DeAndre Jordan is the most prominent name on a flailing Los Angeles Clippers team, and it doesn’t pay for the franchise to hold onto him.
About a month ago, the Los Angeles Clippers were fully healthy and beat down almost everybody in their path. Their first three wins came by a combined 76 points. But things have changed rapidly. Los Angeles has since experienced two separate losing streaks of nine and three games (and counting), and DeAndre Jordan has been the only constant during these stretches.
Injuries have sidelined four of the Clippers’ most impactful players, thus causing this tragedy:
- Patrick Beverley – knee surgery, out for the season
- Blake Griffin – sprained MCL, could miss two months
- Milos Teodosic – plantar fasciitis, could be out until mid-December but has only played two games thus far
- Danilo Gallinari – strained glute, likely to return this week but has missed the last 13 games
Los Angeles has struggled because nearly all of their playmakers are out of commission. As a result, both Austin Rivers and Lou Williams have picked up the slack, combining for 41.6 points and 11.3 assists a night for the past three games. Jordan has picked up his play as well and is chipping in 13.0 points, but his biggest flaw is under the most intense microscope.
Over the summer, there were talks about how well Jordan would thrive in a world without Chris Paul. His offense is reliant on ball handlers feeding him either above the rim or right in front of it, and Paul had cultivated chemistry with Jordan that was nearly unbreakable. Last season, the two connected on 104 of Jordan’s 412 made shots. As time went on, the chatter died out because Los Angeles signed Milos Teodosic — arguably Europe’s best passer — and also inked Griffin to a five-year deal, showing the two have a mutual interest in building something long-term. Blake, an exceptional passer, helped Jordan on the offensive end as much as anyone.
The two were capable of running virtually anything. With Griffin’s ability to play point forward, it wasn’t odd to see him deliver a pinpoint alley-oop pass to Jordan, and that’s a combination that not many teams have or can defend. Despite being a dependable target for the Clippers, DJ’s most meaningful impact never came on the offensive end. And that didn’t bother the team because they never needed it.
Over the last five years, Jordan has emerged as a premier rebounder and rim protector. He gave Los Angeles confidence that they’d be able to compete on that end. At 6-11, 265, Jordan is a mountain that’s supremely-athletic and can irritate offensive players in a myriad of ways. Opposing bigs will wear out trying to bully him on the block, and there’s an intimidation factor for guards who enter his paint.
Since 2013, Jordan’s averaging 14.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. Nobody else is replicating those numbers. He’s also one of 19 guys in NBA history with at least five seasons of hauling in more than 13 boards a night. That list includes guys like Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Dennis Rodman. Jordan’s physical attributes combined with his nose for the ball has earned him two rebounding titles, and he uses those same traits to protect his paint.
Jordan’s a two-time All-Defensive first-teamer whose opponents shot 56.5 percent from inside of six feet on shots he contested last season. That was 14th overall among players who defended at least five of those attempts a night. (I’m also excluding Edy Tavares because he played just two games.) Jordan defended 5.2 of those attempts each night. It’s not an other-worldly number, but, among players on that list, only four were below him. Not-so-coincidentally, the Clippers allowed the 11th-most three-point attempts last season.
The DeAndre Jordan rumor mill has been more and more active thanks to Los Angeles’ recent struggles. At 29, he’s still in his prime, and the only concern with the contract is if he’d be willing to stay for a couple of seasons in his new home. After earning $22.6 million this season, Jordan has a player option for 2018-19. He’s fit to be a key guy on an adequately constructed championship team, which would include three or four or five offensive-minded players so Jordan can focus on what he does best — protect the paint and clean the boards.
Additionally, that franchise would have to be a contender or one piece away from being a contender. And there’s a team in Milwaukee that fits the latter.
In April, the Bucks pushed the Toronto Raptors to six games on the shoulders of Giannis Antetokounmpo and a hobbling Khris Middleton. This year, they have the talent to make more noise. And Jabari Parker is still hurt. Giannis is playing like an MVP and is better than last year; Middleton’s got his scoring touch back and is a legitimate playmaker; Malcolm Brogdon is a reliable floor general who buries threes with astronomical efficiency, and he’s able to run an offense if Jason Kidd ever decides to implement one. Oh, and they traded for Eric Bledsoe back in November.
The amalgamation of everything is perfect, and it’s more enticing now that Bledsoe is in town. Milwaukee’s offense is still sluggish, but they have Giannis, so that makes up for a lot.
Over the last 12 games, which is how long Bledsoe’s been with the team, the Bucks are averaging 101.1 points a night, good for 24th in the league. DeAndre Jordan’s putting up 10.4, slightly less than years previous. Because he gets his points on alley-oops, tip-ins and dunks, there’s reason to believe that Jordan could easily continue to give 10 points a night no matter where he goes. That would shoot Milwaukee up 17 places, right behind the Utah Jazz’s 110.3. On top of that, all of Jordan’s looks are high-percentage, and no one has to strain themselves to make it happen. On a roster that deploys up to three playmakers at once, all they need to do is make the proper read. Jordan’s grandest impact, though, would — you guessed it! — be on defense.
The Bucks rank 12th in points allowed (104.2) and 18th in defensive efficiency (108.5) for the year as a whole. (For what it’s worth: Basketball Reference has them 26th in pace with 95.6 possessions.) They’ve been an entirely different beast since trading for Bledsoe, and Jordan would turn them into an unquestionably elite defense.
Milwaukee, who’s 8-4 since the deal, boasts a much-improved defensive rating of 102.6 in those 12 games, the sixth-lowest in the league; on a per game basis, they’re allowing 100.5 points a night, tied with the Dallas Mavericks (uber shocking) for the fourth-lowest. Milwaukee’s length and speed are what makes them so lethal, and Bledsoe has only amplified it. In crunch time, they’re putting four incredible athletes out there who are young and spry and love to play aggressively. The fifth is John Henson. Imagine using a real-life upgrade meme to turn Henson into Jordan. We’re now talking about a five-man unit with tremendous versatility, capable of stifling even the most potent offenses.
On Monday, that possibility became a little more likely.
DJ went out and hired Jeff Schwartz from Excel Sports Management to represent him. Jason Kidd and Khris Middleton are with the same agency, and Kidd shares Schwartz as his agent. Am I reaching here? Maybe. But relationships are vital when you become a professional. (It would be a power move for the Bucks to fire Kidd after trading for Jordan.)
Jordan is better off suited to be somewhere that’s not Los Angeles. In all likelihood, he’d decline his option for next year anyway. His contract is easy to move, and the Milwaukee Bucks are an ideal destination. They have the roster makeup to hide him on the offensive end while improving on an already superb defense. The only question is the Clippers’ asking price. Would Milwaukee part with Brogdon and a couple of other pieces? Any deal the Clippers make should be for them to get younger, and Brogdon is built for the future.
Milwaukee doesn’t unseat the Cleveland Cavaliers because they have LeBron James. But their future is promising. DeAndre Jordan still has a few years left in the tank and, at his best, he’s one of the most impactful centers in the NBA.
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