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There Can Only Be One Hyland(er)

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After one of the wildest free agency situations in recent memory, DeAndre Jordan is returning to Southern California to continue his career with the Los Angeles Clippers. While welcomed back with open arms, there is still a lot to accomplish.

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As far as television dramas go, the enigmatic circus surrounding DeAndre Jordan was essentially similar to a season of “Game of Thrones.” There was a whole lot of pondering about what could happen, what would happen, and what did happen. Ultimately, he chose to stay with the team that drafted him. We’ve already taken a gander at the next step that his fellow frontcourt mate Blake Griffin could be on the verge of taking, but Griffin isn’t alone in that quest for the next rung to be achieved in overall impact. While Jordan is already one of the most recognizable defensive players in basketball these days, a new journey will be taken by him in the hopes that he can fine-tune his craft; a journey that could, in fact, foreshadow great things for the franchise.

In the lexicon of free agent decisions, Jordan’s ultimate return to the Los Angeles Clippers ranks right up there as one of the wackiest and wildest weeks. We’re not here to discuss what transpired or didn’t transpire or could have transpired. Right now, the future is the only thing on the mind of the Clippers and their jumping jack man-in-the-middle. For one Hyland DeAndre Jordan – yes, that is his actual real first name – the choice to return to the team that invested so much in him seems like the logical one. After all, they were the team that took a chance on him in the second round of the 2008 NBA Draft. The fact he was even available in the second round was the first of several Jordan related miracles.

As it currently sits, the Clippers have three stars in their prime.

According to Chad Ford’s big board – and, believe me, I do understand that citing a big board by Chad Ford is quite odd considering all the weird stuff that’s gone on with him lately – Jordan was the ninth best player in the draft class prior to draft night; or was it 19th? NBA dot com did their own consensus mock draft in 2008 and that saw Jordan go 14th overall. In DraftExpress’ final mock draft, just a few minutes before the draft kicked off, Jordan went 21st overall. On their Top 115 NBA Draft Prospects by Position list, Jordan was the second best center after Brook Lopez. He was ultimately the eighth center taken by the time the night was over. DraftExpress gave the Clippers a grade of B for the draft that night and said Jordan “was shockingly available for them at 35.” They even went further and stated that “Jordan most certainly should have been a first rounder, if not a top 22 pick.” No matter how you look at it, the Clippers got lucky with Jordan; and that was long before the free agent situation of this summer.

Jordan, by all accounts, is coming off the best season of his career and is entering his prime. For the second straight year, he led the NBA in rebounding. For the fourth straight season, he started and played in every game. In fact, he is the NBA’s active leader in consecutive games played with 300. In this era, when big men are going through injury plagued seasons and struggling to maintain any real level of functional health, Jordan has been a true Iron Man. Even more astounding, he’s not affixed to the ground like some of the game’s other centers. He’s a Flying Wallenda, capable of hammering home dunks with prodigious one-handed power. His high-flying theatrical exploits get talked about enough, but it’s the other stuff he does on the court that get overlooked to a larger degree.

For instance, as mentioned, he led the league in rebounding for a second straight season. The 1226 total rebounds he brought down this past season ranks as the most in the NBA since Dennis Rodman had 1367 in 1993-94. His 14.95 rebounds per game – or 15.0 if you want to round up – sit as the most since Kevin Love had 15.23 in 2010-11. Since the introduction of Total Rebound Percentage, which has been available since the 1970-71 season, Jordan’s TRB% of 24.47 percent last season is the sixth highest of all-time. Only the aforementioned Rodman, who bested that mark four times, and former Clipper Reggie Evans, who posted the highest TRB% of all-time in 2012-13 as a member of the Brooklyn Nets, are above him. When you’re one of three players to do something that special, it speaks volumes.

one could make the argument that the Clippers have the best offensive rebounder in basketball on their team.

If you factor blocks into the equation, and round up to the 15.0 rebounds per game like most everyone does, then Jordan’s 2014-15 campaign was only the sixth time in NBA history where a player averaged 15 rebounds per game and 2 blocks per game in the same season. The other five instances of it happening were Ben Wallace in 2002-03, Moses Malone in 1982-83, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975-76, Elvin Hayes in 1973-74, and Bob McAdoo in 1973-74. We’re talking some major names here, folks. On top of that, Jordan finished with the second highest field goal percentage of all-time in an NBA season. Only Wilt Chamberlain in 1972-73 has outdone Jordan’s 71.0 field goal percentage from this past season.

Most anyone who follows the game knows that the vast majority of Jordan’s field goal attempts and made baskets come off of dunks. Jordan led the league in dunks this season with 252. It was the second straight year he’s led the league in dunks and the fifth straight that he’s finished top three. Dunks are all well and good, but there are other things that Jordan does on offense that get nowhere near the notoriety that his dunks do. One of the best things Jordan does on the court is screen. He’s awesome at screening and that is part of what makes the Clippers offense so dangerous.

