DeAndre Jordan’s defense remains a contentious topic around the league. While Doc Rivers has caught some justified heat for comparing DJ to Bill Russell and suggesting he should be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year, Rivers’ hyperbole should not obscure the fact that, after a rocky start to the season, Jordan has mostly been a reliable defender.
A crucial aspect of this improvement has been his increased awareness and ability to rotate and protect the paint. You may have heard Kevin Arnovitz mention it last week on Zach Lowe’s podcast, but the numbers demonstrate DJ has been a much improved rim protector since the start of the season. As it’s been a while since my original piece noting the trend, now seemed like a good time to quickly update the numbers, (especially since I reran the rim protection numbers just this past Saturday!)
In the chart below, DeAndre’s production has been broken down into four components. As Arnovitz alluded to, the endpoints for each segment are completely arbitrary. NBA.com/Stats does not yet have a date filter for player tracking data, so each block of dates represents the period of time where the site data was scrubbed and recalculated, which are presented along with the Clippers’ team defensive rating and their percentage allowed on all close shots during each period (league rank in parenthesis):
As noted in the original piece, for the first quarter or so of the season, Jordan was plain not good at protecting the rim. Not only was he allowing a well above average percentage on shots contested, with opponents converting 54.6 percent of these close shots, per NBA.com’s SportVU statistics, (league average for field goal percentage allowed at the rim for all 4’s and 5’s has held steady at right around 50 percent over the course of the season), but DeAndre was contesting around league average number of attempts at the rim per minute, factoring in the Clippers pace of play and propensity to allow close field goal attempts.
Since that time, there has been a stark improvement in both metrics, especially in terms of his ability to be close enough to shooters to contest shots. There was a blip right before the All-Star Break where, despite contesting a large number of shots, opponents were converting at a high rate.
Since the All-Star Break, his rim protection has been truly spectacular. Jordan is contesting 11.6 shots per game, raising his season average to 10.4 contests per game (tied for first in the league). He is contesting nearly 55 percent of opponents shots at the rim while he is on the floor. Over a full season, this would put Jordan sixth among all big men and second only to presumptive DPOY front runner Roy Hibbert among players averaging more than 20 minutes per game. DeAndre is “saving” just two points per game over the expectation of a league average big man (Points saved is an estimate of the effect a league average big man has on contesting shots at the rim with respect to both FG% allowed and number of contests, adjusted for pace and general team defense). This would rank fourth in the league behind Hibbert (far and away leader at over four points saved per game), Robin Lopez and only fractionally behind Andrew Bogut.
Over the course of the season, Jordan has gone from a clear negative (giving over an extra point per game versus an average defender) to strongly positive, saving almost three quarters of a point per game over an average defender. This puts him at around the 80th percentile of rim defenders, comparable to Dwight Howard and Amir Johnson. In fact, since that well-discussed poor start, he is saving approximately 1.75 points per game, which would also put him fourth for the entire season.
Of course, rim protection is only one component of individual defense. For example Ryan Hollins grades out as an excellent rim protector, but struggles at many other facets of defense. Though there remains much we can’t quantify just yet (SportVU data for such actions as pick-and-roll defense and individual post defense have not been made public), the things for which we can define value speak well of DJ. Axiomatically, rim protection and defensive rebounding are two of the primary defensive responsibilities for modern NBA bigs. With Jordan currently tied for league lead in defensive rebounding and the wholesale improvements noted above in terms of guarding the paint, perhaps Doc can be forgiven for praising DJ to the moon.