On a roster teeming with more star power than a ’90s boy band, DeAndre Jordan is Joey Fatone. Like Fatone, Jordan is always heard from but seldom the focal. Constantly singing, but rarely a soloist.
He doesn’t have the court vision of Chris Paul or a deal with Jordan Brand. Blake Griffin’s scoring ascension this year inadvertently put Jordan further out of sight. His 30-second ESPN spot satirizes his prowess and when Funny or Die came knocking, their concept paired him with the lesser known of the Franco brothers.
In short: he’s the backbone of the Los Angeles Clipper franchise that rarely garners deserved limelight. His fortitude isn’t found in scoring or marketability, but in tenacity. Without him, the Clippers would not be playing in the Western Conference finals.
As long as Jordan has known basketball he has known confinement. Scouts sequestered his ability into a trio of boxes: he can rebound, he can block, he can dunk. When his athleticism and skills manifested on the court, latency was tranquilly hung just above his reach like the triangle eye on a dollar bill. A 6-foot-11 skyscraper fused with a 265-pound fortress, a 7’6 wingspan, and parking meters for fists can be lucrative. It can just as easily be onerous.
Jordan carries the inhuman athletic genome. Whatever allowed Julius Irving to carve the paint in mid-air and Hakeem Olajuwon to deflate opposing jumpers: Jordan has it. This trait is also why his tantalizing upside often dwarfs any existing triumphs he has made. Lest we forget when Brandon Knight, Serge Ibaka, and countless others took the Jordan-train to YouTube Hell.
Potential has been affixed to his shoulders and Jordan has been marginalized by it until this season. He led the league in rebounding nearly every month this season and his 13.6 rebounds per game are a career high. For two years he has sat atop the field goal percentage leaderboard and this season’s 67.6% installment is the second highest of anyone since the new millennium. On a much-improved defensive system proctored by Doc Rivers, Jordan is allowed to play sentry of the back-line, and led the league in blocks with a career high 3.5 per game, finishing No. 3 in Defensive Player of the Year voting.
The transformation is clearly a byproduct of Jordan’s sharpened basketball acumen. He holistically understands his role in Rivers’ scheme: guard the rim, out-muscle interior defenders, ransack the glass, and occasionally hammer the highlight of the night by way of an alley-oop.
Jordan’s playoff campaign has been the unsung encore the Los Angeles Clippers needed after the best season in franchise history. Before this 2013-14 regular season, Jordan had never averaged more than ten rebounds per game; in the playoffs he’s averaging 13.1–tops among playoff leaders. His vertiginous regular season field goal percentage has inexplicably increased and now sits at 73.7%. The last two seasons, the Clippers were on average 15.5 points worse when he was on the court per 100 possessions in the playoffs. This year? They’re more than 6 points better. Jordan’s ineffable season put Jermaine O’ Neal’s swan song to rest, it helped quiet an entire country vehemently protesting the franchise for the ignorant comments made by team owner Donald Sterling, and it has the Clippers tied 2-2 with the Oklahoma City Thunder, a round shy of their first conference championship, two steps from their first NBA Finals appearance.
This sequence put the Golden State Warriors playoff hopes on ice:
The saga of DeAndre Jordan is unfolding. A 25-year old is growing up on the largest stage. It’s a narrative the Los Angeles Clippers needed at a time when their conviction was beleaguered. Jordan’s upsurge has parlayed a team into a title contender as if pulled by some biological imperative: we’re all witnesses.