Los Angeles Clippers: DeAndre Jordan Is Ultimate X-Factor
By Maxwell OgdenDecember 16, 2013 12:46 PM
COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Clippers are one of the most popular choices to represent the Western Conference in the 2014 NBA Finals. Head coach Doc Rivers has a championship pedigree, point guard Chris Paul is playing MVP-caliber basketball, and Blake Griffin is rapidly silencing the critics. Through all of this, it's center DeAndre Jordan who has emerged as the NBA's ultimate X-Factor.
Every team has a player whose success or failure determines the outcome of said organization's season. It goes without saying that, without CP3, the Clippers are rendered virtually helpless on both ends of the floor. That isn't the entire story with this team. There's a major difference between a team's Most Valuable Player and the X-Factor. The MVP is the leader who often plays the most outstanding basketball on the team. The X-Factor is the player who may fly under the radar, but has a dramatic impact on the team's success.
Jordan is that player for L.A. The Clippers shocked the NBA community when they handed Jordan a four-year contract worth $43,039,054 in 2011. He was signed using Bird Rights, but the massive contract was stunning, nonetheless. Prior to the signing, Jordan had posted career-best averages of 7.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. He's since upped those numbers, but has yet to establish his status as one of the game's elite big men.
He'll need to change that if Los Angeles is to make good on its championship aspirations.
There may be reason for concern, but that doesn't mean Jordan isn't a valuable player. He's both athletically gifted and a menace on the glass, and both of those traits are necessary for Los Angeles to discover success.
It all starts with his work on the boards. Through 25 games, Jordan is averaging career-best marks of 9.8 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. He's doing so while shooting 63.5 percent from the field, which is on par with his mark of 64.3 percent in 2012-13 and his identical career tally of 64.3.
As the reigning league leader in field-goal percentage, don't expect Jordan to miss many shots from hereon out. Jordan currently leads the Clippers in total rebounding, blocks and offensive rebounds per game at 4.1. Only Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Dwight Howard of the Houston Rockets are averaging more total rebounds, and only Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons is averaging more offensive rebounds than Jordan. He may have weaknesses, but Jordan's work on the glass is invaluable.
Unfortunately, it's not all clear skies for DJ. Thus far, Jordan is shooting an abysmal 39.5 percent from the free-throw line on 4.8 attempts per game. Unfortunately, that number is right in line with his career mark of 42.1 percent from the charity stripe. That makes Doc Rivers' job as a head coach quite difficult.
When a player is that poor from the free-throw line, and no one ever has been, defenses will instantly employ the hack-a-Shaq strategy. Rather than allowing clutch scorers such as Chris Paul or Jamal Crawford beat them, opposing teams will intentionally foul Jordan and force him to beat them at the charity stripe.
Until proven otherwise, he can't do it. And that makes him a liability.
Defensively, Jordan's athleticism, rebounding and shot-blocking prowess shouldn't be confused with a leap to the ranks of the elite. According to NBA.com, opponents are shooting an absolutely absurd and inexcusable 56.1 percent when they meet Jordan at the rim. Marks of 2.0 blocks and 1.1 steals per game may be sexy statistics, but Jordan isn't protecting the rim well. In fact, he's one of the worst in the NBA at it from a statistical perspective.
What's most concerning is that opponents are attempting 8.5 field goals per game at the rim against Jordan. That leads to an average of 9.6 points when driving against DJ, and an even higher number when you weigh his average of 3.4 personal fouls. The question is, what can the Clippers do but keep Jordan on the floor? The answer: nothing.
The sad reality for the Los Angeles Clippers is that they don't have another option besides keeping Jordan on the floor. It's not as much about Jordan's ability as an individual player as it is the lack of depth behind him and Blake Griffin. Again. For the second consecutive season, the Clippers' Achilles heel is the absence of interior depth. L.A. made an effort to bring in a mix of veterans and promising youth, but those attempts haven't yet been rewarded.
It doesn't seem like that's going to change in the near future. As it presently stands, the three players who are behind Griffin and Jordan are Ryan Hollins, Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens. In virtually ever phase of the game, those three players are less-than-adequate replacements when the two starters are resting.
That's exactly why Jordan is the ultimate X-Factor. Hollins, Jamison and Mullens are currently combining to average 40.8 points and 24.4 rebounds per 48 minutes. By comparison, Griffin and Jordan, just two players, are combining to average 33.2 points and 26.0 rebounds per 48 minutes. That dramatic drop-off in production is the reason for Los Angeles' dependency on its starters.
The Clippers currently rank 17th in rebounding differential and 19th in offensive rebounds allowed per game. L.A. is also 18th in rebound percentage, which determines the number of rebound opportunities that a team gets the best of, L.A. is at 49.7 percent. That's the definition of a weakness. Jordan may not be perfect, but due to the players who are available to replace him on the floor, the only option is to keep him active. That's what makes him the ultimate X-Factor, because he can either sink the Clippers or help them swim.
Time will tell which he does.
Maxwell Ogden is an NBA writer for Sheridan Hoops, Bleacher Report and Hoops Habit. Based out of Southern California, he offers in-depth coverage the Los Angeles Clippers. Make sure you follow him on Twitter.
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