First of all, you can never understate the importance of size in the NBA.
While there are obviously instances of perimeter players being able to carry teams to championships without offensively reliable big men (see: Jordan, Michael), teams devoid of size rarely enjoy much prolonged success.
For example, the Houston Rockets have acquired a reputation in the last two years of being a scrappy, feisty team, but can’t be taken seriously as championship contenders without Yao Ming and his 7’6″ frame in the fold.
With the exception of Jordan’s Bulls teams that won six titles in the 1990s, teams with productive bigs are the teams that win championships.
The Lakers have won five titles between 2000 and 2010 with Shaquille O’Neal and Pau Gasol.
The Celtics won in their first season after acquiring Kevin Garnett, and reached the Finals last season.
The Spurs won four championships between 1999 and 2007. Tim Duncan was on all four teams. That’s no coincidence.
The Pistons and Heat won titles in 2004 and 2006, respectively, with guards as their primary offensive threats. Still, the Pistons had a strong frontline featuring Ben and Rasheed Wallace, while the Heat had Shaq.
So, I’m assuming you can see the trend by now.
The Los Angeles Clippers are one of very few teams in today’s NBA blessed with a solid crop of young, tall talent.
Chris Kaman was a Western Conference All-Star last season.
Blake Griffin is the odds-on favorite to take home the Rookie of the Year award, and has a legitimate shot at making the All-Star team as well.
DeAndre Jordan, a 6’11″ center in his third NBA season out of Texas A&M, has made significant strides this season while getting the opportunity to start in place of the injured Kaman.
The 22-year-old is averaging 6.7 points, 6.9 boards and 1.6 blocks per game this season.
While those numbers aren’t overwhelming, let’s look at how he’s improved as the year has progressed.
He averaged 4.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 0.6 blocks in November while playing a hair under 20 minutes a night.
In December, his numbers rose to 7.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 28 minutes per game.
So far in January (four games), Jordan is averaging 8.5 points, 12.3 rebounds and a whopping 4.0 blocks in 34 minutes of action.
I may not be a math expert, but those numbers all appear to be trending upward, no?
As the Clippers as a whole have improved, Jordan has done the same.
Jordan’s offensive game is still incredibly raw and undeveloped, as most of his offensive contributions come off of dunks and layups.
While that may seem like a cheap way to score points, there’s something to be said about getting high-percentage opportunities.
We’re used to seeing many of DeAndre’s dunks coming off of lobs from Baron Davis or Eric Bledsoe, but he’s also doing a tremendous job crashing the offensive glass.
He’s averaging 2.5 offensive rebounds per game on the year, and has an offensive rebound percentage of 11.9 this season. That means that he grabs 11.9 percent of all available offensive rebounds while on the floor.
To compare, the NBA’s leading rebounder, Kevin Love, has an offensive rebound percentage of 14.2.
Jordan’s defense has also been a huge contributing factor to the Clippers’ recent success.
He’s blocked a total of 23 shots total over the course of the last five games, and has helped the Clippers’ defensive efficiency improve drastically since their 1-13 start to the season.
Now, let’s compare him with the more offensively-oriented Kaman.
Last season, Kaman averaged a career-high 18.5 points per game while also grabbing 9.2 rebounds per. His offensive rebound percentage was 8.1.
He’s also not the defensive force that Jordan has become.
Kaman has been able to play in just 10 games so far this season due to an ankle injury, and was never able to really get comfortable playing alongside Blake Griffin.
He was averaging just over 10 points and seven rebounds per game in those 10 games while shooting a miserable 38 percent from the field. He shot 49 percent last season.
With Griffin having emerged as a legitimate offensive force on the low block, do the Clippers really need another offensively-oriented big clogging the paint?
The offense-defense combination of Griffin and Jordan seems to make a whole lot more sense than the offense-offense combination of Griffin and Kaman.
Jordan obviously still has a very long way to go in terms of improving his overall game, but as detailed above, he’s made some big-time strides so far this season.
With the young, potent offensive tandem of Griffin and guard Eric Gordon establishing itself, Kaman’s usefulness will almost certainly take a hit upon his return from the injury.
Head coach Vinny Del Negro has transformed the Clippers into a more up-tempo team in his first year on the job, while Kaman’s abilities are more suited for a half-court style offense.
Seven-footers that can score 20 points per game, rebound and defend the paint don’t grow on trees, so there’s always high demand for a guy of Kaman’s caliber.
If the Clippers believe that Jordan can continue to grow as a player and become a consistently productive starting center in this league, then dealing Kaman for a nice return would seem to be the right move.
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.