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DeAndre Jordan and the Team USA Effect

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With Team USA having just defeated Spain in the elimination rounds of Olympic Basketball, Clipper fans across the world have had the privilege of watching the stellar play of their lone Clipper representative, DeAndre Jordan. But what does this mean for the future of the young center and the Clippers?

Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Team USA Needs DeAndre

Team USA has generally looked unimpressive, despite being the heavy favorites of the competition. This is partly because many of our nation's top players declined to compete, but even without the LeBrons, Currys, Hardens, and Chris Pauls of the league, Team USA should be rolling over the opposition.

The struggles have come primarily on the defensive end of the court.  Offensively, Team USA has been far and away the best scoring team,  as the only team to average more than 100 points per game.  Defensively, however, our boys have been right in the middle of the (12-team) pack.  They're defending the three-point-line well (ranked 2nd, holding opponents to 30.4%), but they're not stopping opponents anywhere else at an elite level (ranked 4th in opponent FG%).

A large part of this inconsistent defensive has to do with the fact that the heaviest minutes are going to Kevin Durant (28.4 mpg), Carmelo Anthony (24.0 mpg), Kyrie Irving (22.7 mpg), and Klay Thompson (21.0 mpg).  Of the four, only Thompson is an elite defender, while Irving and Anthony are generally thought to be sub-par defenders.  And this was all compounded by the fact that this foursome was (until recently) starting alongside DeMarcus Cousins, who is a fine individual defender, but a less-than-stellar rim protector or team defender.

Thankfully, the coaching staff recognized this and made a change.  DeAndre Jordan was inserted into the starting lineup for both the 6th and 7th games of these Olympics (almost as if the coaching staff had read a Clips Nation article that had posted the night before—that's some nice work Adithya).  Suddenly Team USA went from allowing every single team to score well above their 2016 Olympic averages (except China, barely), to holding Argentina and Spain—the 2nd and 3rd highest scoring team in the Olympics—to only 78 and 76 respectively.  Not exactly a coincidence.

DeAndre has been excellent when he's been on the court.  After 7 games, his per-minute statistics are great—other than FT% of course (per-36 figures):

DeAndre Jordan: Olympics

Points

FG%

FT%

Rebounds

Assists

Steals

Blocks

Turnovers

16.0

75%

41%

12.8

1.7

1.2

1.7

1.7

So yeah, he's been great. We know this. But the question remains: Is this actually going to translate to the 2016-17 season, with a new and improved DeAndre potentially taking the Los Angeles Clippers to the next level?

New and Improved

To answer that question, let's begin by taking a walk down memory lane, back to when we used to wonder what the Clippers actually had with this raw, second-round "high-potential" draft pick from Texas A&M. For his first few years, it was thought that DeAndre should just model his game after Tyson Chandler. Defend, rebound, set good screens, roll hard to the hoop, and take good shots. Be solid. Keep it simple. Be. Like. Tyson.

But ever since Doc Rivers took over as head coach of the Clippers, the name "Tyson Chandler" started getting replaced with "Bill Russell."  Sure, maybe Doc got a little ahead of himself there, but the reality was that DeAndre's goals went from "rebound" and "take good shots"  to "lead the league in rebounding" and "challenge the all-time record in scoring efficiency." Doc set expectations high, and the high-flying center started to meet or exceed those expectations.

Arguably, right now DeAndre's already as good or better than Tyson was in his prime, but if we're trying to figure out what the ceiling is for DeAndre, there are parallels and clues we can gather from Tyson Chandler's career—specifically, his career before and after playing for Team USA.

The Team USA Effect

Tyson Chandler was always a solid player in the NBA, but after joining the Mike Krzyzewski-coached Team USA for the 2010 FIBA games, his game rose to another level.  Chandler broke out in the 2010-11 season immediately following the 2010 FIBA games, anchoring Dallas' defense for their NBA championship run that year and leading the league in scoring efficiency.  Tyson continued his solid play once he left for the Knicks, and he won Olympic gold in London in 2012 before making his first All Star team in the 2012-13 season.

The Chandler-anchored Team USA squads were some of the best teams the United States ever fielded.  Like DeAndre, Tyson posted fantastic per-minute numbers in the Olympics (per-36):

Tyson Chandler: Olympics

Points

FG%

FT%

Rebounds

Assists

Steals

Blocks

Turnovers

13.1

70%

33%

13.1

1.2

1.2

1.6

1.2

Look familiar?  Hell, it's practically a carbon copy of DeAndre's current Olympic stat line (including that FT%).  So if we're trying to predict whether DeAndre's NBA numbers will leap like Chandler's did after he played for Team USA, we should start by seeing exactly how and where Tyson improved statistically.

