DeAndre Jordan will find out in a week whether he'll be heading to New Orleans next month as an All-Star. The NBA's leading rebounder already was denied a shot to try out for USA Basketball -- his teammates Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were among the 28 players selected -- and, unless the 15 Western Conference coaches put as much stock into defense as Clippers' coach Doc Rivers does, odds are he'll be left out of the exhibition on Feb. 16, of which Griffin has already been named a starter.
The personal accolades and accomplishments are always nice, but Jordan won't let the lack of national notoriety stop him from continuing his career-best year.
"I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder, ever since my rookie year," Jordan said after the Clippers' 112-95 win over the Bulls on Friday. "This is just another one, and I’m going to take it day at a time. I’m still optimistic about the (All-Star) situation, but if it doesn’t happen it’s just another chip I get to add on my shoulder, that I get to play for."
Like it is each season, this year's All-Star Game will feature the league's best scorers. The game is constantly played in the 130s and 140s, as the lack of defense results in long-range shots, acrobatic dunks and highlight-reel transition plays from the league's best athletes. And while there's more quantitative ways to measure a basketball player's offensive worth, it's hard to argue against Jordan being one of the game's best defenders.
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He leads the NBA with 13.9 rebounds per game, is third with 2.5 blocks per game is one of two players in the league averaging double-digit rebounds and at least two blocks and one steal per game. Friday against the Bulls he didn't have his best game, deferring to Blake Griffin and a host of perimeter shooters, but still managed 10 points, 12 rebounds, a block and a steal.
"He’s the best defender in the league in my opinion, or one of them. He’s one of the best rebounders. He changes the game on one end," Rivers said. "When we’re voting for All-Stars and All-whatever-these-things-are, we always look at the offensive guys who change the game on one end. I don’t think we give enough credit to the defensive guys who change the game on one end or have an impact. He has an All-Star impact on our team."
Much of Jordan's impact on the Clippers, who entered Friday's action fifth in defensive efficiency, has been Rivers trusting his 7-footer more. In his first season with Los Angeles, Rivers has relied on Jordan to the tune of 35.6 minutes per game, 25th in the NBA. Last year, in 82 games, Jordan played 35 minutes or more just four times and never played 40 minutes. In 45 games this season he's played 40 or more minutes 11 times.
Allowing Jordan more of a leash -- and he has his fair shares of silly fouls and errant passes -- has turned a young, high-flyer into a blossoming definer with a nose for the ball.
"I feel like the opportunity to play more and play through mistakes," Jordan said when asked what the biggest difference has been from last year to this. "Doc, he’s a next-play guy. So whenever we do make a mistake, he forgets about it before we do. And that’s big coming from the top and he gives you that confidence and my teammates give me that confidence that makes me more confident out there while I’m playing."
Jordan has a kind of aggressiveness on the glass that can't be taught, and he does it without showing off the athleticism he shows on his highlight-reel alley-oop dunks.
Part of that, Rivers said, is a knack for knowing where the ball is going to land and fighting for 50-50 balls, not an easy task against a blue-collared Bulls team.
"I just feel like 'DJ' is so athletic and so long and so tenacious going after rebounds," River said. "He reminds me more of a Barkley-type where he felt like the ball was his. Barkley always felt like it was my rebound and nobody else’s."
For as much as he's worth defensively, he hasn't been a one-dimensional player. He leads the league in field-goal percentage, somewhat of a misleading stat considering he attempts just 6.1 shots per game, but still a help to one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league. After a 4-for-5 performance against the Bulls, he is now shooting 64.4 percent from the field. Note, too, that Jordan hasn't missed a game since the 2010-11 season, either, and it's easy to see where his value comes from.
In six days Jordan will find out how much defense is worth in the NBA. Whether or not he's selected to his first All-Star team with fellow teammates Griffin and likely Paul, Rivers said he isn't worried about how Jordan will react to it. The player who already fights with a chip on his shoulder is looking for a bigger one.
I don’t worry about that. His disappointment should be if we don’t win (a championship)," Rivers said. Other than that, everything else is the gravy. You just want to make sure your team ego is bigger than your individual ego, and I think we have that as a group, for the most part, on our team."