JORDAN CONFIDENT AFTER THREE GAMES
The ball came out of Chris Paul’s right hand as he drove to the basket and it looked like it was destined to be a turnover. It just floated about 2 feet above the rim, a defender within inches of leaping and snatching it away.
That’s when DeAndre Jordan emerged. He was sprinting the floor a step or two behind Paul, who left the ball on a platter for his exuberant young center. Jordan rose up, grabbed the ball with two hands, and in seemingly one motion dunked it and swung off the rim. The defender never had a chance.
The play happened during a 5-minute scrimmage at practice Tuesday. The day everyone was supposedly jet-lagged, still adjusting to the 15-hour time difference between China, where the Clippers were until Sunday, and Los Angeles.
For Jordan, entering his fifth season in the NBA, those plays have become somewhat commonplace. Out of his 203 made field goals last year, 114 were dunks, a significant number of which came via the lob. It was not the alley-oop or the power or even the athleticism of the 6-foot-11 center running alongside a point guard that stood out, it was what happened after.
He rushed back to the defensive end with a scowl, with Caron Butler on the sideline yelling encouragement, and immediately started making calls to align his squad’s defense. Afterward, Paul talked about Jordan’s impact.
“[Jordan’s] been outstanding,” Paul said. “He’s worked really hard and now everybody’s getting a chance to see it. It’s not just his offensive game. That’s what I want him to know. He’s just got to keep impacting the game the way he does on the defensive end and running the court. He can be one of the best big men in this league as long as he keeps his mind to it.”
Through three preseason games, Jordan has seemingly recognized this. He’s averaging 13.0 points per game, including a game-high 18 points going 8-for-8 from the field against the Heat in Shanghai, 6.3 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, and shooting 81.8% in 24.7 minutes. He’s also shown a newfound aggression, or as Jordan says: confidence.
“I was just getting a lot of reps up this summer,” Jordan said. “And then at the same time when Chris and Blake [Griffin] and Chauncey [Billups] and Jamal [Crawford] and those guys are all confident to give me the ball in the post, it makes me more confident to shoot the ball, get fouled, or make the right play. It’s all about confidence and reps.”
It has also been well documented that he’s put in the repetitions to improve his shooting, working with shooting coach Bob Thate throughout the summer and early portion of training camp. And while it has not shown the expected dividends at the free throw line (3-for-18), Jordan has missed just four shots from the field.
On Sunday, five of his eight makes came on non-dunks, including three consecutive plays where he got early post position and scored on back-to-the-basket moves. He went with a right-handed jump hook over an overmatched Norris Cole, a left-handed scoop around center Chris Bosh, and powered a right-handed bank shot over forward Shane Battier.
“[Jordan] got some low post, early position, and got some easy ones,” Head Coach Vinny Del Negro said. “And his activity defensively. I thought he was running the court better. He was just more active, so I thought he had a really good game.”
Jordan said something similar. “I feel like if I get the ball down there, I can either score or make the right basketball play.”
Sometimes the right basketball play, in Jordan’s case, is something that seems impossible, like throwing down a lob bound for a turnover.