JORDAN TALKING HIS WAY TO DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
There have been times this season when DeAndre Jordan won’t shut up.
And it’s arguably the best thing that has happened to the Clippers’ defense this season.
Six years into his career, Jordan is in the midst of his finest season as a professional. He’s the defensive cog that Doc Rivers asked him to be this summer. He’s run the floor, he’s been the league’s best rebounder, he’s stayed on the floor in the fourth quarter and he’s led.
Of all the things that Jordan has done, including vying for Defensive Player of the Year just months after declaring it a career goal, it has come because he is the most vocal player on the floor every night.
“From a coaching standpoint has been his talk,” Rivers said. “He keeps everybody accountable. I think you need a truth teller on defense and a guy that calls all the other coverages. I’m amazed every shootaround how he already knows the other team’s offense. It’s really nice when you have a player on the floor and you say, ‘Two twist down’ and he’s already moving guys. That’s impressive. Then he verbalizes it out on the floor. Other than all of the other stuff you see, that’s been very important for our team that he’s that committed to it.”
Jordan’s commitment has been evident since training camp when his deep, sometimes raspy voice could be heard booming throughout the gym at UC San Diego. That was when he was still learning the defense, finding his way in Rivers’ system. His confidence has grown since and it has helped vault the Clippers from a porous defense early in the season to one of the league’s 10 best heading into the postseason.
All of that started with talk.
“I’m just kind of trying to direct people where to go,” Jordan said. “Not tell them where to go, but just like, ‘You’re guy is going to cut’ because a lot of the times, everybody knows everybody’s plays in the NBA, so I try to do a little studying before and try to memorize a lot of the plays. People’s plays are all the same; it’s just different calls. So, if I get the call, I try to let guys know what it is; and if it’s a post-up going at Matt [Barnes], I’ll let him know, ‘Post-up, fight him early. Push up his spot.’ And, whoever he’s getting the pass from, I’ll tell him [Matt Barnes], ‘Pressure the pass, because it’s going to the post.’ Things like that.”
It is part of the maturity Jordan has shown as a 25-year-old. He’s the longest tenured Clipper on the roster, a year of experience more than his friend Blake Griffin, and for the first time he’s playing more than 30 minutes per game. Rivers has shown faith in Jordan and the payoff has been the league’s leading rebounder at 13.7 boards per game, and the defensive captain.
Ask coaches around the league about Jordan, though, and his ability to communicate sets and direct teammates standout more than any of the statistical improvements Jordan brings.
“I think he’s doing the same thing,” Warriors head coach Mark Jackson said. “He’s just getting opportunities. He obviously affects the game with his tremendous athleticism and his ability to rebound and his ability to read and react and alter shots. And I think he doesn’t get enough credit for how smart he is. I can’t think off the top of my head besides [Andrew Bogut], who is our guy, Marc Gasol, and Jordan are the two big men outside of my guy, as a guy calling the plays, they look at it and tell their team what the action is. That’s says a lot about his understanding of the game. I don’t think the gets enough credit for that.”
Jordan’s teammates have credited him all season with helping transform a defense that a year ago was susceptible to getting beat by the long ball and in transition. Jordan’s presence inside has allowed the Clippers to maintain a ball-hawking, aggressive perimeter defense, defend the 3-point shot, and protect the rim. They lead the NBA in points off turnovers and 3-point defense. According to Jamal Crawford, who has played with Jordan for two seasons, all of that comes back to Jordan.
“He’s the defensive player of the year,” Crawford said. “He’s unbelievable. Sometimes we’ll get beat and we’ll look up in the air and we know he’s there. It’s not a good thing to have, but I guess it is a good thing to have in retrospect with him being back there. He’s adjusting shots if he’s not blocking them. His impact on defense on has been just as good as or better than anybody else in the league.”
For Jordan, believing that he was on that level came easy when Rivers arrived. It was empowering. But Rivers couldn’t make Jordan a leader. That he had to do on his own.
“At the beginning, I was like, ‘Damn.’ I know that [my teammates] have more jobs offensively, so I don’t want to let them [know what they did wrong defensively],” Jordan said. “But then, they’re like, ‘No, tell me when I mess up.’ Everybody’s like ‘No, D, you need to let us know, because when you mess up, we’re going to let you know. If you’re not in the right spot, everybody needs to know because at the end of the day, we’re all trying to win a championship. If I tell somebody something, then another person then, we would not be getting better.”
Once that realization became clear, he hasn’t shut up since.