The great ball screens were one of the main reasons that the Clippers led the NBA in points per possession by ball-handers in the pick-and-roll. Having Chris Paul obviously doesn’t hurt, either. Also, according to Synergy Sports Technology, the Clippers were tops in points per possession in plays designated as being “off screens.” And, lastly, they led the NBA in points per possession on hand-offs. In essence, anything involving a screen was extremely successful for the Clippers. A lot of that has to do with DeAndre Jordan being the main screen man. While Blake Griffin is good at the screen game, Los Angeles' pogo stick center excels at it.

This past season, DeAndre Jordan finished second in Set Screen Outcome Efficiency according to Vantage Sports. His score of 21.11 percent was only bested by the Houston RocketsClint Capela. Essentially, that means that one in five screens he set resulted in a score, open shot, shooting foul, or assist+. During the regular season, Jordan averaged .11 set screen points per chance and, along with Blake Griffin and Glen Davis, helped lead the team to an NBA-best mark of 19.6 Set Screen Points per 100 Chances and an overall Set Screen Outcome Efficiency of 17.5 percent. The Clippers are the cream of the crop when it comes to screening and Jordan is one of the key reasons as to why.

No matter how you look at it, the Clippers got lucky with Jordan; and that was long before the free agent situation of this summer.

64 players registered at least 100 possessions as the roll man in pick-and-rolls this past season. Of those 64 players, Jordan’s 1.36 points per possession in such settings was second best behind only Tyson Chandler (1.41). It’s quite evident that anything involving a DeAndre Jordan screen is an extremely deadly thing for opposing defenses to deal with. On the surface, it seems like Jordan’s impact offensively wouldn’t be that great because all he can really do is dunk and offensive rebound. However, his ability to be such a force in the pick-and-roll opens up a lot of things for the team as a whole. One of the main beneficiaries of this has been J.J. Redick.

Since Redick arrived in Los Angeles prior to the tipoff of the 2013-14 season, he has played 3717 total minutes with Jordan on the court. In those minutes, Redick has sported an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 57.3 percent, True Shooting Percentage of 60.6 percent, and averaged 1.25 points per possession. However, in the 1204 minutes that Redick has played without Jordan on the court his numbers start to wane. Redick, sans Jordan, sports a 52.6 percent Effective Field Goal Percentage and 58.2 percent True Shooting Percentage while averaging 1.21 points per possession. Now, while those numbers don’t exactly seem bad, it still is a slight decrease in production and it has to do with the lack of a big man who is proficient in the screen game. The Clippers love to run Redick off of Jordan screens in an effort to free up both of the players for easier shots.

Jordan does the dirty work offensively that frees up some of the other players for easier shots. As noted, Redick is one of them. Chris Paul also gets easier shots out of the pick-and-roll thanks to Jordan’s power rolls after setting a pick. So, too, does Blake Griffin when teams overhelp on Jordan’s roll and he finds himself all alone from about 14 feet. While Paul and Griffin are obviously the two most lethal offensive players on the team, with Redick firmly behind them, Jordan’s offensive importance is often undervalued. His screens, his rolls, and his handoffs are all a huge part of the team’s offense. Without him and those skills, the offensive infrastructure would collapse quite a bit.

Now, while he does impact the game offensively, Jordan’s true value comes on the defensive end. The issue with looking at the defensive numbers for the Clippers is that they don’t quite bear out how well Jordan played on that end of the court last season. For instance, during the regular season, the Clippers had a 103.1 Defensive Rating with Jordan on the court and a 102.8 rating without him. If you just looked at those numbers without context, you’d just assume the team was better without him. Except that’s not entirely how it works. For instance, when he was in there with the other four starters, the team had a 100.0 Defensive Rating. However, when you substitute J.J. Redick out in favor of Jamal Crawford, the Defensive Rating jumped all the way up to 104.9. That’s not exactly Jordan’s fault. The team replaced a solid-to-good defender with a very poor one and it drove the overall numbers down.

DeAndre Jordan might actually be the biggest changer of shot selection in the entire league.

Jordan’s value defensively comes from him being the safety of the team when he’s anchoring the back line; able to see everything developing in front of him and reacting accordingly to the ongoing maze of madness. For the third straight season, Jordan finished in the top three of total blocks, top five of blocks per game, and top five of block percentage. He also led the league in Defensive Win Shares. Despite what most metrics will go on to tell you, Jordan helped the Clippers defense last season. For instance, Chris Paul didn’t see a significant change in his personal Defensive Rating when he was on or off the court – Paul had a 102.9 rating on the court and the team sported a 103.1 mark without him – yet no one will ever question Paul’s defensive chops; but, for some reason, they do with Jordan.

This past March, an article was authored on this site that talked about DeAndre Jordan's lack of chance for Defensive Player of the Year. Ultimately, Jordan did not win the award. However, he did finish third – firmly behind winner Kawhi Leonard and runner-up Draymond Green. Jordan received the third most first place votes and eventually saw himself getting named to the All-Defensive First Team. Joining Jordan on that team were the aforementioned Leonard and Green, as well as teammate Chris Paul and Tony Allen of the Memphis Grizzlies. NBA writers and voters took notice of the job that Jordan – and even Paul – did this past season.

