Name: DeAndre Jordan
Key Stats: 12.7 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks in 31.7 minutes per game, shooting 71.4% from the field in 81 regular season games played
Years in NBA: 9
2016-17 Salary: $21,165,675
Future Contract Status: Signed through the 2018-19 season, with a Player Option following the 2017-18 season.
There was a time when DeAndre Jordan, the 35th overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, sat on the bench for seemingly every fourth quarter of every game.
Since then, Jordan has earned All-NBA First Team honors, twice been on the NBA All-Defensive First Team, become an NBA All-Star, and won a gold medal in the Olympics with Team USA. And most of that happened in just the last year.
Upon entering the league, he and the L.A. Clippers were both considered underdogs, if even that; since then, they’ve both come a long way. He and the Clippers have had five consecutive 50-win seasons, whilst appearing in the postseason every year since 2012. And at 28 years old, he is already the franchise’s all-time leader in blocks (1,207), total rebounds (6,817), defensive rebounds (4,712), and offensive rebounds (2,105). He may not be a household name for most, but he’s already one of the most important players in Clippers history.
Upon Doc Rivers’ arrival in L.A. in 2013, Jordan was finally given the confidence and purpose he needed to utilize the tools he had at his disposal to become a defensive anchor and solid contributor offensively. What he lacks in offensive versatility, he more-than makes up for in efficiency, hustle, and defensive savvy. This has been the case for many years, and this season was no exception.
Perhaps Jordan’s biggest strength this season was his health. This is certainly not meant to downplay his immense contributions at both ends of the floor, but during a season when Chris Paul and Blake Griffin combined to miss 42 games, knowing that Jordan could always be relied upon created great peace of mind. Jordan played 81 games this year, missing just 1 in favor of rest. In fact, since the 2010-11 regular season, he has only missed a total of 7 games. He has maintained excellent consistency and health over the last several years, a rarity given his combination of size, position, and athletic intensity.
It is also quite possible that Jordan’s biggest strength is knowing precisely what his strengths are. During the 2016-17 season, he led the entire league in field goal percentage (71.4%), while leading the Clippers in rebounds (13.8) and blocks (1.7) per game; he has led the team in these three categories for each of the last three regular seasons. And he has been a reliable contributor at both ends of the floor.
Defensively, it is difficult to imagine where the Clippers might have been without Jordan. He averaged 10.1 defensive rebounds (2nd in the league) and 1.7 blocks (9th in the league, and 7th if you include only those with more than 31 games played this year) per game. But as important as his rebounding and shot-blocking have been this season, his skills stretch beyond traditional stats. His wingspan, vertical leap, and ability to quickly move laterally have made him a strong deterrent in the paint, forcing opponents into mid-range and perimeter shooting in half court sets. He has also been a very vocal leader at the defensive end, calling out switches and defensive assignments as plays develop. And on a team lacking isolation defenders, it is not uncommon to see Jordan covering two players at the same time.
Offensively, he has been extremely efficient around the rim; many perceive this to be nothing more than a demonstration of his limitations away from the paint. But no other starter in the league, nobody with his level of production, is even touching 70% shooting from the field. In fact, no player in NBA history other than Jordan has shot 70% from the field in multiple seasons. And this is the third straight season he has achieved such a milestone. Let that sink in.
What he does offensively transcends lob-catching and dunking. Jordan has been the ideal big man for pick and roll situations, the bread and butter of the Clippers offense. His ability to quickly identify ideal matchups against individual defenders, so that he may set appropriately-timed and well-located screens, has also led to wide-open looks for the Clippers’ many shooters all season long.
Shooting has remained, without a doubt, Jordan’s biggest weakness. While he shot more efficiently than anyone else in the league from the field, most of his shots were dunks or were within 5 feet of the basket. While he certainly improved his free throw shooting from last season (43.0%) to this season (48.2%), and while the “hack-a-DJ” strategy was implemented less frequently from opposing coaches this year, this will remain his greatest area of opportunity. His stroke looks great at the free throw line, and it is clear that he spent lots of time, prior to the start of the season (and throughout), working on his shot mechanics. Compared to last season, his shot trajectory has flattened a bit, ideal for a player of his height and wingspan.
There was also a lot of hope, heading into the season, that we might have seen significant improvements in his offensive repertoire. At times, especially following his well-chronicled workouts with Kevin Garnett, he displayed flashes of offensive versatility. Throughout the season, he showed us that he could finish a hook shot off of either hand, post-up against formidable big men, and bank shots in from 5-10 feet with either hand. The only problem is, these shots came with great irregularity and he didn’t appear particularly confident in patiently executing them. Even during Griffin’s long absence, Jordan simply stuck to what he knew best when the Clippers needed just a bit more.
For a player that is such a threat at the rim, it would have also been nice to see an improvement in his inside-out passing. Jordan’s assist numbers have been low his entire career, and it’s simply not a major facet of his game. But he often draws double-teams, or even an opposing team’s best defender, in and around the paint, leaving perimeter shooters wide open. Asking Jordan to capitalize upon an opportunity to pass more often may seem obscure, especially given his efficiency and strength around the basket, but it might have added a new wrinkle to a stale, predictable Clippers offense in desperate need of more motion and ball movement.
Future with Clippers:
Jordan is locked-in for at least one more season with the Clippers, and two if he decides not to opt-out and become an unrestricted free agent next year. He is still firmly in his prime, so his health, athleticism, and skill set could make him an ideal candidate for playoff-bound teams in need of rim protection in 2018. But Jordan has been through free agency before, and it seems pretty safe to say that he probably doesn’t want that experience ever again. But a lot will hinge upon the moves that the Clippers make this summer.
If Paul and Griffin both decide to sign multi-year max contracts this offseason, Jordan might be inclined to stay based upon the chemistry they’ve developed as well as their ability to compete at a high level. On the other hand, having three max players for the next several years creates significant salary cap limitations; building a deep, well-rounded team could become even more difficult. It should also be noted that the road to a championship isn’t getting any easier in the Western Conference. Teams in the Eastern Conference like the Celtics, Raptors, and Wizards all appear poised to be in the playoffs for the next few years and could all use better rim protection. Jordan’s role on this Clippers team could also become altered significantly if Paul and Griffin both decide to play elsewhere; maybe he becomes a better scorer out of sheer necessity, or maybe he becomes trade fodder if a rebuild is to occur.
In all likelihood, though, we will see more of the same from Jordan next season. He is going to be a solid defender and probably a double-double machine just as he was this season. But for now, we can only hope that we still have yet to see his best, and for many years to come.