There was a lot to like about DeAndre Jordan's performance with Team USA in their Blue vs. White scrimmage in Las Vegas last night (box score). It's one game and it's difficult to take away a lot from one game, but there were encouraging signs both on the court and in more subtle ways.
It should be noted that Team USA invited a LOT of bigs to the desert this summer for their mini-camp. There were 12 players on each roster last night, with three guys manning the center position for each team. And that was after a turned ankle ended Larry Sanders' camp and Taj Gibson declined an invitation to rest an injury. So over the course of the four day camp, Jordan was competing for attention with the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Tyler Zeller, Anthony Davis and Derrick Favors.
Even with such stiff competition, Jordan secured for himself the starting center role for the White team (which eventually won the game, 128-106). Should we read a lot into who was named the starter? I'll put it this way: All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Paul George were among the starters for the White, and 2012 Olympian Anthony Davis started for the Blue. So I'm concluding that the coaches were paying attention to who actually started.
Not only did he start, he also played more minutes than any other big on the white team and was second among bigs to Davis for the entire game. He used his 19 minutes to put up 10 points and a game high nine rebounds, plus two blocked shots.
White put him in isolation a couple of times, with mixed results. The first time he was stripped by Monroe (who, if we're being honest, looked like the most complete true center out there and could have a future with USA Basketball). In the second quarter he simply overpowered Davis, backed him right to the rim and got an easy layup. He had a similar move in the second half where he got where he wanted but missed a relatively easy shot. Offensively, his 3-7 performance was far less efficient than we're used to seeing from Jordan, but he had to do more on his own as well. He wasn't exactly getting Chris Paul-type passes to finish.
But beyond the minutes and the rebounds, I was pleased with DJ's presence on the court. Early in the game, it's easy to pick out his voice calling out defensive coverages, telling guards how to play pick and rolls. This is significant. Yes, he's one of the older and more experienced players at the mini-camp, but still these guys are all stars or at least stars-in-waiting, and DJ was clearly taking on a leadership role with them. Sure, it's the center's job to call out those defenses -- but I certainly didn't hear Monroe's voice or Cousins' voice or anyone else. Jordan had a presence on the defensive end, and that's worth something.
I can only conclude that the USA Basketball staff felt the same thing, which is why they rewarded him with the lion's share of center minutes on a crowded white roster. If they want a Tyson Chandler type player who will rebound and play defense, Jordan could be that guy, and they took a nice long look at him last night.
He remains a very long shot to play a real game for Team USA. He was 4-8 from the line last night, and until that improves, international teams will not hesitate to foul him every time he touches the ball. But with his performance this week, he may have earned himself an invitation back -- and even if he didn't he gained valuable experience and confidence for the upcoming season.