During the final two weeks of 2016, the Los Angeles Clippers lost six games in a row, falling to the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans, Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder. The team was struggling with the loss of Blake Griffin, and Chris Paul was nursing an injured hamstring.
The Clippers have a history of dealing with significant injuries. Last season, Griffin only played in 35 regular season games and, along with Paul, suffered a season-ending injury in the first round of the playoffs. While Griffin and Paul have missed a fair amount of games annually, DeAndre Jordan has been an ironman and has repeatedly done his part to hold the team together under difficult circumstances. We have seen that again over the last few weeks as Jordan has hit another level in production.
Since losing Griffin, Jordan has averaged 12.9 points, 15.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.7 blocks per game, while shooting 72.1 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from the free throw line. Jordan still isn’t a go-to scorer in the post or a reliable free throw shooter, but he has increased his level of productivity, is making things easier for his teammates and, perhaps most importantly, he’s staying healthy and has been a consistent presence on the court for the Clippers.
With Paul seemingly past his hamstring injury and Jordan continuing to produce on both ends of the court, the Clippers have won their last six games. In Saturday’s matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers, Jordan logged 24 points, 21 rebounds, one steal and two blocks, while shooting 12-of-13 from the field. It was Jordan’s second consecutive performance where he scored in double-digits and pulled in over 20 rebounds. It was also the seventh game this season in which he’s hauled in over 20 rebounds.
“He’s contributing in multiple factors,” said Austin Rivers after Saturday’s game against the Lakers. “He’s not only being a great defensive threat like he always is, but he’s scoring, he’s rebounding. He’s doing multiple things on the floor. And his presence overall tonight was crazy.”
Scoring over 20 points isn’t common for Jordan, but fortunately the Clippers don’t rely on him for scoring, even with Griffin out of the lineup.
“Nights where he doesn’t even score a lot, when he rolls like that to the basket it just creates so much offense because people are so scared of that lob, they have to play it and we have a lot of shooters and scorers that can capitalize off that,” Rivers said.
Rivers is correct that Jordan’s ability to rise up and throw down lobs is a lethal part of the Clippers’ offensive attack. When Griffin was sidelined last season, the Clippers’ offense shifted toward featuring a heavy dose of pick-and-roll sets between Paul and Jordan. With Jordan constantly diving to the rim, defenses had to decide whether to pack the paint and prevent the lob, which left several shooters open on the perimeter, or stick on the Clippers’ shooters while letting Jordan do his damage at the rim. It was a pick-your-poison scenario that served the Clippers well last season and is benefiting them again this year.
While Jordan’s impact on offense has been clear, he will always be most valuable to the Clippers on the defensive side of the court. When Jordan entered the league, he always seemed to be aimless and out of position. After more than eight seasons in the NBA, Jordan has established himself as one of the best defensive centers in the league.
“I thought he disrupted everything,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after Saturday’s game. “He makes you not want to drive, not get to the basket, and I thought it really allowed our guards to get into the ball on pressure.”
Doc has been Jordan’s biggest supporter since he took over as head coach of the Clippers back in 2013. When Rivers first took over, he firmly asserted that the Clippers had a Big Three comprised of Paul, Griffin and Jordan. People in and around the NBA sneered at Rivers’ bold claim, but now there is no doubt that Jordan more than deserves such a designation.
“He’s a beast,” Orlando Coach Frank Vogel said about Jordan recently. “He’s really tall, really long and really athletic. He understands angles and the shot-fake and shot-block game. He’s one of the best in the business.”
There has been a recent influx of talented big men in the NBA, many of whom have more diverse skill sets than Jordan. Players like DeMarcus Cousins, Marc Gasol, Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams and Joel Embiid are just a few of the centers who have established themselves as some of the best overall big men in the league. Some of them can shoot from beyond the arc, some can effectively score in the post and some are fundamentally more effective on the defensive end of the court, such as Gobert. However, Jordan provides the Clippers with the thing they need most: A center who can dive to the rim as a constant lob threat and can anchor their defense.
“He’s always talking, he’s always letting us know screens are coming, that you’re by yourself, on your own,” said Raymond Felton recently. “He lets you know what the plays are.”
The Clippers have been through this process before. As good as Jordan has been, this team isn’t going anywhere unless both Paul and Griffin are healthy heading into the playoffs. While Jordan should be commended for stepping up his production in both of the last two seasons, he simply can’t take this team deep into the postseason without help.
Even with everyone healthy and on the court, the Clippers are still outgunned by the Golden State Warriors and, at best, on par with the San Antonio Spurs and maybe even the Houston Rockets. Whether the Clippers finally make it past the second-round this year or not, the likelihood is that Jordan will be on the court doing more than his fair share, just like he has been over the last few seasons.
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