Now that all the offseason hullabaloo is finally done and dealt with, let’s get back to our player preview series. This piece on DeAndre Jordan was penned by Charlie Widdoes:
Eric Gordon may have commanded the majority of the offseason buzz with his performance for Team USA, but he is not the only 2008 draftee Clippers fans should be thinking about heading into this season. When the team drafted DeAndre Jordan in the 2nd round (35th overall), many familiar with his pedigree saw it as a move with little risk attached that could potentially pay huge benefits down the road.
In two seasons, he has remained on course thanks in part to a very patient approach form the organization. Entering his third pro season, Jordan has improved enough to earn a chance to join the Clippers’ regular rotation this season, and the way he performs could have a major impact for the team and for his future.
Between Mike Dunleavy and Kim Hughes, the team gave Jordan every opportunity to grow as a player, and was very clear about their expectations for him. They told him that if he rebounded and played defense, he would play. When they traded Marcus Camby, Jordan responded to increased playing time with a strong finish to the season, grabbing 10 or more rebounds in eight of the team’s final 15 games, while shooting over 60% from the floor. He will be 22 years old this season, and while he has a chance to make a difference, he still has some major flaws that could limit his potential. For one, he is a career 38% free throw shooter. He has yet to show any refined post moves, and while his propensity to try to dunk everything is a nice fastball to Chris Kaman’s changeup, teams can send him to the line with the confidence that he won’t punish them.
How He Fits
Jordan has established himself as an NBA-quality finisher at the rim, shot-blocker, and rebounder. He also tends to be an extremely efficient player offensively because most of his shots come so close to the basket. His numbers per 36 minutes (11.1 rebounds, 10.6 points, 2.0 blocks) suggest he may be ready to fulfill the role of backup center in the Clippers’ rotation. Even if Chris Kaman is healthy, which is no sure thing, there is a role for a big man off the bench who can provide what Jordan can on the glass and on the defensive end. In summer league, acting head coach Dean Demopolous (likely with direction from Vinny Del Negro) featured Jordan heavily in the offense, a move that may provide insight into their expectations for his development this season.
They made a point to involve Jordan, both in the low post and on the high screen and roll with Eric Bledsoe. By going to him on nearly every half court possession early in summer league, despite plenty of rough moments, the Clippers gave even more indication that they want to see DeAndre seize a spot in the rotation. He still has a long way to go in getting good post position, as well as finishing with post moves and short jumpers, but the skills he does have can be valuable to the team if applied consistently. Compared to the top five players in the league in blocked shots– Dwight Howard (11.4), Andrew Bogut (5.4), Josh Smith (7.4), Brendan Haywood (11.3) and Marcus Camby (9) – 82games.com’s shot block rating shows Jordan (7.2) actually looks like he belongs.
During a broadcast last season, Ralph Lawler noted that the team considered DeAndre to be a year ahead of his expected development schedule. Considering the improvement he showed down the stretch after Camby left, it’s reasonable to believe that he could fulfill a rotation spot this season as Kaman’s backup. An ideal situation would have DeAndre emerge as a defensive difference maker and a glass controller, all while remaining comfortable and efficient enough on offense to go from rotation big man in 2010-11 to NBA starting center by the time Kaman’s contract expires. At that point, the team will have to begin paying Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin substantially more than they are making on their rookie deals, and it will be up to DeAndre to show he’s deserving of a pay raise as well.
DeAndre Jordan’s ceiling is the reason why many Clippers fans were ecstatic to see the team take him in the draft. He has the combination of size and athleticism to be one of the best rebounding and defending big men in the league. His offensive game still has glaring weaknesses, but he also does a few things so well (rebound and dunk), that consistent effort could make him a very valuable weapon off the bench. With another year of development and continued playing time, Jordan could actually make Kaman expendable, at least by the time his contract comes up after next season. He isn’t there yet, but he certainly has that type of potential if he can improve his free throw shooting and develop some basic post moves.
When he was a freshman at Texas A&M, his coach, Mark Turgeon, said he was an 18-year old kid going on 12. His emotional development has always been as important to his career as his ability to rebound. While the organization has been patient with him and generally encouraged by his progress, Clippers fans have seen DeAndre Jordan’s floor, at least the NBA version, and it has been pretty ugly at times. That he is such an exceptional athlete for his size only accentuates the wayward movement of his body when it goes the wrong way. As was the case with Dunleavy and Hughes, Jordan will contribute as a backup big if he can rebound and play defense with consistent effort.