JORDAN’S BECOME A ‘STAR’ IN HIS ROLE
To understand DeAndre Jordan’s impact on the Clippers, you need only listen to an opposing head coach.
Two weeks ago, before the Clippers played the Memphis Grizzlies, Dave Joerger, who has been a part of every matchup between the two clubs since Jordan arrived in Los Angeles six years ago, was adamant that Jordan is a game-changer.
“He’s a beast,” Joerger said. “With his athleticism, the things he can do defensively are unbelievable.”
Jordan, who is fourth in the league in blocked shots and tied for second in rebounding, has been every bit of a beast through the first third of the year. He’s had a dozen double-doubles. He’s had at least 16 rebounds seven times.
Nearly two months of regular-season basketball have passed and it is looking more like Clippers head coach Doc Rivers’ training camp proclamation that Jordan was among the league’s best defensive players, it’s defensive player of the year, perhaps, was more foreshadowing than merely a way of boosting the confidence of a 25-year-old who had lost it a year earlier.
“I think he’s just grown,” Rivers said after Jordan had 20 rebounds and five blocks against the Pelicans Wednesday. “It’s not me. I don’t want to take any credit. [Jordan] had to decide on his own. I can ask him, but he had to embrace it. When you look at our team and you look at the weapons on our team, he had to look at where he would make his biggest impact, and his biggest impact is doing all the other stuff. ”
The other stuff, according to Jordan, is running the floor, being active on both ends, talking, anchoring the defense and finding his points off of the offensive scrap heap.
“[Rivers] said he wants me to be the leader and the anchor of our defense, and he really meant that,” Jordan said. “I feel like that’s a part of my job to be energetic and just be a spark for us on the defensive end. Offensively, set picks and roll as hard as a can just to try to free guys up. If I’m not playing well offensively or defensively, I can still play with energy and that spark and intensity.
“And on offense he just wanted me to run, sprint, and get easy buckets, set picks for guys, and help guys get open shots. That’s what I’ve been doing, and I’m just trying to improve every day. Anything that he asks of me, I’m going to work my butt off to try and make it happen.”
Jordan’s willingness to work was there before Rivers arrived in Los Angeles six months ago. He spent the 2012 offseason working out daily in Houston. He came back in what he considered the best shape of his career. This offseason was no different. From a cardiovascular standpoint, Jordan was once again in impeccable shape. The difference was Jordan, six seasons removed from being a hyper-athletic yet raw freshman at Texas A&M, had a newfound confidence.
“I think it’s just the confidence the coaching staff instills in him,” said Blake Griffin, who has assisted on 13 alley-oops to Jordan this season. “Everyone’s going to embrace their role I think, but he’s doing a really good job getting rebounds, blocking shots, altering shots, etc. It’s unbelievable.”
Jordan is affecting games in a variety of ways, not just statistically. He’s already played 175 fourth-quarter minutes this season, 26 more than in 82 games a season ago. He is soaking up everything he can about Rivers’ defensive schemes. He holds teammates accountable and is becoming a vocal leader.
“I feel like I’m a lot more vocal, whether it’s being serious or I’m joking around,” Jordan said. “I feel like I’m a vocal leader on our team. A lot of the guys, they look up to Chris and Blake and myself to see if we’re down 10 what our emotions are. If we’re down, then they’re going to be down. So, I just try to stay as positive as possible.”
Part of staying positive has meant embracing the role put in front of him.
“I think he understands his role to the point where he accepts it and loves it,” Rivers said. “He embraces it and he’s a star in it. He’s become a star in his role.”
That was something Joerger thought would happen, too.
When asked if the Grizzlies prepared any differently for Jordan defensively than they did in they did in the past, Joerger said, “No.”
Why? “Because we’ve always thought he’s been a great defensive player.”
Now, that Jordan has taken it to another plateau a defensive player of the year or two might follow.