Doc Rivers loves DeAndre Jordan. He has even compared him to arguably the best defensive player of all time, Bill Russell. He's called him Rodman-ish and has called him a star in the past, despite defensive players not often being tagged with that label. He goes far out of his way to praise his starting center.
Now he's upped the ante. The Clippers' coach told reporters his center "is clearly the Defensive Player of the Year."
"If anybody else gets that award, we need to have an investigation," Rivers said, via ESPN. "What he's doing defensively, if he was doing that offensively, he would be recognized as the MVP or one of them, but because it's defense, no one notices."
Jordan surely deserves consideration for the award. It's hard to ignore a player when he leads the league in total defensive rebounds and defensive rebounds per game, ranks second in total blocks and is one of only four centers to average at least a steal per game. In terms of raw numbers, he has the credentials.
It's when someone digs deeper that his seemingly air-tight case starts to show some cracks.
"You look at the stat sheet and you don't see how many times Aaron Brooks didn't drive because D.J. was there or how many shots where guys went up and they passed it. That doesn't show up on the stat sheet."
In a way, it does. Opponents take the same percentage of their shots near the rim (33.3 percent) when Jordan is on the court than off, according to the league's media-only stats page. Because Jordan is a good rim protector who allows only 49.2 percent on shots he contests at the rim, the Clippers do allow a lower field goal percentage as a team when he's on the court (58.1 percent vs. 61.1 percent). But the intimidation factor might be overstated.
Jordan is good at defending the pick and roll when the ball handler finishes, but he's not elite in that regard, ranking 14th among 52 big men who have defended at least 200 possessions according to Synergy Sports. He ranks 27th among 39 players who have defended at least 50 possessions guarding the roll man on pick and rolls and 22nd among 41 players who have defended at least 100 postups. That doesn't account for the high quality of opponents he goes against often, but even so, Jordan looks like a good defender, not a runaway Defensive Player of the Year winner.
Individual numbers often miss defensive impact at a team level, but stats that aim to account for that don't help Jordan's case either. The Clippers actually allow fewer points per 100 possessions when he's sitting (102.3) as opposed to on the court (104). At first glance, the fact that Jordan goes against starters could be a factor. But real plus-minus, which adjusts for the quality of opponent, has Jordan as the 24th-best defensive center in the league, behind Ian Mahinmi, Robert Sacre, both Plumlee brothers and Joel Anthony.
Those numbers do undersell Jordan a bit, and he deserves consideration for the award like a handful of other players. The "eye test" certainly backs up Rivers' point.
But to say "he's clearly the Defensive Player of the Year," is not only hyperbolic, but just plain wrong. Let's chalk it up to Doc trying to boost his player's confidence and continue to enjoy Jordan in beast mode without worrying too much about numbers or awards.
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