Up until a few months ago, it was always so easy to cast doubt on DeAndre Jordan's case as a fully realized star. The weaknesses were too glaring, and the strengths were conveniently dependent on his placement beside two of the NBA's 10 best players, under a head coach who never stops turning lemons into lemonade. Context was always necessary when citing Jordan's name among the game's top centers, on both ends of the floor.
There's no denying now that the 26-year-old is consistently very good; for sure worthy of the max contract he'll sign this summer. He's also never been more fascinating.
Let's start with one thing no rational person can argue: Jordan is the best rebounder in the league. It's rare for the NBA's most athletic player to also exist as its strongest and most physically imposing. The skyscraper-smashing intensity that once was reserved for snatching Chris Paul's perfectly placed lobs now applies to every single area of Jordan's game. The result is an untamable savagery that's rivaled by very few.
His 14.4 rebounds per game is best in the league. His defensive rebound percentage and total rebound percentage are also second to none (Jordan finished fourth and second, respectively, in both categories last season.)
Rebounding is important for every team, but it's vital for these Clippers. Jordan limits opposing possessions while simultaneously increasing opportunity for the league's very best offense. Playing for Doc Rivers, a coach who prefers well-executed transition defense over offensive rebounding, Jordan still hauls in 15.7 percent of L.A.'s missed shots when on the floor, which is the second highest rate in the league. Keeping him away from the offensive glass is more difficult (and less desirably) than eating a brick.
The Clippers average 113.4 points per 100 possessions with Jordan on the court and just 101.8 when he rests. Poor bench play and Paul's wizardry have a lot to do with this stat, but generally speaking Jordan helps out a ton.
Right now, Jordan's field goal percentage is up to an NBA-leading 71.7 percent (up from 67.6 percent a year ago and 64.3 percent in 2012 -- both topped the league). ESPN's Real Plus-Minus stat ranks him as the third best offensive center in the league. Naysayers will correctly point out Jordan's inability to score beyond one foot of the basket. This is true, and also irrelevant. The Clippers don't ask Jordan to do what he can't, and he doesn't stray from the script. The goal is to win, and this is the best way for L.A. to do so.
According to Synergy, Jordan's attempted only 25 field goals from post-up situations this season, and his .80 points per possession mark falls into the 45th percentile. You can also forget about isolations because Jordan literally never takes his man one-on-one.
Instead, he often contributes in ways that escape numerical evaluation. Imagine for one second you're guarding either Jamal Crawford or Paul at the top of the key. Now, picture having to do so while navigating around a mobile Redwood who Paul and Crawford weave around like a giant traffic cone. Jordan crushes people with his picks. He frees teammates on and off the ball, smoothing out any wrinkles and making sure L.A.'s sets are executed in a timely manner.
After a screen is set he dives to the rim, and the entire defense is presented with the basketball equivalent of a sticky Rubik's cube. Here's what happens when a defender slides off his man to help on Jordan's roll.
And here's what happens when the Clippers surround Jordan and Paul with three snipers instead of two. The floor is naturally more open when a three-point shooter is spacing it in Blake Griffin's place.
Jordan is in the 94th percentile as scorer out of pick-and-rolls, averaging 1.41 points per possession. Tyson Chandler made people appreciate rolling bigs who open shots up on the perimeter. Jordan forced us to realize how unfair it can be.
Jordan's worked well beside Griffin over the past few years, particularly on high-low passes that have become virtually unstoppable. But Jordan's shooting 74.4 percent when Griffin isn't on the court, and "just" 66.7 percent when he is. (Jordan's averaging 15.8 points and 19.2 rebounds per game since Griffin went down with an elbow injury last month.)
The positives are clear, but so are the problems. Jordan may be the worst free-throw shooter in the league. If his current "accuracy" holds up, he'll join Wilt Chamberlain as the second player in NBA history to finish below 41 percent on at least 300 attempts. Still, Rivers has opted not to pull Jordan when opposing coaches resort to Hack-a-Shaq tactics. Why would he? No player is perfect, and Jordan deserves exoneration. He influences several other areas that are more directly tied to wins and losses, and the Clippers are 14-4 when Jordan attempts at least five free-throws in a game, which is his average).
Okay, speaking of other areas: Defense!
Teammates and coaches could not sing louder praise if they wanted. (Doc Rivers on Jordan: "He's clearly Defensive Player [of the Year]-if anybody else gets that, we ought to have an investigation. What he's doing defensively, if he were doing that offensively, he would be recognized as the MVP." Um, let's settle down.)
We'll start by confirming that most of what's been said is fair and accurate. Jordan is good enough to warrant consideration for Defensive Player of the Year: He's fifth in block percentage, sixth in defensive rating and second in defensive win shares, per Basketball-Reference. Jordan swallowed Zach Randolph whole in a recent head-to-head matchup (Z-Bo went 2-for-12) against the Memphis Grizzlies, and crushed Pau Gasol in L.A.'s huge road win over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday.
Time to dig a little deeper. The Clippers are an average defense, and this season, they allow 1.7 more points per 100 possessions when Jordan is on the court than when he isn't. ESPN's RPM ranks him 51st in Defensive Plus-Minus among all players.
Jordan also allows 0.82 points per possession as a post-up defender, per Synergy, which ranks in the 58th percentile. That's not terrible, but doesn't compare to reliable roadblocks like Andrew Bogut, Dwight Howard and even Rudy Gobert. The numbers also say Jordan is merely average protecting the rim. Per SportVU, opponents are shooting 49.3 percent at the basket when Jordan guards it. By comparison, Amar'e Stoudemire, Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins and Jonas Valanciunas are posting stiffer numbers this season. Jordan doesn't deter ball-handlers from firing it up in the paint, either; according to NBA.com's media site, roughly 33 percent of all L.A.'s opposing shots arrive within five feet of the rim whether Jordan's on the floor or not.
Overall he's a quality defender, but Jordan has yet to scrape the surface of what he can do protecting the rim. There's no reason why he's yet to master the art of verticality. The ingredients are there, but Jordan still commits unnecessary fouls and can't prevent easy buckets as often as he should.
Now for that bit of context we're so fond of. Aside from Paul, the Clippers have no plus defenders on their roster. Jordan stands at the mercy of having Griffin, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis and Spencer Hawes (a travesty) as tag-team partners in the frontcourt. Crawford and Austin Rivers can't guard anyone. Barnes is good for a possession here and there, but isn't what he once was. Nobody's ever confused J.J. Redick with Tony Allen.
Jordan holds everything together. He's vocal, always yelling out pick-and-roll schemes (ICE, ICE, ICE!) and reminding the guys up front to switch screens in any any late-game situation, or when the shot clock is winding down. Jordan never stops moving, snuffing out cutters from the weak side and severely limiting any daylight the offense has to work with.
Here, he informs Barnes and Hawes that he's rotated over to the strong side, letting them know they don't have to switch the high screen, preventing a mismatch that would've placed Hawes on Jimmy Butler.
He's the most durable player in the league -- which counts for quite a bit -- and goes all out every night, on every single possession. Between the Chamberlain-esque efficiency and feats of physical strength nobody on this planet can match (he's the most impressive dunker on a team that employs Blake Griffin), Jordan is either distracting you into believing he's great, or convincing you that he actually is.
Now is not the time to be bearish.