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NBA Saturday: DeAndre Jordan Stepping up for Team USA

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On a U.S. Olympic squad featuring star players like Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, DeMarcus Cousins, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Draymond Green and so on, DeAndre Jordan has established himself as a difference maker and one of the team’s most important players. This is a nice development for Jordan, who has never made an NBA All-Star team and who has played third-fiddle for most of his career as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, and it is a welcome boost for Team USA.

Against Spain, Jordan pulled down a U.S. Olympic record 16 rebounds. He also contributed nine points, two assists and four blocks. Jordan’s defensive impact in the starting lineup over the last few games has made a big difference for Team USA, whose defense was giving up an absurd amount of points to less talented teams. That hasn’t been the case with Jordan playing a larger role over the last few games.

“The key to their game was defense,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. “Their athleticism and their size made our offense difficult in most of the possessions.”

“We would not be playing for the gold medal if DeAndre did not play that well,” said U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski.

This is especially true considering that DeMarcus Cousins fouled out of the game, meaning that Jordan had to play 27 minutes at center for Team USA. His ability to alter shots at and around the rim, rebound and run the floor made a significant difference for a U.S. team that needed every bit of production it could get out of its players. Additionally, while Pau Gasol put up big numbers for Spain, Jordan made him work for every point and often times had to shade off of Gasol to help a teammate, as he so often does with the Clippers. Despite Gasol’s gutsy performance, Jordan’s impact proved to be the difference and helped Team USA advance to the gold medal game against Serbia.

“It’s cool, man,” Jordan told USA TODAY Sports after Friday’s game against Spain. “It’s fun to be finally be able to have something to call your own a little bit.”

“Giving the guys touch shots, blocked shots, that’s the kind of player that I am. It just comes naturally.” Jordan said.

Jordan will never be a go-to offensive threat in the post, or someone who can step out and hit a jumper from 15 feet consistently like Cousins can. But Jordan’s game and insertion into the starting lineup has addressed one of the biggest issues that has plagued Team USA in these Olympics – defense. Despite have notable defensive players like Draymond Green, Paul George, Klay Thompson Jimmy Butler and even Cousins, Team USA has struggled to force turnovers and has repeatedly been abused by simple ball movement and cuts to the basket. This is a big part of why Team USA has been so vulnerable throughout the Olympics and it’s why Jordan’s added impact under the basket has been so important.

Jordan has, for the most part, been comfortable as a supporting player over his career. He started out his career in the NBA as a raw, but athletic big man who couldn’t overtake Chris Kaman as the team’s starting center. Then, when Blake Griffin joined the team, Jordan seemingly took on a new dedication towards his physical fitness and development on the court. Since then, Jordan has established himself as one of the most active defensive centers in the league. However, he has never held the sort of status that his teammates – specifically Griffin and Chris Paul – have held throughout their respective careers and over their time together in Los Angeles. So it’s no wonder why Jordan has seemingly enjoyed each and every moment of his time with Team USA this summer.

“For me, it’s great, starting for your country’s team, being a player on your country’s team, it’s amazing, it’s a huge honor to be up here,” Jordan said.

“I have one job on this team, that’s to come out and play with as much energy as I can,” he said. “Be me.”

Jordan has always had a big personality and for better or worse is often a prisoner to his emotions. While he has earned a strong reputation around the league with his defensive abilities, it is clear that not being more featured on offense has affected him in the past. That issue was reportedly one of the reasons why Jordan was so intrigued with the possibility of joining the Dallas Mavericks last offseason.

However, Jordan did get a bigger role with the Clippers last season due to Griffin’s multiple injuries. With Griffin out of the lineup, Jordan thrived as an off-ball screener for shooters like J.J. Redick, as a pick-and-roll partner to Chris Paul and as an all-around defensive force at the rim. While many people noted that the Clippers were seemingly playing a more effective brand with basketball without Griffin and with Jordan more featured in the offense, Jordan still never received the sort of adulation that a player like Griffin has earned for himself over the last few years.

Moving forward it will be interesting to see whether Jordan can take the positive energy and confidence that he has earned for himself in Rio and translate it over to this upcoming season with the Clippers. Jordan has improved each season and has done his part in putting the Clippers in a position to succeed. After several years of falling short of expectations and with Paul and Griffin able to walk away from Los Angeles after this next season as unrestricted free agents, the pressure is on for this team to deliver on their significant talent now.

Unfortunately for Jordan and the Clippers, the Golden State Warriors stand in their way and are for good reason considered the favorites to win the championship next season. If Jordan can be a big part of the Clippers either upsetting the Warriors or at least coming close to doing so, he should start to receive the sort of positive feedback and appreciation that his star teammates have received for years. But even if that scenario doesn’t play itself out, Jordan can pride himself on the contributions he made for Team USA and the honor of representing his country in the Olympics. As Coach K said, this team probably would not be playing for a gold medal were it not for Jordan.

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About Jesse Blancarte

Jesse Blancarte

Jesse Blancarte is a Senior NBA Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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