They don't hand out the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award six minutes into the first pre-season game, but if they did, then all of Doc Rivers' off-season praise for DeAndre Jordan is completely justified. Midway through the first quarter of Monday night's pre-season opening win for the Los Angeles Clippers in Portland against the Blazers, Jordan had accumulated two steals, three rebounds and three blocked shots -- not to mention seven points. Those are per 36 averages of 42 points, 18 rebounds, 18 blocks and 12 steals -- wow, I guess he really is as good as Doc says.
Seriously, Rivers has been heaping praise on Jordan since taking the head coaching job, up to and through calling him "by far the best player" in training camp last week. It's a blatant ploy to build up DJ's confidence, but as transparent as the strategy is, you have to allow for two possibilities: (1) Doc might sincerely believe in Jordan and (2) the strategy could really work since confidence is such an important part of performance.
Watching DJ in Portland Monday, you couldn't help but be impressed. He finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and two steals in just 21 total minutes and was indeed the proverbial best player on the court. Defensively it wasn't just the blocks and the steals -- he was a disruptive presence in the middle of the defense whenever he was on the court, which is exactly what Rivers wants him to be. He even made four out of five free throws -- don't count on that all season, but it was still nice to see.
The Clippers starters (with Willie Green filling in for the very slightly injured J.J. Redick at shooting guard) were in complete control of the game whenever they were on the court. Jordan, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Jared Dudley all had plus/minus scores in the twenties -- and that was despite a rather lackluster performance from Griffin and nothing too special from Paul.
Sadly, as good as the starters were, the non-starters were about as bad -- in fact, every bench player except for Ryan Hollins had a plus/minus in negative territory. But of course it's just pre-season, and the Blazers were without LaMarcus Aldridge, so let's not get ahead of ourselves, either with the praise or with the criticism.
It's amazing how much this game simply confirmed what we already suspected about this Clippers team. If the team has a weakness, it is in the front court reserves. Byron Mullens shot 2-10, including 1-7 from beyond the arc. When they said he could shoot three-pointers, I assumed it meant more than simply attempting them -- I figured it meant that a reasonable number of them would actually go in. Antawn Jamison looked decent on offense, making 3-5 -- but is going to struggle to defend anyone. Hollins is what he is, no more and no less, and we know all about him from last season: let's hope the Clippers can do better. Lou Amundson played some garbage time minutes and did Lou Amundson things -- he hustled his way into a bunch of offensive rebounds, and then proceeded to miss a bunch of bunnies and turn the ball over looking bad in the process: he's all hustle and no skill. Brandon Davies caught an alley-oop for a dunk and worked hard, but is undersized and underskilled to be much help.
Mullens is a real mystery to me. Or rather the mystery is what the coaching staff is saying to him in practice. It certainly appeared that the offensive sets were designed to get him open three pointers. But at the same time, any opponent that has access to statistics knows that he's 30% from out there on his career -- so you don't really have to run anything to get him open, he'll be open based on the fact that he's standing 24 feet from the basket. So when he goes back to the huddle after missing six of seven threes, are Rivers and Alvin Gentry saying to him "keep shooting that, we love that shot, we want that shot" or are they saying "WTF B.J.?" Stretch bigs need to do more than stand on the perimeter and shoot -- they have to make a few of them as well.
All in all though it was a good first outing under Rivers. The offense looked a little lost at times, but it did seem more fluid. The defense -- certainly when the starters were on the court -- was very good. Griffin was dreadful shooting jump shots, but at least he took them in the flow of the offense and without hesitation -- one assumes that, even more than in Mullens' case, the coaches are telling Griffin not to worry about the misses, to keep on shooting. Jamal Crawford was invisible, but I'm not particularly worried about him -- Jamal will get his. Of the newcomers, Darren Collison looked a quick as ever andDudley worked his way into a couple of second half steals that both resulted in fast break scores. There's not a lot to complain about really.
As for things to praise, well, it really starts with Jordan -- as it has all summer.