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The Other Young Center In LA

A Daily Babble Production

There can't be too many professional hoopsters who manage to be quite as simultaneously underwhelming and overwhelming as one DeAndre Jordan.

When I watched Jordan play in person last year during his lone collegiate season with Texas A&M, had him ranked as a top-four pick.  At the time, it wasn't yet as clear to the nation that his actual basketball skills were minimal at best.  He didn't have any post game.  No touch around the basket, nothing that could really be considered a "move" of any sort, shy of dunking.  He managed to go 4-for-6 from the foul line the day I saw him, but he shot just 43.7 percent on freebies for his collegiate career.  His size helped him be a presence defensively, but he still didn't seem to know a ton about what spot to be in and how to move to make himself a real interior stopper.  Underwhelming indeed.

But here's the other half of the story: This is a guy who stands seven feet tall, weighs 255 pounds, has a wingspan that seems to take him from the baseline to halfcourt (hyperbole, perhaps) and moves like a gazelle.  His leaping ability isn't anything to sneeze at either.  Every now and then in college, when he felt like taking a break from not dominating, he would do something like this (seriously, clicking that link is worth your 85 seconds).  Or he would block six shots in a game, as he did against Baylor in March.  Or post 12 multi-block games as a freshman.

DeAndre Jordan wasn't a professional basketball player when he left the Aggies for the draft last spring.  But he was a heck of an athlete.  Watching super-athletes develop into professional basketball players can be a lot of fun, which is how I ended up watching a lot of the Clippers while all their veteran big men (Zach Randolph, Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby) were injured over the last couple of weeks.

What I've learned so far in this case is that said development is coming along gradually, and that's just fine.  Jordan's skill set looks similar to what he had last year.  The Clippers don't seem to run any plays for him.  Over the course of the Oklahoma City and Golden State games the weekend before last, it's difficult to remember even a handful of times when a teammate threw him the ball in the post. 

To some extent, Jordan really is the proverbial elephant in the living room when he is on the floor.  The tallest guy, bulkiest, lengthiest guy on the floor should be impossible to miss.  But even when one is watching his team just to observe him, it's easy to lose focus on Jordan because he doesn't seem comfortable being too involved yet.  Though he runs the floor well, especially for a man of his size, his gait in halfcourt sets is uncertain. 

At the offensive end, Jordan does some screening, but not too much, and for the most part he seems dedicated to staying out of the way of his teammates.  He gets on the low blocks down by the basket and spends a fair amount of time either stationary or waiting for someone to shoot so he can look for an offensive rebound.  Most of Jordan's shots come off of broken plays or recovered loose balls and offensive rebounds. It seems that a high percentage of his makes come courtesy of what's play-by-play refers to as the "two-point dunk shot."  The lack of touch remains an issue, both around the rim and at the line.  The southpaw center has hit just 11 of 34 free throw attempts this season.

On defense and on the glass, it's a similar phenomenon.  He eats up rebounds but seems to do it virtually without being noticed.  The guy averaged nine a game in his seven starts, and he posted double-digit board efforts three times in that span.  But Jordan is also responsible for the only performance I've ever seen in which a guy grabbed 20 rebounds, yet I still walked away thinking he was a non-factor.  Defensively, he has the agility and without a doubt the size to be effective in the pivot, but he doesn't yet have the nuances of the game down, such as how to best move his feet or where to be on rotations.  This leads to consequences like Andrew Bynum putting up 42 on him two weeks ago and the Clippers continuing to not guard the lane despite having their large fellow on the floor.

But on the flip-side, Jordan has already shown flashes of promise for future brilliance.  In that game when Bynum scored 42, Jordan put up 23 points of his own, and he did it on 11-of-12 shooting from the field.  Those 23 points came with 12 rebounds and four blocks.  Two nights before that, he grabbed 10 boards and swatted six more shots. 

Even in the games when he hasn't been as much of an overall factor, Jordan comes up with the occasional large put-back slam or awe-striking defensive play.  Meanwhile, Clips broadcasters Ralph Lawler and Michael Smith (two of the best in the business) routinely rave about what a good kid Jordan is.  He goes to the table to give the two long-time announcers a fist bump before each game, and both men have testified during game broadcasts that the youngster has shown a commitment to working at and learning the finer points of the game.

There have been no shortage of physically gifted individuals who haven't been able to turn their talents into productive performance at the upper levels of basketball competition.  But there's something about DeAndre Jordan that sticks with me.  Maybe it's that propensity of mine to hold a silly connection to a player I've seen in person.  Perhaps it's because my pal Tom from The Dream Shake entertained me with an anecdote about Jordan's younger days that ended with "he dunked on me during a pick-up game."  It also bears noting that I wanted to see Danny Ainge take Jordan as a project with the 30th pick (he went 35th), and I've maintained since that it would have been my preference to have him as the "DNP big man" this season while signing a guard off the free agent scrap heap (rather than center project Patrick O'Bryant). 

There is also always a chance the obsession has to do with the fact that his physique and agility are nothing short of freakish.  While he doesn't have the refined skills that he needs yet, he has shown that he's already capable of doing a fair amount without them.  Which means that if he puts in the work to gain and hone those skills, the ceiling will no longer exist.

Maybe he'll turn out to be a bust.  Maybe he will be the steal of the 2008 draft.  Most likely, DeAndre Jordan will wind up somewhere in between those two ends of the spectrum.  But watching him take the journey to becoming whatever caliber of NBA player he ultimately does isn't likely to be boring.

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