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Could DeAndre Jordan Be the NBA’s Best Big Man?

It took Jordan nine seasons to make his first All-Star team. Ask just about any other player who’s gone into battle with or against Jordan, though, and they’ll tell you how valuable and effective he really is.
Photo by Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

DeAndre Jordan's baseline responsibilities are simple enough to print on a shampoo bottle: Set screens, block shots, dunk. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But ever since Jordan was turned loose as the Los Angeles Clippers' full-time center three seasons ago, nobody in the NBA except LeBron James has been more consistent from game to game and year to year. He is the most efficient roll man (minimum 50 possessions) in the league, according to Synergy Sports, averaging 1.52 points per possession whenever he gets the ball on a screen-and-dash toward the rim. Jordan rips through the sound barrier when he bends his knees and there's almost no pass he can't corral with either hand.


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Watching Jordan play basketball at this stage of his career is a lot like sitting through a Seinfeld marathon for the 27th straight hour; you know what will happen but you can still marvel at the dependability of it all.

Maybe as a result, he's arguably the most overlooked force of his generation, the one player who, more than anyone else, will likely be appreciated even more after he retires. His résumé is quietly exceptional. This is his fifth year in a row leading the league in field goal percentage; since 2014, he has grabbed 4,168 rebounds, which is more than anyone else in the NBA. (The only other player to crack 3,000 is Andre Drummond, who has 4,146.)

And yet, it took Jordan nine seasons to make his first All-Star team, one year after he became a first-team All-NBA center, and it was mainly because Blake Griffin and Chris Paul were too hurt to play this year. It's an accomplishment he's thankful to finally have achieved, but it's also one he didn't feel he needed.

"After a while, I really didn't care about the All-Star Game, to be honest," Jordan told VICE Sports before heading down to New Orleans this weekend. "Just the respect that I got from my peers, not only on my team but around the league, was so high, and I was fine with that."

He had fun once he got there, though. Photo by Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Ask just about any other player who's gone into battle with or against Jordan, and they'll tell you how valuable and effective he really is.


"When I found out [Jordan made the All-Star team] I was sitting at home changing my son's diaper, and I saw myself and thought, Man, that's dope. Then I saw DJ, I went crazy," Draymond Green said. "I was more excited for him than I was for myself. I think he's been deserving for a number of years. For him to finally get in, it's an amazing thing."

"I think all of us are excited for him," Kevin Durant said. "Especially guys that played on the Olympic team. We know how important he is, how impactful he is to the game, so we're all excited."

Squaring off against Jordan is a nightmare for opposing players and coaches alike. Even though he's never averaged more than 13 points per game and possesses zero dominant moves in the low post, the problems he creates—and the opportunities he generates—never stop. Slowing him down is a challenge, and even if you succeed, it only opens up problems elsewhere.

"He's had a great career, especially the last few years," said Steve Kerr, who coached Jordan's All-Star West team on Sunday. "I think what he does is pretty apparent. He's a great rebounder and shot blocker and the way he runs the floor, he's a gazelle out there. And then the spacing that he provides because of that threat of the lob, you have to honor that, and that gets his teammates open on the perimeter. So he's a great player."

(Last season, the Clippers outscored Kerr's 73-win Golden State Warriors by two points with Jordan on the floor. When he sat, they were outscored by 32 points in 44 minutes. He's pretty important.)


"I think the rim rolling is the hardest thing," Brad Stevens said. "When he gets in the pick-and-roll with Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick standing on the other side of the floor, and he rolls down the middle of the lane, what do you do? Who do you help off of?"

Even when there isn't a lob or a skip pass to an open three-point shooter, Jordan is strong enough to wreck defensive gameplans all by himself. Look what he does here to poor Al-Farouq Aminu. That's not as aesthetically pleasing as an up-and-under, but it's equally effective.

Only five players have more total Win Shares than Jordan over the past four seasons: Steph Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Chris Paul. Those might also be the five best players in the world over that stretch, but Jordan still flies under the radar. He's one of the most efficient players in the league, but because so much of his offensive success can't be isolated outside of the context of his team, it leaves him open to criticism and skews how he's perceived.

The caveats that surround Jordan's skill set are shrinking, but they still exist. He's the third best player on his own team, he still can't make free throws, and he doesn't create shots for himself. A skeptic wonders whether someone like JaVale McGee or even Dewayne Dedmon would fare just as well with such clear offensive responsibilities, surrounded by elite three-point shooting and one of the sport's all-time conductors running point. To become an All-NBA center ahead of someone like DeMarcus Cousins without the ability to dribble, pass, or shoot tends to deservedly blow some people's minds.


"He's still working on his offense, he's getting better and better," Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. "His free throws are at a career high. We're starting to use him more in the post." That second point is true. According to Synergy Sports, only 7.2 percent of Jordan's offense came on post-ups last season. This year, it's up to 11.8 percent.

