One of the ways analysts project a player’s production is through similarity scores; other players of comparable attributes and stats, then integrate that information into the player one is projecting. ClipperBlog has opened up the archives looking for historical comparables to key members of the 2012-13 Los Angeles Clippers team. Today is 2012-13 DeAndre Jordan and 2006-07 Tyson Chandler. This is the first in a series of four.
Few young players have watched their stock rise and fall as precipitously or as frequently as DeAndre Jordan. A “can’t miss prospect” out of high school, the bouncy big was underplayed in his one year at Texas AM, falling to the second round if the draft amid rumors of “character problems.”
As a pro, he moved in rapid succession from “project” to “promising,” “underrated” to “over paid,” and now, as the pendulum continues to swing, seems to be headed towards “elite big.” Through it all, fans and commentators have doubted his maturity, wondering after every blown rotation if DeAndre would ever, really “get it.”
But such perceived highs and lows aren’t unusual for elite bigs-to-be. Watch Tyson Chandler today and you see a master at his craft; he has preternatural awareness of how to take up space usefully, not only setting picks or grabbing boards, but understanding exactly how his position affects the spacing of the other nine men on the court. His movement on offense is so intentioned and subtle that it sometimes seems like he’s setting one, continuous, illegal (and unenforceable) screen.
So it bears remembering the state of his career and reputation heading into his fourth year in the league. Drafted alongside Eddie Curry to the be the centerpiece of the new “Baby Bulls,” Chandler struggled with expectations in Chicago, and was soon being referred to as a “Baby Bust” by Chicago columnists like Jay Mariotti. Chandler was traded to New Orleans before his fifth season, where he arrived with a shaky reputation as a defensive specialist with no discernible offensive skill. It’s hard to believe now, but many Hornet diehards worried he would steal minutes from promising rookie Hilton Armstrong.
Of course, we know what happened: teamed with Chris Paul, Chandler established himself as a master of weak-side help and the pick and roll. Patrolling the paint is a process of analyzing data and making split-second decisions. Who’s helping where? How long should I help contain the ballhandler before retreating to find the roll man? Like a quarterback making coverage reads, the defensive big must learn to anticipate a developing play. Get enough reps and the game “slows down,” mostly because the decision making process becomes internalized – the gap between analysis and action is replaced by honed instinct.
This kind of growth can be hard to measure statistically. Despite an uptick in usage rate, DeAndre’s offensive and defensive ratings this season are pretty similar to last year. But it’s rare to watch a game and not see the difference. Take an unspectacular moment from Saturday’s somnambulant blowout over the Suns. Late in the first half, DeAndre out-jumped Marcin Gortat and Michael Beasley for an offensive rebound. He gathered the ball on the low block, and secured it by raising it above his head. Then, he took a moment, using his purview as the tallest man on the floor to survey the motion on the court. He held the ball for another second, then dropped off an easy pass to Blake for a baseline layup. There was nothing spectacular about the play, other than that he never would have made it last season. DeAndre’s arsenal has always contained the violent dunk, now he’s added the patient decision.
There will still be times this season when DeAndre will make oblivious-seeming mistakes that test the confidence of both Clipper fans and, clearly, his head coach. But the key is to withhold game by game judgment – focus on the reps, the mechanics, the steady reduction in mental errors. The physical tools are there, the data in his brain continues to accumulate. Remember: The alternative is Hilton Armstrong.