DeAndre Jordan is no ordinary center. He might not be an All-Star player, but he's certainly worth a max-level contract this offseason, writes Jared Dubin.
Since the 2010–11 season, though — when Jordan finally got a shot at real minutes — everything has changed. It’s been a gradual process, but he’s slowly but surely turned himself into one of the best bigs in the league.
Hooking up with CP3 and Blake Griffin has done wonders for Jordan’s career. He’s been freed up to do what he does best without having to worry about much else. By concentrating on a select set of tools and sharpening them as much as possible, he’s become a much more dangerous weapon. Jordan is a pick-and-roll dynamo, one of the most ruthlessly efficient finishers in the game. His dives to the rim demand the attention of the defense and open up space for everyone else on the floor. He has what all pick-and-roll bigs need: gravitational pull. It shows up in both the eye test and the numbers.
The 2014–15 season, though, has been Jordan’s crowning achievement to date. In addition to his now-usual gravitational brand of offense, he’s graded out as the sixth-best defensive center in the NBA this season according to ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus (RPM). He’s doing a wonderful job of ending possessions, leading the league in rebounding for the second consecutive year while snagging more steals than ever. His block rates have jumped back to where they were a few years ago even as his positioning has become a bit more refined.
Either way, at 26 years old, Jordan is having the best season of his life — and it’s entirely possible that he gets even better. Athletes tend to peak in their age 27 season, and, as luck would have it, Jordan’s free agency timing couldn’t be more perfect. Luckier still, he might just find himself as the best big man up for grabs.
For his part, DeAndre recently sat down with Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated for a Q&A session that covered a wide range of topics. A few highlights here:
SI: How long would it take you to get ready to be a receiver? Not an every down guy. They just throw you the fade.
DJ: I’d have to put on some weight. Those dudes train all their lives for that. I’d need like six months to put on some weight and then six months to learn the plays. Well, if’s it only going to be one or two plays, give me a few months to learn it. Maybe a grand total of 10 months, I’d be ready.
SI: Hasn’t the world waited long enough for DeAndre Jordan in the Dunk Contest?
DJ: I always think about the Dunk Contest. I want to be a Dunk Contest champion sometime in my career. But I’ve always told myself that I don’t want to do it until I am an All-Star. No disrespect to the Dunk Contest, that’s just a personal goal I set for myself. My family, my brothers have all told me, "You need to do it. It would be fun. You would win it." It’s just something about that deal I made with myself. If that time happens, I’m in.
SI: What’s the secret to your durability?
DJ: I’ve got the same bone structure as Wolverine. I’m 26, I’m somewhat young. I give a lot of credit to that, and being fortunate.
He also discusses his upcoming free agency and his Batman obsession, so definitely check out the full thing if you have a chance.
DJ might not be an All-Star in New York this year, but rest assured that he's the All-Star of his teammates' hearts.
But if Jordan doesn’t make the final team – and he likely won’t – it doesn’t mean his play has gone unnoticed.
"When I was a little younger, I would think about (not getting consideration), but now I don’t think about it as much," Jordan said Monday. "Blake (Griffin) sends me pictures and FaceTimes me when he’s there, so it’s kind of like I’m there."
"Often, great defensive players do not get thought of as stars," J.J. Redick said. "But for sure, DeAndre is a star."
The love his teammates show for him definitely says a lot about this team's chemistry. AND SPEAKING OF CHEMISTRY...
"Our sideline and our bench over the last two games has been hilarious, they've been active and very loud," Rivers said. "I think three or four times in the Sacramento game the referees asked them to sit down. Dahntay has been a leader in that."
Jones and Austin Rivers are two of the first players jumping up after a big basket or running over to high-five players walking back to the bench during a timeout. It's not the kind of thing that's going to win games or lead to big contracts, but it doesn't go unnoticed on a championship team.
"That type of energy and enthusiasm is contagious and it's great for a team," Blake Griffin said. "That's one thing when I watch games and film that's one thing you kind of see and kind of notice. You see guys up, you see guys cheering and you see guys into it and when we come off the floor we want to be doing the same thing. I just think it's good for team chemistry, knowing that everybody has your back and is cheering for you."
