Traditionally in basketball, the big man has a disproportionate amount of influence on the complexion of a game. There are exceptions, to be sure, but anyone who has played at any level knows the feeling of taking the court, only to see the opposing team trot out some overgrown behemoth with the power to alter every shot and pull down every board.
We may be witnessing a golden era of point guards, and the game’s best two players might play on the wings, but there is and always will be a reason why Michael Olowakandi and Kwame Brown are deemed worthy of the top pick in the draft. There is just something about the potential dominance of size.
In DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers have one of those guys. Well, not one of those guys, thankfully. But he’s never played like one of those guys — not for any extended period of time, at least — and since the acquisition of Chris Paul, the script has been flipped, turned upside down. Whatever success they’ve had has been driven not by their most physically imposing player, but their least.
[Insert “it’s preseason” caveat here] But things could be about to change.
No, DeAndre Jordan isn’t likely to surpass Paul or Blake Griffin as the “best” player on the team, but things are looking up. And it comes at a perfect time for the Clips, who are facing an ongoing battle to get productive minutes in the frontcourt behind their starters.
Yesterday on TrueHoop, Beckley Mason compiled a list of guys who have showcased new wrinkles to their games this preseason. In soliciting observations from the crowd, he used DeAndre’s newfound jump hook as an example of what you can learn from exhibition games that don’t count in the standings. And from a scouting perspective, it has to be encouraging to see a 24-year old with his athletic ability tossing in baby hooks with his off hand with some consistency.
But when the regular season starts, “DeAndre on the block” doesn’t figure to be a huge part of the Clippers’ offensive gameplan. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will get a majority of the touches, and that makes sense.
So, equally impressive as what he’s done with the ball has been the consistent effort Jordan has shown to get the ball. It seems as though he’s finally come to the realization that his biggest obstacle is probably himself. Few, if any centers can match his physical gifts, and he appears determined this season to prove that.
With two preseason games left to go, take a look at what he’s done so far:
- Playing almost as many minutes per game (26.3) as he did last season (27.2), his points (13.5) and rebounds (9.3) are up from 7.4 and 8.3 last season. If you take out his low game of the preseason (in which he only pulled down two boards but scored 14 points on 7-10 shooting, so you could hardly say he wasn’t engaged), his rebounding average goes up to 10.8.
- So what? It’s the preseason. But as we’ve noted, he’s shown some nifty new moves that aren’t likely to just disappear once the season starts. And most importantly, as his shot attempts (8 per game) have gone up from 4.9 last year, his efficiency has, too: After shooting 63.2 percent last year, he’s up to 70.8 percent, despite the increased attempts coming with a higher degree of difficulty.
- What does this mean for the regular season? For many reasons, including his eye-opening preseason and the lack of depth behind him, we can expect his playing time to tick up. Per 36 minutes (which, ideally, would be close to the minutes he’ll get), he’s averaging 18.5 points and 12.3 rebounds.
Who knows how this will translate. What we do know is that against teams like Denver and Utah, he was going against legitimate starting centers. And in two games against the Heat, who play Chris Bosh at the 5, he went 11-12 from the floor with 25 rebounds. And that’s kind of the point.
Very few teams feature the kind of player that can match up physically with DeAndre Jordan. We all love Eric Bledsoe, but no matter how explosive he may be, he’ll always be 6-foot-1. There is just no substitute for size, and so for those who have it, like DeAndre, it’s all about how you use it.
Up until this point, something was holding him back — and it was rarely opposing players. Mostly, it was himself. His energy level, his drive to show hard on screens and fight for every rebound, his discipline to stay down on shot fakes. It’s all up to him, and if this preseason is any indication, he’s decided that it’s his time.
It can’t feel good for a 24-year old, with his ability to dominate NBA players, to be dismissed as a “bad contract,” but so it goes when you score and rebound in the single digits and can’t stay on the floor in 4th quarters. But from the looks of things, he’s ready to give his coach no choice but to leave him in — regardless of the free throws. And in doing so, he just might come to the rescue when his team needs him most.