It's a subtle change from previous years, but look how aggressive Jordan is battling for position against Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, a player many believe deserved Jordan's spot at All-Star weekend.

But Jordan's real value comes in immeasurable ways on the defensive end, where he has evolved from an undisciplined shot-block-chasing maniac to one of the most impenetrable anchors in the game. (And he was very motivated to improve: "I don't wanna be like, 'Oh, I'm the third best defensive player.' That's stupid. I want to believe that I am [the league's best defensive player].")

Jordan is a tremendous post defender. He's fast enough to trap ball screens and switch out on most guards 25 feet from the basket, but the Clippers avoid that strategy because it leaves them vulnerable around the rim, where Jordan is an absolute monster.

"It's awesome going against a big that can contest right and left hands. You know, the high floaters that you're throwing up he's going to contest as well as you're trying to throw lobs to the bigs," Kyrie Irving said. "I mean, he's just standing in there, you know, a frickin' six-eleven guy with a 40-inch vertical. It's just out of this world, man."


Jordan is a fantastic communicator on the back line, too, always shouting out screens, sliding around to clog up passing lanes, and snuffing out mismatches. Watch how he prevents an entry pass into Derrick Favors (who's being guarded by the smaller Luc Richard Mbah a Moute), forces a pass to Gobert, then single-handedly starts a fastbreak:

Jordan's rim protection numbers aren't on Gobert's level, or even Dwight Howard's, but he's indispensable to the Clippers—even more so than Griffin. L.A. outscores opponents by 8.0 points per 100 possessions when Jordan is on the floor and gets outscored by 3.0 points per 100 possessions when he sits. Their defense would fall to pieces if he ever missed extended time.

The impact is seen with everything they do. Here's J.J. Redick out 30 feet from the basket confidently denying a pass from the faster Leandro Barbosa, knowing that if he gets beat backdoor there'll be help in the paint. Sure enough, Jordan slides right over and takes away the lob.

It's one thing to be a human stepladder, with beanpole legs and impossibly long arms. But it's another to have a brain that can process where he needs to be at all times. Jordan is currently the whole package. Unfortunately, some of his growth has been overlooked thanks to Rivers, who used to hype Jordan like a sleazy boxing promoter. Public comparisons to Bill Russell nearly shattered Jordan's reputation before he had a chance to build it up. But three years later, it seems to have worked out.


"Doc's a great coach—he's obviously the best coach I've ever played for at any level—and…I don't think he's blowing smoke up your ass, I think that he really believes it," Jordan told VICE Sports. "And if he believes it, and you've got the guy who's calling all the shots believing in you, then your confidence level is sky-high, and he's a guy that you want to run through a brick wall for. He's been great for my career and for our team."

Rivers first saw greatness in Jordan back when he was still coaching the Celtics in 2012. They were getting blown out in Los Angeles, and with the game out of hand he turned to chat up Boston's longtime trainer Ed Lacerte.

"That's what coaches do when you're down 30. You talk to your trainer about players. And I remember Eddie saying two things and both of them came true," Rivers said. "The first thing he said was 'Man, I would never coach here and have the Laker banners hanging while a Clipper game is going'—that was Eddie Lacerte's thought, and I was thinking, Oh that's true! And the second one he said, 'This guy's gonna be an amazing player,' and we were talking about DeAndre. So, Eddie, we should hire him as a scout, because he was right."

Jordan and Rivers. Photo by Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

A year later, after moving to the Clippers and becoming Jordan's coach, Rivers remembers taking his new big man out to dinner and delivering a list of achievable goals he wanted Jordan to accomplish over the next few years. All-NBA team, All-Defensive team, All-Star team. They were all on it. In Rivers' eyes, Jordan has reached his potential.

"Playing as hard as I can, that rubs off on people and it's contagious," Jordan said. "And whenever I can do that, because I'm an energy guy, whenever I can have some energy and other people feed off it, that's good for our team."

Jordan is undeniably still effective as a center, but at the same time he's already starting to feel like a relic of the past. The latest wave of big men are three-point-shooting shot-blockers who can handle the ball in the high post, face up, switch onto guards, pass, and maybe even post up if the right matchup presents itself. They're fluid, coordinated aliens.

But in most situations, what Jordan provides is still more valuable. If you can't shoot or face up and score, your strengths need to be otherworldly, and Jordan is the absolute best rebounder and roll man in the world. Given how the Clippers are constructed, there probably isn't another center they would trade him for.

"You want to work on and add different things to your game, but you also want to sharpen whatever you're good at to be great at it," Jordan said when asked if he can handle a larger role. "I don't want to step outside of what I've been doing, or what's been good to me, and what I've been successful at."

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