When Blake Griffin went down with an elbow staph infection that required surgery earlier in February, it wasn't out the question for the Clippers to fall off in the standings. The backup big men Doc Rivers was going to have to count on in his stead were the disappointing Spencer Hawes and Glen Davis and the team had a very rough schedule ahead.
Yet the Clippers have gone 5-3 without Griffin so far, splitting games with the Rockets and Grizzlies and beating the Mavericks and Spurs -- direct rivals for playoff positioning. While Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford have been terrific during that stretch, the most impactful performance has been delivered by DeAndre Jordan.
Jordan is averaging 17.2 points, a ridiculous 18.5 rebounds and two blocks over the past eight games, single-handedly providing the inside presence the Clippers needed with Griffin out. Jordan has been extremely efficient on offense, boasting a field-goal percentage of 67.1 and turning the ball over only one time per game -- great numbers for a high-usage big man, which is what he has been lately. His usage percentage has jumped from 12 percent before Griffin's injury to 17.7 percent and he has handled that added responsibility beautifully and provided great highlights in the process.
The only black mark on Jordan during the past few games has been his free-throw shooting, the bane of his existence since entering the league. Yet even in that area he has improved, going from shooting 39.6 percent on 3.7 attempts per game to 43.9 percent on 12.3 attempts, as teams have intentionally fouled him. The improvement is not enough to deter the tactic, but shows confidence and focus on his part.
As great as he's been offensively, the work he's done on defense is even more commendable. Griffin is far from a stopper, but he and Jordan have familiarity on their side and Griffin has the mobility to handle perimeter threats. Without him, Jordan has had to share the court with Spencer Hawes, who has struggled mightily guarding pretty much anyone, yet the starting lineup has not suffered despite Hawes' limitations largely thanks to Jordan preventing easy looks inside. With Jordan on the court, opponents have taken only 30.9 percent of their field goals in the restricted area. That number gets to 38.6 when he's on the bench. His mere presence keeps opponents away from the rim.
The most impressive part of Jordan's recent performances has been his rebounding. Jordan has been amazing on the glass all season, but since Griffin has been out he's been even better than before. Jordan is averaging six offensive rebounds and 12.5 defensive boards during the past eight games, essentially making up for what Griffin provided. His 14.2 rebound per game for the season is the highest mark since Kevin Love averaged 15.2 in 2010/11. Among players who have at least 10 rebounding chances per game, Jordan ranks third in percentage of rebounds per chance and second on contested rebounds per game. To say he's elite in that department somehow feels like an understatement.
The combination of stellar rebounding, ultra-efficient scoring and above-average rim protection has always been there for Jordan but is shining brighter than ever in Griffin's absence and helping the Clippers stay afloat. And because of that, his value in the eyes of many front office people has probably increased significantly.
The extremely high level Jordan is displaying on a bigger role means he will likely get a max contract this offseason, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer either from the Clippers or someone else. Paying him the max would put the Clippers near the tax line and would limit their flexibility greatly. With the way Jordan is performing, they would be foolish not to try to lock him up for the future, especially considering they won't be able to replace him if he walks.
As Griffin's return gets closer, the question remains: Can Jordan continue his stellar play while sharing the court with Griffin and getting fewer touches and rebounding opportunities as a result or will he revert back to being just a very good role player? The latter seems more likely. Yet that shouldn't really be a concern for neither the Clippers not Jordan. He has proved what he can do and the team won't need him to have such a preponderant role once their star power forward returns. As for the fans, all that's left to do is continue to enjoy this incredibly entertaining version of Jordan while it lasts.
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