When it comes to rim protection, Jordan isn’t exactly elite in that category when viewing some metrics. When looking at Adjusted Points Saved per 36 Minutes as a rim protector from the website Nylon Calculus, we see that Jordan’s 8.2 points saved mark ranks above Dwight Howard (7.9), Marc Gasol (7.2), Al Horford (7.1), Joakim Noah (6.1), and Anthony Davis (5.1). Yet, despite that, it’s still not one of the top marks in the league. In fact, it ranked just 31st overall. As the interactive table below shows, Jordan was good as a rim protector, but not quite great. And that’s okay in the grand scheme of things since being ahead of Howard and Davis, even by a minimal amount, isn’t exactly terrible considering the level of shot blockers that they happen to be.

Credit for the next table goes to Vantage Sports for their wonderful work in delving into new horizons of basketball data. According to them, DeAndre Jordan might actually be the biggest changer of shot selection in the entire league. That’s not to say that he’s the best rim protector, but that he is an elite defender and rim deterrent. After all, if players are taking less shots at the rim with you on the court because they’re fearful then you’re effectively doing your job. That’s what Jordan does. Jordan has a Net % of Three-Point Shots of 2.95 percent and Net Inside Shot % of 8.46 percent. Meaning, opponents take three percent fewer threes and roughly eight-and-a-half percent fewer inside shots with Jordan on the court. Essentially, Jordan prevents the highest efficiency shots in basketball by just being on the court and scaring the opposition.

Is DeAndre Jordan as good of a rim protector as some people think he is? Probably not. But, then again, is he as overrated as others would like to believe? Definitely not. With all the talk about Paul and Griffin, which – rightfully so – takes up a lot of the spotlight, it seems easy to forget just how much Jordan means to the overall impact and structure of the team. This isn’t to say that the offense and defense would implode without Jordan on the floor, but rather that his value to the team might be higher than some truly perceive. He’s not a dominant center and he’s not the best center in the game, but his certifiable skills on both ends of the court are unquestionably hard to disregard.

The intriguing thing surrounding Jordan is that he, unlike a lot of the other impact centers in basketball, does not exactly need the ball in order to make his presence felt. Would he like the ball more? Of course. However, there are only so many shots to go around, especially with the influx of roster talent this offseason that’ll likely take even more touches away from him. Yet, in light of that, he still came back to the team and embraced his role yet again. It’s a role that few would take on with such grace, but Jordan does it. They ask him to save their rear end countless times, set crushing screens that free them up for easier shots, and be the athletic alley-oop receiver the team needs. He also helps them on the offensive glass more than most others would.

The interesting part with all this data is that perhaps the best is yet to come for DeAndre Jordan.

According to Vantage Sports, the Clippers were the league leaders in Offensive Rebounds+ per 100 Opportunities. The team scheme requires players to get back on defense rather than crash the offensive glass, but Jordan does it at a supremely high level whenever an opportunity presents itself. While their actual Offensive Rebound Percentage might be low, which is a function of their scheme, their Offensive Rebounds+ per 100 Opportunities is extraordinarily high, which shows their vast skill at it. More to that, Jordan did finish second to Andre Drummond in Offensive Rebound Percentage among all players this past season. Considering how infrequently Los Angeles pursues offensive rebounds and how frequently the Detroit Pistons do, one could make the argument that the Clippers have the best offensive rebounder in basketball on their team.

The interesting part with all this data is that perhaps the best is yet to come for DeAndre Jordan. He is, after all, only 27 years old and has shown a steady increase in both skill and intelligence on the court. Jordan will never be the quintessential two-way center in the league. He’ll never be someone you can dump the ball into and get a bucket off of a designed post-up or mid-range jumper. He’ll never be someone who scores more than is required to keep defenses honest and that’s actually part of what makes him so valuable to the team. Jordan does all the little things necessary to help the team win; staying within himself is a large part of his success in that endeavor.

As it currently sits, the Clippers have three stars in their prime. Paul is the quarterback, Griffin is the do-it-all threat, and Jordan is the rudder. The team has never had to deal with life without Jordan, but they came hauntingly close this offseason. For all parties involved, the right choice was made for long-term productivity. The Clippers will only go as far as Jordan is able to take them. While Paul and Griffin get the notoriety and acclaim, Jordan’s exploits on both ends of the court help mold the team into being better than people would think. There’s no telling how much better Jordan can become, but, at his current pace, he could be the best center in basketball relatively soon. The offense is aided by his highly effective screens and offensive rebounding prowess while the defense is shaped entirely by his ability to scare opponents into lower quality shots.

There can only be one best center in basketball. Right now, that man is Marc Gasol. A few years ago, the thought was that it was none other than Dwight Howard. The torch at the center spot seems to be passed on a near yearly basis to whoever is confident and skilled enough to snatch it. Why can’t that be DeAndre Jordan? If a former second round pick can make it this far in his career, perhaps he can make it a little further. If there can only be one best center then surely it could be Hyland DeAndre Jordan. The way he’s able to alter offensive and defensive possessions in his team’s favor is quite special. He himself is quite special. He is Hyland(er).