While the roles for the other four starters are still somewhat up in the air, DeAndre Jordan’s remains the same as it ever was: Defend the rim, rebound, and dunk everything.
What’s becoming more clear over time though is that Jordan will have to take the tougher individual defensive matchup in the frontcourt each and every game due to Blake Griffin’s deficiencies on that end.
Portland provided a perfect test for that strategy. To start the game, though, the Clippers matched up traditionally. Griffin covered his power forward counterpart LaMarcus Aldridge, and Jordan matched up against one-time mentor Marcus Camby.
Aldridge is one of the most underrated scorers in basketball. Scoring 21.8 points per game last season on a True Shooting Percentage of 54.9%, Aldridge put the Blazers on his back and was one of the game’s best offensive players down the stretch last year.
Early on in the matchup against Portland, Griffin had his hands full covering Aldridge.
The video above is a good example of Griffin’s limitations. Lacking the height or length to challenge, Griffin allows Aldridge to get a completely uncontested shot from his favorite spot on the floor (15-footer).
After a few more instances of Aldridge releasing his silky smooth jumper right over the top of Griffin without any hesitation, Vinny Del Negro switched the matchup and gave Jordan one of the tougher assignments the league has to offer.
Jordan has primarily been considered a good help defender in the past, but now he’s evolving into a very good individual defender in the post.
In the video above, watch how DeAndre fights hard through the screen so he can meet Aldridge at the spot and push him further away from the basket. Also notice how Jordan maintains body contact all the way throughout — a critical step in not allowing Aldridge the space to face up immediately on the catch like he did against Griffin in the previous video.
Once Aldridge gets the ball, notice how active Jordan is with his hands. By tracing the ball and keeping his arm up in the passing lane, Jordan eliminates the kickout to Gerald Wallace on the wing.
This forces Aldridge to make a move, and Jordan wisely overplays Aldridge’s right hand, forcing him to spin left. Once this happens, Jordan sits all over the fadeaway (Aldridge’s favorite move to that shoulder) and forces an airball.
Aldridge is a good scorer because of his high release and soft touch, but he has about a grand total of three post moves: a right-handed jump-hook, a turnaround over the right shoulder, and a turnaround over the left shoulder.
Watch how Jordan plays to each move on one possession. He sits all the way on Aldridge’s left shoulder, eliminating the jump hook. Once Aldridge spins baseline, Jordan recovers and cuts off a potential drop step. Now out of steps, Aldridge spins back to his right and travels. The blocked shots are what get noted in the statbook, but forcing turnovers like this one are what makes post defenders like Chuck Hayes and Kendrick Perkins so valuable.
Jordan’s incredible length and athleticism have always made him a plus defender, but his improved strength and awareness is what’s helping him handle the likes of Tim Duncan and Aldridge early on this season.
Here’s a familiar play — Marcus Camby, an amazing passer from the high post, gives Aldridge a good entry pass on the left block. Aldridge has pretty good position on Jordan, so Jordan widens his base and stands his ground, forcing Aldridge to momentarily lose the ball and kick it back out.
Here’s where Jordan’s strength comes into play. After getting the initial post opportunity in the paint, Jordan pushes Aldridge back out a few more feet on the re-post and gains the territory advantage, forcing Aldridge to face-up since he’s too far from the bucket. Jordan doesn’t bite on the initial pump-fake (something he would have done in year’s past) and instead uses his quick hands and leaping ability to force Aldridge into a fadeaway, high arcing shot that misses.
After some initial success to start the game, Jordan only allowed one true post-up score to Aldridge the rest of the way, forcing him into an inefficient 9-for-21 night from the field with two free throw attempts and a points per possession mark of .79 – way below his season average last year of 1.01 PPP.
Considering the leaky defense of the Clippers perimeter players, Jordan’s help defense will still be his biggest contribution to the team. However, if he can continue to lock up some of the game’s best frontcourt scorers, he’ll make himself all the more valuable — and plenty worthy of the long-term contract he signed this offseason.
Editor’s note: Nick Flynt also contributed to this post.