Just under a year ago, following the resolution of the NBA lockout, the Clippers faced several big personnel decisions.
Seeking an upgrade over Ryan Gomes, where were they going to go to find a starting small forward?
How much would it cost to sign budding star guard Eric Gordon to an extension?
But perhaps the biggest decision of all came down to whether or not signing young center DeAndre Jordan to a lucrative deal would be in the team’s best interests.
The season prior, while filling-in for the oft-injured Chris Kaman, Jordan enjoyed his finest statistical year to date, averaging over seven points, seven rebounds and nearly two blocked shots per game.
The Warriors showed Jordan a huge four-year, $43 million deal, and he signed on the dotted line. As a restricted free agent, however, the Clippers had three days to either match the offer, or let him take his talents to the Bay Area.
There was a domino effect in agreeing to match on Jordan’s contract, as well. The aforementioned incumbent at his position, Chris Kaman, had been an All-Star as recently as 2010, but his contract with the Clippers was set to expire following the 2011-12 season.
Paying two centers a combined $22+ million in one season isn’t something the team should have wanted to do.
As we know, they matched on Jordan, and, a few days later, sent Kaman packing (along with Gordon) to New Orleans as a part of the trade that brought Chris Paul out west.
So, clearly, L.A. deemed the younger, more raw Jordan (then 23, now 24) a better investment than the veteran Kaman.
Much to the dismay of the team and Clipper fans, DeAndre really didn’t show much improvement last season. He “upped” his scoring average from 7.1 to 7.4, rebounds from 7.2 to 8.3, and blocks from 1.8 to 2.0.
While he was still obviously still extremely young and relatively inexperienced, the 2012-13 season would be his fifth in the NBA. Typically, if players are to break-out and fulfill their potential, they’ll start to really show it around year No. 3.
In Jordan’s case, his increased production appeared more a result of his increased minutes than of actual skill improvement. He still showed no signs of having a coherent offensive post game at all, instead getting the great majority of his points off of lob dunks or offensive rebound putback attempts.
The easiest comparison for Jordan was Tyson Chandler, now with the Knicks (he also thrived in his one season with Chris Paul in New Orleans). He can help lock-down the paint defensively, but his scoring wasn’t coming as a result of his own offensive prowess so much as it was his athleticism and opportunistic chances.
So far in 2012-13, however, DeAndre Jordan has looked like a new player.
Yes, he’s still the seven-footer that can jump higher than everybody else and will send your shot into the sixth row if you’re not careful, but offensively, he’s finding himself.
Through seven games (tiny sample size, I know), D.J. is averaging 11.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots per game.
He’s also leading the NBA in field goal percentage at 72 percent; a category annually dominated by big men for obvious reasons.
Sure, that field goal percentage is skewed a bit because Jordan still gets so many dunks, but the difference this season is that Jordan is actually creating many of these dunks and easy layups for himself.
With the ball in the post, he’s been quick and decisive, exuding a confidence offensively that we’ve never seen from him before. His footwork is no longer a clunky mess, and he’s shown very good touch on a little jump hook.
One of the things that killed the Clippers’ chances in the playoffs last season was that, due to his abysmal free-throw shooting numbers, they couldn’t afford to keep him on the floor during the game’s crucial waning moments.
As Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is wont to do, he would employ the “Hack-a-Jordan” philosophy; intentionally fouling Jordan as soon as he crossed half court, so as to make the big man make two foul shots rather than letting Paul or Blake Griffin potentially do damage offensively.
As a result, L.A. was severely undermanned defensively, without their big shot-blocking threat available to try and stop Tim Duncan and co.
While Jordan did miss his first seven free-throw attempts of this season, he’s gone 7-8 since. Gone is the awkwardly hitched shooting motion that would often result in airballs and bricks. He’s replaced it with a smooth, continuous motion. He actually looks, you know, like a real basketball player.
He scored 20+ points in consecutive games for the first time in his career in wins over the Spurs and Trail Blazers last week, while pulling down a total of 19 rebounds, to boot. Even more impressive perhaps is that he was able to do it on back-to-back nights while playing under 30 minutes in both games.
Jordan’s performance over that stretch was so impressive that it even prompted TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal to deem Jordan the “best center in the west.” Your thoughts, Dwight?
In Sunday’s Clipper win over the Hawks, a game in which neither team could seem to develop any offensive flow whatsoever until L.A. blew it open in the fourth, DeAndre scored eight points on 3-6 shooting with five boards in 24 minutes. For the majority of the game he was matched up with Atlanta’s Al Horford, commonly regarded as one of the league’s best defensive centers.
So, obviously, it’s still extremely early, and time will tell whether or not DeAndre Jordan has truly transformed himself as an NBA player.
However, if this is for real, then the Clippers may be a whole lot more dangerous in the Western Conference than anyone would’ve thought prior to the season.
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.