It occurs to me that we haven't shone the spotlight on what DeAndre Jordan has done for the Los Angeles Clippers this season. Oh sure, he's praised for having improved in pregame recaps, he's singled out for great performances in games, his advances as a player are noted in the comments. But honestly, we just haven't done the "OMFSM, can you believe the difference?" thing yet. So without further ado:
OMFSM, can you believe the difference in DeAndre Jordan this season?
Let's start with the obligatory per game numbers, the ones you see on Prime Ticket broadcasts all the time.
DeAndre Jordan, per game
So as you can see, his numbers are up across the board with the exception of field goal percentage, and it's tough to complain there given that he led the league last season and is leading the league again this season.
But per minute numbers are somewhat misleading; Vinny Del Negro essentially refused to play Jordan in the fourth quarter, and overall held his minutes to barely over half a game. Under Doc Rivers, Jordan's minutes have increased by about 45%, so we would expect a similar increase in his per game production. Let's take a look at the same stats from year-to-year on a per 36 minute basis.
DeAndre Jordan, per 36 min
Adjusting for the additional minutes played, Jordan's scoring is actually way down, most of his other stats are up slightly, and his rebounding is way up. So if you like scoring, maybe DJ's actually have a worse season. If you like rebounding, then maybe he really is having a better season. A metric like PER likes scoring -- it likes scoring a lot. As of today, 42 games into the season, Jordan's PER is 17.2, identical to his PER from last season.
But one can't ignore the question of a payer's role. Jordan's role on the Clippers, explicitly defined by Rivers, is to play defense and rebound. Until very recently, the team had given him no more than a handful of post isolations all season -- there have been a few more since Chris Paul was injured. Jordan would no doubt love to shoot more. He shot more last season, and he made an even higher percentage than he is making this season, so we know he can score more than he is. But the Clippers have plenty of scoring, and devaluing Jordan for not doing something that he is not supposed to do is obviously wrong. So while PER believes that Jordan is the same player, anyone who has watched a game knows that he is much, much better.
The simple fact is that per minute numbers tend to remain remarkably consistent across a player's career. Until this season, Jordan had averaged between 10.1 and 11.1 rebounds per 36 minutes each season over his first five years in the league. That's a deviation of less than 5% from his 12-13 per 36 average of 10.6. Put him on the court for 36 minutes and he would get between 10 and 11 rebounds, like clockwork.
A 31% increase such as Jordan has experienced this season -- from 10.6 to 13.9 rebounds per 36 -- is almost unheard of, particularly for a player who was already a very good rebounder. And as we know, it turns out to be the difference between "very good" and "the best".
For the past six NBA seasons, either Dwight Howard or Kevin Love has led the league in rebounding, with the other close behind, at least when healthy. Howard is 28 and Love is 25, so it's not as if either is past his prime and both are healthy this season. If you had told me that DeAndre Jordan would be as high as third in the NBA in rebounding at any point in the season I would have been thrilled. To be better than Howard and/or Love? It's almost incomprehensible.
Meanwhile, taking a quick look at his season splits, Jordan's rebounding is trending upward -- which is not easy to do when it's already so high. He averaged 12.7 rebounds per game in 15 games in November. That number rose to 14 in 16 December games. And 10 games into the new year, he's averaging 14.7 rebounds per game. At this rate, he has a legitimate chance to average 14 rebounds per game for the season, a level reached by only five very familiar names in the past two decades (Howard and Love, along with Dikembe Mutumbo, Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace).
When Doc Rivers arrived in Los Angeles and immediately began gushing about Jordan's potential, it seemed like a tactic, a ploy to build Jordan's confidence and get him to buy into being the player he could be. Whether it was a a ploy or a sincere expression of Doc's viewpoint, it has clearly had a huge impact on DJ. The fact that Jordan is leading the league in rebounding and field goal percentage and is also third in blocked shots is the proof.
I'll be back soon with another installment of this series.