Doc Rivers will also look to build upon that new spirit and chemistry as the Clippers have two roster openings and may have a third depending on what they do with Jones' 10-day contract. Last season, Rivers was able to sign Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Danny Granger during the buyout seasons, and he expects to sign two veterans again next month. That was a big reason he made the moves that he did to free up the necessary room on a roster that was at the maximum 15 players earlier this month.
It sounds like Dahntay Jones has emerged as what Bill Simmons and Rembert Browne have dubbed as the team chemist, the head cheerleader and glue guy on the bench (ironic, since he's always standing up anyways). For his part, Jones has fully embraced his new role, glad to be back in the league.
The veteran swingman has become the Clippers' unofficial head cheerleader during a 10-day contract that ends Saturday. Jones has led a surge in activity among bench players over the last four games, standing and applauding every highlight made by their teammates. "It's my family, my team, I want to win," he said, "so if cheering for them helps the cause that's what I'm supposed to do."
"I've been on a lot of good teams and I'd rather be the small pig on a championship team than be the man on the worst team in the NBA," Jones said. "Everybody remembers a champion, no matter if you're the 15th man or the first man. Everybody remembers who was on the great Celtics or the great Lakers teams. They remember all of those 15 guys, but they don't remember the leading scorer who was on the 76ers this year, not being disrespectful. If you lose yourself in the championship effort then all of your goals will come true."
It sounds as if his unbridled enthusiasm just might be enough to turn a ten-day lifeline into an extended period of stay. Whatever magic he's brewing up on the bench, it seems to be working, and you have to hope he sticks around to see this team through.
"He’s selfless," Chris Paul said. "He does whatever the team needs you to do, and he’s one of those guys that actually gets excited about it."
"He’s been unbelievable on the sideline," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.
Chemistry is almost impossible to quantify. Front offices spend years, tinkering with it, sometimes to no avail. But in Jones, a player who might not even last here through the week, the enthusiasm has already proven contagious. That vigor may very well be what turns Jones’ 10-day contract into another and then, possibly, a deal through the end of the season. But for a player navigating the fringes of the NBA for the past two years, keeping that attitude is as much about staying sane as it is sticking with a roster.
Of course, chemistry is important to an organization beyond just basketball, and the excision of a toxic owner can make things better for everyone, including longtime broadcasting legend Ralph Lawler. Bill Plaschke comes through with an excellent feature on a Clipper great.
He's the third-longest tenured broadcaster in the league and, by most accounts, he's missed only three of more than 2,700 games dating back to the team's arrival in San Diego from Buffalo in 1978. The story behind one of those absences resulted in a life-changing decision typical of Lawler's devotion. While driving to Staples Center from his desert home, he missed a game after he was stuck in a six-hour traffic jam behind an overturned truck. So chagrined, he promptly moved to Marina del Rey.
It is a love [for the game] he shares with his real broadcast partner, his longtime wife, Jo, with whom he travels to every game. During the regular season, she even flies with him on the team plane in a rare perk that was continued under new Coach Doc Rivers because of Lawler's legendary status. "I'm so grateful to everyone on this basketball team who has given me the green light to do this,'' he says. "I can't imagine two weeks on the road without my wife. She is so much a central figure in my life.''
Meanwhile, one of the Clippers' offseason additions has already found a niche with the organization. Unfortunately, GM Doc Rivers was not the one who signed off on this decision.
Here, as the Clippers’ president of business operations, it’s just a normal day in the NBA, part of the melding of sport, entertainment and celebrity of which the league has often been in the forefront. Which suggests that Gillian Zucker has found her comfort zone as a sports executive.
This is almost a blank canvas, an opportunity for reinvention – from making the game experience the most technologically advanced in sports, which is Ballmer’s stated goal, all the way down to figuring out how the seats at the top of the arena become the most desirable in the building. Seriously, that’s on her radar.
Ballmer interviewed a reported 25 to 30 candidates for the position, and kept coming back to Zucker, telling reporters after he hired her: "I’ve had a chance to work with a lot of very energetic, very intense, very bright people in my time at Microsoft and Gillian compares very favorably amongst the most enthusiastic people I’ve ever had a chance to work with."
Finally, Blake Griffin has fallen from the pantheon of elite dunkers as he's trekked out into the desolate midlands. Plus, SI's picks for the Slam Dunk Contest.
Source: Sports Illustrated