While more teams across the NBA endorse a philosophical shift toward small-ball lineups, legitimate seven foot centers are still one of the most prized commodities a team can possess. As a five star recruit out of Houston, Texas, there have long been high expectations for DeAndre Jordan.
Jordan played one season at Texas A&M, where he struggled to meet lofty expectations averaging 7.9 points and 6 rebounds during 20 minutes per game. Despite an underwhelming year in College Station, Jordan decided to jump to the NBA. Scouts liked his athleticism and awe-inspiring leaping ability for his size, but saw him as a raw offensive prospect with little range, no touch at the free throw line and minimal moves in the post. Jordan slipped to the 35th pick in the 2008 Draft before he was selected by the Clippers.
Early in his career, many of the questions about Jordan’s game limited his ability to get on the floor. He struggled mightily from the free throw line, shooting under 39 percent in both of his first two seasons. Combined offensive ability and a lack of refinement on the defensive end limited him to 16.2 minutes per game during his second season.
After taking over the starting center spot in the 2010-2011 season, his minutes jumped to 25 per game. He had a career best season in terms of field goal percentage (69%) and points per game (7.1). However, free throw shooting was still keeping him from being on the floor at the end of games, and his assist to turnover ration was an alarming 1 : 2.6. Despite his shortcomings, any player capable of dunks like this will get ample time and opportunity to develop.
This season, Jordan has taken his high-flying game to the next level. While his offensive repertoire has hardly evolved from shots inside, it’s hard to argue with 67 percent shooting from inside the paint.
Jordan has become more of a playmaker in 2014. This season, 8.9 percent of Jordan’s possessions have ended with an assist, up from only 3.9 percent last season. He’s also cut down the number of possessions ending in a turnover to 13.9 percent, much lower than earlier in his career.
Jordan’s rebounding has been even more impressive than his development offensively. He is averaging a ridiculous 13.9 rebounds per game. Jordan averages 19.6 rebound chances per game, the most in the NBA, indicating that he is consistently in the right spot on the floor. Only Andre Drummond can top Jordan’s 5.5 contested rebounds per game, and only KD and LeBron collect a higher percentage of their rebound chances (71 percent).
Lastly, this season has seen DeAndre put it together on the defensive end. Jordan has become a more active, vocal team defender, and is earning praise for his defensive effort from Coach Doc Rivers. Jordan is putting his seven foot frame to use by altering attempts at the rim. He defends 10.4 attempts at the rim per game, indicative of the Clippers struggles as a defensive unit. However, Jordan has been able to neutralize half of opponents’ close shots, eighth best in the NBA of players who defend 8+ such attempts per game.
Jordan’s development has been a big part of the Clippers’ improvement this year. If he can keep up this pace and the Clippers finish the season strong, I believe Jordan will win Most Improved Player. And if he can ever get past his free throw bugaboo, the league will be in big trouble.
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Note: All statistics as of 3/3.