Discernible Truths Of An Indefinable Player

Photo via Stuck In Commons on Flickr

One of the frustrating truths of the NBA is the incessant need to draw parallels to preexisting archetypes. Kobe is Jordanesque. Lebron has run the gambit from Magic to Oscar. Even the Blakeocalypse isn’t free from this gratuitous treatment, existing in many a mind’s eye as an amalgam of Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Dominique Wilkins. To be sure it’s a necessary evil to many, allowing us to identify the traits and strengths of today’s players in an effort to understand why certain individuals and teams rise above the fray. Even just the simple act of identifying players’ specific strengths makes their place easier to define in the context of the team and the game itself.

Consider the Clippers. Blake Griffin is the interior presence, a blossoming, dominant low-post scorer with the necessary strength, athleticism and smarts to obliterate defenders near the basket and control the glass. Eric Gordon is the explosive backcourt scorer, difficult to defend off the dribble, a significant perimeter shooting threat and a guard who can create when he wants to do so. In the eyes of most, these two represent the future of the “other” Los Angeles franchise, the sun, the moon and the stars. It’s an easy argument to make, surely one that is difficult to refute in almost any scope.  But neither player holds the key to the Clippers future as that all important x-factor.

Enter DeAndre Jordan – a player lacking any discernable, consistent strength, yet the key to it all.

First we need to consider Jordan’s game as it stands: raw, developing, a growing anthology of explosive potential and jaw dropping highlights, but without a definable quality. In many ways the budding 7-footer’s role on offense is akin to that of an overgrown wide receiver, toss it up and go get it big fella. Not that this style of play hasn’t been without its benefits to the Clippers and created nightmarish scenarios for opposing defenses. Jordan’s length and athleticism has made him the 6th most effective pick and roll finisher in the NBA at 1.38 points per possession according to Synergy Sports. Using this same metric he ranks in the top 50 in transition finishes. This doesn’t even take into account the other 50% of his offense which is built around hitting the offensive glass and moving without the basketball – both areas that he has shown marked improvement from a season ago.

Yet despite existing in the realm of the Clippers offense as an explosive ball of matter, devoid of any distinct form, Jordan’s ever present potential for the amazing is what makes him such a vital part of the offense. In short, he is a distraction to defenses. Double team Blake Griffin and the rookie is savvy enough to get the ball to his frontcourt compatriot for a dynamic finish. It’s a telling sign that for a player of Griffin’s ilk, Synergy Sports shows he is faced with a hard double team on only 5% of his post-up possessions. As much potential as Jordan shows for the future, right now for all intents and purposes he serves as the NBA’s biggest prop.

It would seem defense is an apparent strong point for Jordan – clearly it shows in his monstrous blocks – but even here the big man remains far from a guarantee from night to night. The proclivity to undergo mental lapses proves a pestilent characteristic in his ability to dominate this side of the floor, something he clearly has the ability to do. The fact that Jordan maintains a total rebound rate of 16 – well above average – while playing alongside Griffin is a testament to his glass cleaning abilities. Furthermore, while the third-year pro serves as a means for making offense easier on the growing star, he helps divert attention from the fact that he has thus far proved to be a mediocre defender. For all of his still frustrating inconsistencies, Jordan is a disruptive force of a defender, holding opponents to .8 points per possession.

So where does this athletic mass of arms and potential fit? Why is he so vital to the future of the Clipper franchise? Because much like a budding tomato plant, Los Angeles can guide the growth of one of their most valuable assets to meet their needs. His morphing, moldable talents and abilities provide a litany of possibilities at both ends of the floor without forcing his team to accommodate, but rather plug him in when needed. Subpar athleticism in the frontcourt yields a slew of pick and roll finishes at the basket. Gordon and Davis feeling the need to put up shots from the outside, send Jordan to the glass to clean up around the rim.

Defensively there have been flashes of smothering the low post and harassing stretch fours, so the roll adapts on a game by game basis in way that no one else on the Clippers roster can possibly duplicate. What isn’t up for debate is his current and future status as the anchor of this unit, an anchor that will only become further entrenched as he becomes a more cerebral player.

The ultimate irony of Jordan’s presence and development lies in that he exists as one of the Clippers most valuable commodities lacks a defined role in a game that for so long has placed a premium on defining roles. As early as midway through his freshman season at Texas A&M he was labeled as quite possibly the biggest high risk, high reward player in his draft class and it would appear Los Angeles has broken the bank with this reward. The only question now remains, which archetype will we be drawing on to properly label Jordan in the not too distant future?

Seth Carstens