Noted ex-Clips Nation compatriot and writer of many words Justin Russo recently made the observation that he thinks DeAndre Jordan is actually a more effective offensive player than he is a defensive player:
I still stand by the claim that DeAndre Jordan is a more valuable offensive player than he is as a defensive player.— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) March 17, 2016
That may sound a little crazy on the surface considering 401 of D.J.'s 470 shot attempts this season have been either dunks or layups. His reputation around the league is that of a defensive-minded rebounding machine. While that's true, it doesn't tell the whole story of his impact. We don't typically label players with so little by way of tangible offensive skills that produce big scoring numbers "good" offensive players. The dunks are pretty much the extent of DeAndre's offensive repertoire. However, he makes far more impact on that end of the floor than he's given credit for.
Jordan leads the league in field goal percentage this season by a wide margin, converting his looks at a tidy 70.2% clip. Dwight Howard ranks a distant second, shooting 61.6%. The vast majority of Jordan's shots, as mentioned above, come from within five feet of the bucket. 439 of his 470 FGA on the season have come from that area on the floor, and he's converted 321 of them (73%).
The "All he does is dunk!" brigade will come out in full force against the idea that Jordan's a useful offensive weapon, but what's wrong with dunks? Last I checked, dunks tend to be a pretty high percentage shot. Per CBS Sports, D.J. is tops in the league on the season with 207 slams, well ahead of second-place Howard (157). What do these people have against jams?
More importantly, Jordan has been the most effective pick-and-roll roll man in the league this season. D.J. is averaging 1.42 points per possession on plays in which he serves as the roll man on a PnR, which puts him ahead of second place Hassan Whiteside (1.38 PPP) by a good margin. On 165 such plays this season, Jordan has scored 234 points. These plays have resulted in at least one point for the Clips over 75% of the time they're run, which also puts him well ahead of Whiteside (69%).
You don't need an Olajuwonesque array of post moves in order to be a supremely valuable offensive commodity as a seven-footer. The notion that big men need to "go out and dominate" is an outdated myth perpetuated by Shaq, Charles Barkley et al. Dwight Howard has been a very good offensive player throughout his career despite never developing a reliable back-to-the-basket game. Jordan poses almost the exact same threat as a roll man. Seeing him running unimpeded toward the rim is a terrifying prospect for a defense, and it effectively forces the opponent to make all frantic sorts of back-end rotations.
Take this play from Sunday's win over Denver as an example. D.J. sets a high screen on Chris Paul's man on the right wing:
Notice how the three Nuggets not directly involved in the pick are all paying close attention to DeAndre. Once Jordan rolls toward the rim, those Nuggets collapse into the paint in anticipation of the lob, leaving Wesley Johnson, J.J. Redick and Luc Mbah a Moute all available for the pass above the arc.
CP3 easily recognizes this and kicks it out to Johnson at the top. Four of the five Nuggets aren't even above the restricted area. Wesley misses the triple, but you can't hate the wide open look.
This is an example of the way defenses are forced to respect Jordan's presence on offense, even on plays in which he doesn't actually touch the ball.
D.J.'s ability to help contort opposing defenses is another reason that it's crucial for Blake Griffin to develop a reliable three-point stroke at some point. Blake has improved from the midrange through the years, but he's still not exactly LaMarcus Aldridge from there. The Spurs, for example, are the league's most diligent defense this season, and they're certainly aware of the threat Jordan poses when he's rumbling toward the rim.
DeAndre sets an early screen for Paul on this play, with Griffin trailing. He's not even in the picture yet when D.J. makes his move:
San Antonio's defenders are keenly aware of what's coming, so, like Denver, they send an extra man - David West, in this instance - to collapse onto Jordan once he's freed himself from the pick. As a result, Griffin has nobody within 15 feet of him at the top of the arc:
The Spurs know Griffin is unlikely to pop a three in this situation, and that he's a sub-40% midrange shooter on the year. Rather than risk conceding an easy dunk to Jordan or leaving Redick or Johnson open from deep, they're happy to let Blake pop one from 20 feet.
Griffin obliges by missing the shot. Once (if?) Blake is able to confidently take this pass and shoot the wide open three rather than the long-two, defenses will have one more thing to worry about on plays like this. As long as he's taking twos, though, teams are going to give Griffin this shot all night long.
Doc Rivers has tried going four-wide without Griffin available, presumably in an effort to dot the perimeter with as many threats as possible around Jordan. When two of your starters (LMAM and Paul Pierce) are shooting at or below 31% from deep, though, it doesn't really work all that well. The Clips' offense has still been top-ten in the league this season, but without Griffin it's lacked that additional danger man for whom teams need to game plan. In the meantime, they've been happy to let guys like Mbah a Moute and Pierce build a house of bricks. Even so, Jordan's intimidation factor along with CP3's vision help generate loads of open looks for others.
DeAndre Jordan is certainly far from being the league's best offensive center. He's nowhere close to as skilled in the traditional sense as players like Pau Gasol, Jahlil Okafor or Nikola Vucevic. That said, he's still a far more useful overall player than any of those three. Jordan is nearly the perfect embodiment of the modern NBA big: An intimidating paint presence defensively that will hit the glass like crazy and provide a rim-rolling threat on the other end.
With Griffin, the Clippers have enough other guys that can create their own shot. They don't need Jordan to "dominate" the way Shaq and Chuck incessantly insist. He's already giving the team exactly what it needs from him. Are you wanting to throw the ball to him in the post and let him go to work? No, because that isn't his game. There's no need to force feed a guy on the block when the results aren't there.
D.J. may not necessarily be a better offensive player than he is defensively, but the gap between the two isn't as big as commonly perceived. As evidenced here, big men don't necessarily need to be able to bomb it away from three-point range in order to help space the floor. LAC's offensive rating is 112 with Jordan out there, yet plummets to just 99 when he's on the bench. It's no coincidence, and he's not just a passenger along for the ride on that end of the court.
Jordan's total defensive impact can't be measured on the stat sheet, and the same can be said for his importance to the offense. The threat he poses as a rim roller has helped keep LAC's offense afloat without Griffin, and also serves as the key that unlocks what has been a top-ranked offensive attack in the league when they're at full strength.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats.