Trying to live up to high expectations too quickly can cause a lot of hardships for a young NBA player. Yet, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan has been able to remain true to his game instead of attempting to do too much after the new contract he received from the Clippers. The 23-year old big man has already shown why the Clippers Front Office were so quick on their heels to lock him up long term during this offseason. Averaging more than 8 points, 8 rebounds and nearly 3 blocks per game, Jordan has displayed why the Clippers coaching staffed labeled him as the defensive anchor of the squad. After witnessing a big jump in the development of his game last season, heís now picked up right where he left off, displaying his high basketball IQ on the defensive end. And make no mistake about it; this type of player does not come around so often for the Clippers. The last time Clipper Nation has seen a player average at least 8 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks was Benoit Benjamin in the 1987-88 NBA season.
A great sign of an intelligent ball player is when they are able to evaluate their mistakes and make the correct adjustments in a short period of time, and thatís what Jordan is doing. A simple stat can be very telling, and may even be the most impressive off all. D.J. had a hard time staying on the floor in big games last season, as he averaged 3.2 fouls in 25.6 minutes per game. This season, Jordan has dropped his fouls just slightly to 3.1 a game. However, that slight margin becomes all the more impressive when we take into account that his playing time has risen to over 30 minutes per game. We now see what an offseason of watching tape and working endlessly can do. Weíre now watching Jordanís highly improved body control, remarkable timing to block and alter shots in the paint, and more discipline on the defensive end to place himself in spots to stay out of foul trouble. These are the intangibles that Jordan brings to the floor. It will be the little things, like not picking up that extra foul early in the game, that will allow Jordan to conduct his business on court and anchor the Clippers into the postseason.
The Effects of Paul
When a team has a point guard of Chris Paulís caliber out due to injury, things will change. Roles will be adjusted as some players will have to do more to compensate the loss of the man that conducts and orchestrates the offense. Nevertheless, this usually leads to a less efficient style of basketball, and thatís been the case with the Clippers.
In the stretch that CP3 was sitting on the pine, the Clippers had dropped from one of the best teams in the league that take care of the ball (fourth best in turnovers) to one of the worst (twenty-third in the league without Paul). In these games, the ball handling duties had to be shifted to Randy Foye and Chauncey Billups. Both players found themselves entering into a tough situation, with Foye not being a natural point guard and Billups playing the 2-guard all season in a completely new offense. And whatís been the result? Well, the Clippers still managed to put up points and play above .500 basketball, but in a less efficient fashion. The teamís shooting percentage had dropped from 46.5 percent to 43 percent, including a dip in Blake Griffinís performance who averaged 17 points per game on 47 percent shooting from the field. Before Paul went down, Griffinís offensive production seemed effortless, as he averaged 21 points and was hitting 52 percent of his shots from the field.
What also makes CP3 so valuable in the Clippers lineup is his ability to close out tight ball games. The Clippers have lost 4 out of the last 5 fourth quarters, with a -5 differential margin in the fourth in Paulís absence. Before the injury, the Clippers averaged a +0.6 margin, holding on to leads that they built going into the fourth quarter. The numbers are there, and they donít lie. Chris Paul is a valuable commodity and will produce a smoother and a higher level of basketball for the Clippers. Yet, the fact that the team has been afloat without Paul, playing five games in seven nights, while still trying to incorporate all the new pieces with virtually no practice shows the leadership and maturity this group holds to still get the job done through challenging circumstances.
Meet the Nuggets
Confidence is contagious, and the Denver Nuggets have a lot of it right about now. In a somewhat surprising start, George Karl and company are right behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for first place in the Western Conference. Since trading away Carmelo Anthony last February, the Nuggets are at an impressive record of 30-12, shattering the belief that they would need to enter a rebuilding period once they traded their franchise player. Now, the teamís identity is clear and the group looks more comfortable than ever as they get ready to host the Clippers on Sunday. The Nuggets know exactly what they will need to do to beat the Clippers Ė win by committee. Leading the league in points, (105.5 points per game) assists (24.5 per game) and second overall in field goal percentage (47.9 percent), Denver is only one of three teams to have six players averaging double figures in points. They make a living by getting to the foul line, as they also lead the league in free throws made (21.7 per game) and free throws attempted (29.2 per game), and will exploit any holes in their opponentís defense by getting into the paint and drawing the foul. One man who has led the way so far for the Nuggets is Danilo Gallinari, who has single handedly hurt the Clippers with his ablity to spread the court and rack up points for the charity stripe. In the two contests against the Clippers last season, Gallinari averaged 26 points and a remarkable 13.5 free throws. Yet, the Clippers have done their job preparing for different defensive assignments while executing a plan of attack on the offensive end for big games. Both teams will be looking to get up and down the court throughout the match, which means, yes you guessed it, a ton of points being scored. The offensive firepower can also be a double-edged sword for the Nuggets, since they also give up the third most points per game (100). This has all the ingredients of a wildly entertaining, action-packed game. Buckle up.
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