The Clippers have four players with a legitimate chance at making the All-Star team.
- Chris Paul has been a perennial All-Star since the 2007-08 season, and he's having one of the best seasons of his career. While he's playing fewer minutes than any prior season with the Clippers, Chris is top 5 in most advanced statistical categories (VORP, BPM, WS) and is scoring more efficiently than ever in his career (particularly from deep).
- Blake Griffin, as mentioned, is in the midst of recovering from a recent knee surgery, and he is expected to be sidelined approximately 4-6 weeks. Given that this encompasses the entire All-Star voting period (12/25/16 – 1/16/17), it's tough to imagine that he'd be voted onto the team, even though he's likely to be healthy by then.
- J.J. Redick is probably the biggest long-shot to make the All-Star team, with such a guard-heavy conference—Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Klay Thompson, and Chris Paul are all likely to return as All-Stars, while Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum wait for their own turns.
- DeAndre Jordan, of course, is the Clippers' best shot at another All-Star in 2017 that isn't Chris Paul. And while the Western Conference has plenty of talent in the frontcourt as well, DJ has become a known and respected force in the league.
Report Card So Far
As I wrote about prior to the season, Clipper fans were hopeful that DeAndre Jordan would make strides in his game, coming off of a gold medal victory in the Olympics in Brazil. I predicted he'd increase his scoring by a couple of points-per-game, with minor improvements in rebounding and turnover-rate. I was mostly correct, as he's shooting more shots per-minute (at a lower FG%, but at a higher overall efficiency—his highest in 6 years), and his rebounding-rate has improved. However, his turnover-rate has gotten a bit worse, which was unexpected.
You may be wondering, how can a player shoot at a lower FG%, but still be scoring at a higher overall efficiency? Believe it or not, but DeAndre has somehow improved his efficiency at the free throw line. In over 150 attempts, he's making 54%+, his career-high. In fact, DJ's only had one season where he's shot above 50%, and four seasons under 40%. Yet here we are in late December, and DeAndre is showing real improvement with a very decent sample size. What's more, DeAndre appears to be getting better as the season wears on. Here is a simple graph, showing DeAndre's average free throw percentage over the course of the season.
As you can see, DeAndre didn't even break the 40% mark until mid-November, but now he's approaching 55%. And purely by making 10% more of his free throws than last year, DeAndre's managed to keep his overall scoring-rate steady with last year, and as a result is posting a very respectable 64.7% TS% (his second-highest ever). And if he can actually make his layups (they’ve dropped from 56.1% last year down to 44.7% this year), look out NBA; DeAndre, the former league leader in scoring efficiency, will be having his most efficient scoring season ever.
The Path to the All-Star Game
Okay, so DJ has improved his free throw shooting, while remaining consistent at everything else. Does that alone warrant All-Star consideration? Of course not. But getting a spot on the All-Star team is as much about reputation and perception as it is about statistical measures.
If 2016 was any indication, DeAndre will have a handful of competitors for frontcourt positions—Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins, and LaMarcus Aldridge. New faces such as Karl-Anthony Towns and the formerly injured Marc Gasol will be clamoring for attention as well.
But in an NBA where players are respected for their work on both ends of the court, players like Towns and Aldridge may find themselves paling in comparison to more defensively inclined players like DeAndre Jordan and Marc Gasol in the eyes of both fans and coaches.
As of the date of this article, per basketball-reference.com, DeAndre Jordan (and Marc Gasol) rank in the top 15 in defensive rating, defensive win shares, and defensive box plus/minus. DJ is a top 5 rebounder and top 10 shot-blocker, and is generally considered a rim-protecting terror for opposing teams. Players frequently turn tail and run when they see Jordan roaming the paint.
Still, other than the improved free throw percentage, none of this is particularly new for Jordan. Jordan was always a plus defender and an extremely efficient scorer. And it'll be an uphill battle, as there are still at least a half-dozen of the aforementioned players who will get serious consideration as well. But if Jordan can step up in Blake's absence and really stuff the stat sheet (particularly on the scoring front, where he's generally viewed as lacking), he can make it hard not to pick him. He’ll probably need a handful of 20+ point games during the voting period, a few 15+ rebound games, and quite a few 3+ block nights to really stand out. It’ll be a tight race for the 12 Western Conference All-Star positions, but I’m looking forward to it.