LOS ANGELES — This has been quite the 12 months for DeAndre Jordan.
A quick recap of his past year: A four-year max contract with the Clippers after the infamous emoji war; a series of national commercials with State Farm; a first-team All-NBA selection and first-team All-Defense selection (his second consecutive nod); and a spot on the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team.
Things have changed so rapidly for Jordan that he hasn’t had time to process his newfound fame and success.
“Not really,” Jordan said. “I’ve kind of just been on the go. I definitely took a second to think about it and how lucky I am and how blessed I am.”
For some reason, though, it still feels like Jordan is usually overlooked in NBA conversations. He definitely has a presence, to some extent, but it seems like he should be a more prominent figure given his dominant skill set.
DeAndre Jordan looks like a 2k create-a-player against China right now pic.twitter.com/DvPEsJf0bX
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) July 25, 2016
In Clipper Land, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Doc Rivers — heck, even Steve Ballmer and Austin Rivers at times — clearly command more attention. Besides the ongoing Hack-a-Shaq discussion and the week-long fiasco over his free agency last summer, Jordan remains tucked away in the shadows until the next SportsCenter Top 10 play. It’s perplexing.
When pundits made predictions for the Olympic roster, Jordan was often left off as an afterthought, despite having valuable skills that would theoretically translate against smaller and less athletic competition. Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, DeMarcus Cousins, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and Andre Drummond were all names that popped up ahead of him, and rightfully so, to varying degrees.
But perhaps now that all of those guys either dropped out or didn’t make the cut (besides Cousins), and Jordan did, has a rare opportunity to expose his talents to the world’s basketball-loving masses.
Through two games with Team USA, it’s clear that Jordan will serve as the roster’s primary rim-protector, roll man and finisher, as he’s done for several years now with the Clippers. That was all on display Sunday night, when the U.S. team easily dispatched of the Chinese Olympic team, 106-57, in a pre-Olympics exhibition game at Staples Center.
In the game’s opening moments, Jordan, who started because the game was in LA and received the loudest pre-game cheers, bodied and swatted Chinese center Wang Zhelin, ran the floor in transition, and finished an alley-oop pass from Kyle Lowry with a thunderous dunk.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) July 25, 2016
It was everything that makes him so effective in a six-second span — the type of Vine sequence Clippers fans are used to. All in all, Jordan finished with 12 points, five rebounds, three blocks and two steals in 17 minutes.
Jordan’s game is simple: He sets solid screens, rolls down the lane and sucks in defenders, dunks anything within an arm’s reach of the rim, grabs and tips out offensive rebounds, protects the paint and deters drivers, cleans the glass defensively, and does a solid job switching onto smaller players in a pinch.
That’s the meat and potatoes of his skill set, and it works against him sometimes.
He’s tall and he’s long and he’s more athletic than just about everyone else, so logic dictates he should be effortlessly swatting shots and dunking on opponents and setting emphatic screens. That’s what big men with his athletic gifts are supposed to do. The issue is only few — if any — ever do those things as well as Jordan does, and that fact is often underappreciated. There’s a lot of steak with his sizzle.
As Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski pointed out in his postgame press conference, Jordan does the game’s dirty work at “the highest level,” and is even more impressive in person.
“As much as I’ve seen him on TV, I’ve never seen him in person,” Krzyzewski said. “This week, just to learn about him, as good as I thought he was on TV and on tape, he’s better. He’s really one of the great players in the league right now, and an amazing teammate.
“He does dirty work willingly, but he does it at the highest level. I think he’s a special player.”
— NBA (@NBA) July 25, 2016
When Jordan was drafted by the Clippers with the 35th pick in 2008, pundits and fans fell in love with the idea of his potential. Despite being a second-round pick, Jordan had the size, length and transcendent athleticism to develop into a two-way force, if only he could somehow meld it all together.
He struggled out of the gates, initially proving his doubters right with his inability to pick up the nuances of good NBA defense. But eight years later, Jordan has grown into the player many believed he could eventually be, and probably accomplished more than most thought possible.
“It’s been a long journey for me, man,” Jordan said when asked about his recent success. “From being a second-round pick and not really playing a lot my first year. Just sticking it out and just working. Honestly, having a little luck, too. It’s been great. I feel like it’s starting to pay off.”
Even the most optimistic Clippers fans didn’t expect this. Yet here we are.
If there’s a silver lining over the past few Clippers seasons, it’s that Jordan finally reached — and likely exceeded — his vast potential. Most second-round picks wash out of the league, and the few that find niches rarely reach stardom.
Jordan tapped out his potential and, at just 28 years old, could still improve in theory (he has yet to make an All Star team, which one has to be assume will happen soon). That can’t be said enough.
Jordan’s emergence has been lost amid other Clippers storylines — Blake Griffin trade rumors; Doc Rivers’ questionable front-office decision-making; the Rivers’ family dynamic — that are more compelling and polarizing to a national audience preoccupied with drama and conflict.
But DeAndre Jordan’s remarkable journey to stardom shouldn’t go unnoticed, and with the appreciable platform of the Olympics in front of him, it likely won’t be neglected for long.
“I feel like everything happens for a reason,” Jordan said. “I’m glad that I took the journey. I’m glad that I did the ride. It makes it all that much better.”