As mentioned, pre-Team USA, Tyson had very solid numbers (per-36):

Tyson Chandler: Pre-Team USA

Points

FG%

FT%

Rebounds

Assists

Steals

Blocks

Turnovers

10.5

56%

61%

11.5

1.1

0.7

1.8

2.1

But after playing with Team USA, Tyson saw some statistical boosts almost across the board—but most noticeably his scoring efficiency (per-36):

Tyson Chandler: Post-Team USA

Points

FG%

FT%

Rebounds

Assists

Steals

Blocks

Turnovers

11.7

64%

69%

12.1

1.1

0.8

1.3

1.7

  • Scoring: That +8% increase in scoring efficiency actually happened all at once—in 2009-10 his FG% was 57.4% and after Team USA in 2010-11 he was at 65.4%. That's insane and almost completely unprecedented, and it's all thanks to a much more developed self-awareness about his offensive strengths and weaknesses that he presumably learned with Team USA. He ultimately scored +1.2 points-per-36, and he did it on fewer shots thanks to that increased efficiency.
  • Misc. Stats: Tyson had increases in other areas as well, with +0.6 rebounds-per-36, +0.1 steals-per-36, and -0.4 turnovers-per-36. The decrease of -0.5 blocks-per-36 is peculiar, but that was mostly skewed by Tyson being a shot-blocking maniac from 2004-2007, which really has nothing to do with his pre- and post-Team USA stats.
  • Defense: We can use Defensive Player of the Year voting results to get an idea of Tyson's improvement defensively.  Prior to playing for Team USA, Tyson had only received DPOY votes 3 times, never ranking better than 11th. The year after he played for Team USA, Tyson was 3rd in DPOY voting behind only Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard. The next year after he played for Team USA, Tyson won the award.  (Oddly, he never again got many DPOY votes, but that's probably because he went to the Knicks, and it's understandably tough to see the connection between "Knicks" and "Defense.")

Team USA and the best coaching/training staff the United States has to offer ultimately helped Chandler reach new heights in his game, at both ends of the court.

Predictions for 2016-17

So does this mean that DeAndre will suddenly see his rebounding increase and his field goal percentage shoot up 8%? Not exactly. As mentioned, DeAndre was already leading the league in FG% and was close to leading the league in rebounding. But that doesn't mean he didn't have room to improve. Here are his statistics before Team USA, under Doc Rivers (per-36):

DeAndre Jordan:  Pre-Team USA (post Doc Rivers)

Points

FG%

FT%

Rebounds

Assists

Steals

Blocks

Turnovers

12.1

70%

42%

14.8

1.0

0.9

2.4

1.5

As unlikely as it is that DeAndre becomes even more efficient at scoring and an even stronger rebounder, most players still tend to improve in some fashion after playing for Team USA, like Tyson did. Here's an (optimistic) prediction, using Tyson's improvement as a model (per-36):

DeAndre Jordan:  Post-Team USA Prediction

Points

FG%

FT%

Rebounds

Assists

Steals

Blocks

Turnovers

14.0

70%

42%

15.1

1.0

1.0

2.4

1.1

  • Scoring: Like Tyson I had DeAndre scoring +1.9 points-per-36 after Team USA, but unlike Tyson it's not due to increased efficiency. Instead, I gave him a boost based on additional scoring opportunities caused by increased confidence and prestige. All other percentages stayed flat because I had no reason to increase them.
  • Misc. Stats: Mirroring Tyson's experience, I gave DeAndre boosts in other categories. A half-bump of +0.3 rebounds (as he's already near his ceiling), the same +0.1 steals, and the same -0.4 turnovers.
  • Defense: Although DeAndre has been in the DPOY conversation for years now, he's still got some room to improve in that area. There were articles written last year that spoke to both his defensive abilities and his defensive limitations, and whether you agree with them or not, he's not yet a perfect defensive player. But playing with some of the NBA's best minds, under a different coach, and succeeding defensively as he has these last two contests, I can almost guarantee it will help in some form. And for what it's worth, it'll net him more DPOY votes next year, most likely.

So will the minor boost in DeAndre's stats and the major boost in DeAndre's experience/confidence be enough to get the Clippers to the next level? Only time will tell, but it's this writer's opinion that we will see a noticeable improvement in Jordan's game next season. Any stale messages from last year and any lost passion for the game will disintegrate under the weight of an Olympic medal, and Clipper fans will be left with a refreshed and fully unleashed DeAndre Jordan heading into the 2016-17 season.