts. Jordan posted a career high PER of 17.2 this season and has always been a darling of metrics like Wins Produced. He was a vastly improved scorer this season, averaging a career high 8.8 points per game. On a per 36 minute basis, his scoring average jumped to 13 after slowly declining from 10.6 to 9.7 over the first four seasons of his career. That is to say, after showing no improvement in scoring in his first four seasons, he had about a 30% increase in his fifth. He did this while leading the entire league in field goal percentage, making .643 of his shots. Sure, those are mostly dunks and putbacks -- but he's making them.
He continues to be a solid rebounder, and his defense was much better this season. His shot blocking was down, but that is in part a symptom of his improved discipline on defense. In years past, Jordan would go after every single weak side block, even when he had no hope and he'd bite on every pump fake. All that flying around resulted in a few more blocks -- and a center that was constantly out of position. A foul machine earlier in his career, this year he averaged a career low in fouls per minute.
He remains a supremely inconsistent and frustrating player without a doubt. His free throw shooting, always bad, declined to ridiculous depths this season and his defense still needs work. He plays as if he has never even been introduced to the concept of boxing out. But he's still a useful player and the fact that he improved so much this season increases the possibility that he will continue to improve. Goodness knows he has plenty of headroom left.
When a player leads the league in field goal percentage, I guess you have to say that one of his strengths is finishing around the basket. Ironically, although he led the league this season, Jordan actually shot a tiny bit worse than his career average (.643 vs. .644) and far worse than his best season (he shot .686 in 10-11). But he never before took enough shots to qualify for league leader honors. The fact that he took a third more shots, while maintaining his ridiculously high efficiency, is a pretty significant accomplishment.
He managed the feat simply by getting a little better close to the basket. In his first four seasons in the league, the extent of Jordan's range could safely have been described as "dunks" -- and consequently, he tried to dunk everything, even when he was not particularly close to the basket. In season five, you could call his range "three feet and in" -- it ain't much, but it makes a difference. Jordan is finally able to make a jump hook (with either hand, it should be noted) when he gets great position, but still isn't quite in dunking range.
Early in the season he actually hit some eight to ten foot jump hooks after making something that looked suspiciously like a basketball move. That offense never looked very sustainable to me, and sure enough, just about the time I started getting excited about it, it went away. But there may be hope for the future that he can continue to develop that. As for the dunking, don't dismiss it. It's a skill like anything else, and Jordan is one of the best. There are plenty of big guys in the NBA, but few can finish as consistently as DJ.
Jordan is also a very good rebounder. He has the potential to be a great rebounder, which again frustrates people, but he's much better than he's generally given credit for. Per 36 minutes Jordan grabbed 10.6 rebounds per game this season; that's not top 10 in the league, but it is top 20 among qualified players -- just ahead of Roy Hibbert. And this is another area where Jordan could be better than he is.
I would not call defense a strength of Jordan's, but with his improvement this season, I would not longer call it a weakness. He's surprisingly quick, and does a very good job in pick and roll coverage given his size. He needs to continue to get better defending the post.
Jordan has always been a truly terrible free throw shooter, and this season, unlike in other seasons, he got progressively worse as the season wore on. This was a surprising development, given that the Clippers hired shooting coach Bob Thate to work specifically with Griffin and Jordan this season. Griffin made significant improvement from the line -- Jordan regressed. Over the past three seasons, Jordan had improved from .375 to .452 to .525 -- an encouraging trend line that would have him above 60% within a season or two. This season, he shot .386. Even more troubling, he got much worse over the course of the season -- his free throw percentage decrease each month of the season to the point where he made just 12 of 49 attempts in March and April.
I've spent a lot of time over the years writing about how the hack-a-someone strategy is bad basketball -- but that's based on a player who can make half of his free throws. At .386 every coach in the league should be putting Jordan on the line at every opportunity. Late in the season, the Clippers were clearly impacted by Jordan's ineptitude -- late in games, they simply could not have him on the floor. (The fact that Turiaf and Odom were just as bad is a different discussion.)
Although it's difficult to quantify, you'd also have to say that focus is a major weakness for DeAndre. There are too many games where he is a non-factor, too many possessions where he's completely lost. Based on his quick starts the last two seasons, it seems as if maybe he makes a commitment to play better heading into a new season -- and then eventually falls back into his old habits.
Part of his perceived problem is the burden of expectations. He's not a bad player -- but he could and should be so much better.
Future with the Clippers:
It's a bit difficult to fathom, but Jordan is the longest tenured Clipper -- by a couple of seasons (Griffin has been with the team four years but has only played three of them). And no Clipper stands to benefit more from a new coach than DeAndre. You may or may not feel that he was justified, but Vinny Del Negro clearly never had any confidence in Jordan. Look no further than his playing time the last two seasons for proof. Jordan played just 27.2 minutes per game in 11-12 and even that was more than the 24.5 minutes per game he played this season. Among starting NBA centers, only Kostas Koufos played fewer minutes per game.
A new coach could give Jordan a new outlook; confidence is incredibly important to any player, perhaps more so to a young, exuberant player like Jordan. It certainly didn't help that Del Negro tried his best to trade Jordan with Eric Bledsoe for Kevin Garnett last season. Ultimately the front office prevailed and the trade was nixed -- but the incident likely hurt Jordan's relationship with Del Negro, as well as contributing to the decision not to give VDN another contract.
I'd be very interested to see what Jordan might do with 32 minutes per game when he's not looking over his shoulder, wondering if his coach is about to pull him. Of course, a new coach can't shoot his free throws for him. He can't play at the end of quarters if he can't make free throws.
Jordan is signed for two more seasons on a contract that is very expensive, but more or less the going rate for centers. Given his limited minutes, you'd have to say he's been overpaid -- if he were getting more burn, it might seem more in line. Regardless, there remains a decent possibility that he could be traded. After being manhandled by the Grizzlies bigs in the playoffs, the Clippers may feel compelled to make a change there, and Griffin isn't going anywhere. Jordan also happens to be one of two salaries that the Clippers might package with chip Eric Bledsoe to make a trade work -- just as almost happened with Garnett in February. With Paul and Griffin set to make super-max money for the next five seasons, the Clippers would no doubt like to find a less expensive option at center -- whether they can or not remains to be seen.
And still that "upside potential" looms. For those of you who are saying "give me a break, it's been five years, if he hasn't figured it out yet he never will" I would ask you to look at the career of Tyson Chandler, who has always been the single best career role model for Jordan. After five seasons in the NBA, Chandler was no better than Jordan is now, arguably quite a bit worse. His expensive contract had just started in Chicago and the Bulls, desperate to move on from what seemed to be a huge mistake, traded him for a 37 year old P.J. Brown. It took Chandler several more seasons to really figure it out, but he won a ring in 2011, was named the Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, and made his first All Star Game -- in his 12th NBA season -- this year. I'm not saying that Jordan will ever be as good as Chandler, but I am saying that young bigs can take many years to develop. Jordan made some significant steps this season -- he could make more next season, particularly under the right coach.