Doc Rivers called the performance a masterpiece.
Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan was all over the Staples Center court, pulling down 18 rebounds, blocking seven shots, and generally disrupting the Phoenix Suns' offense. "DJ not only gets the boards, he changed shots, he was everywhere. He's been good all year defensively," Rivers, the Clippers' head coach, said after the game. "I thought this was a Picasso."
Rivers admitted that drawing the comparison between Jordan's work and that of Pablo Picasso, one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, was just the first idea that popped into his head. But the coach was on point.
While Jordan didn't need a paint brush or color palette in that 120--107 victory in November against his team's Pacific Division rival, his outstanding defensive workmanship, which accompanied 12 points, was worthy of that level of praise.
After all, Jordan has made quite a defensive impact on the NBA canvas — whoops, hardwood — helping transform his squad from one of the worst teams in the league into a championship contender. Besides anchoring the Clippers' D, Jordan is also an efficient shooter from the field and a colossal dunker — just ask Brandon Knight (and relive Jordan's jams on page 21). By mid-December, he was third in the NBA in rebounds and second in field goal percentage.
While L.A. All-Star duo Blake Griffin and Chris Paul draw the most attention from opponents, basketball foes are starting to pay close attention to Jordan, too. "Blake is our MVP, Chris is our floor general, and DeAndre is our defensive leader," says Clippers guard Jamal Crawford. "He's the best defensive player, not just on our team but in the league."
A SLOW START
Jordan was raised in Bellaire, Texas, the eldest of four boys. Jordan's mother, 6'2" Kimberly, and father, 6'4" Hyland, both played basketball at Huston-Tillotson University. Jordan's parents passed down their love of the game and also their height: Jordan is 6'11", and all three of his brothers are 6'5" or taller. For years, the four of them shared a bedroom, crammed into bunkbeds, and in the evenings, they stayed outside until dark playing two-on-two games in the driveway. By the time Jordan entered the seventh grade, he was a towering 6-foot WWE- and SpongeBob-watching teenager. He dunked for the first time the following year.
During his senior year at Christian Life Center Academy outside Houston, in 2007, Rivals.com rated Jordan the second-best high school center in the nation. He finished the season with 26.1 points, 15.2 rebounds, and 8.1 blocks per game.
Jordan spent only one year in college, at Texas A&M. As a freshman, he had a team-best six rebounds per game and shot 61.7% from the field. He earned Big 12 All-Rookie Team honors, but after the season ended, he decided to declare for the 2008 NBA draft. The Clippers took him with the 35th pick.
A reserve backing up centers Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman during his first two seasons with L.A. — on a squad that failed to break the 30-win mark in each of those seasons — Jordan moved into a permanent starting role in 2010. Two years later, after the Clippers acquired Paul to form a dominant trio with Griffin and Jordan (all three are captains), the team ended a five-year playoff drought.
Still, Jordan was not happy with his production. He didn't see his defensive impact on the stat sheet. "I was averaging seven rebounds a game [during the 2012--13 season]. At 6'11" and the way I play, that was unacceptable to me," Jordan says.
Jordan points to L.A.'s playoff series against the grind-it-out Memphis Grizzlies in 2012 and '13 as evidence of how much he needed to get his rebounding numbers up and create second-chance points for his teammates. The Grizzlies outrebounded the Clippers by a combined 44 rebounds in 13 playoff games. "After experiencing that, I told myself, 'I need to dominate the glass. That's how I can control the game.'"
Displeasure over his past performances and a little self-talk drove Jordan to get better. A lot better.
ON THE RISE
Jordan had the best year of his career last season. He led the league in rebounds per game (13.6) and was third in blocks per game (2.5). On offense, he was tops in the NBA in field goal percentage (67.6%) and dunks (245). But his improvement on the boards is what Jordan really takes pride in. His mastery of rebounding is a result of his study of the trajectory of the basketball. "It's all about seeing where the ball is being shot from so I can see where it may pop off — how hard it may bounce — and then anticipating where it will be," Jordan says. "I have to position myself to be there to grab the ball."
With that strategy, he's become a primary focus for opposing players. "When I've battled [Oklahoma City Thunder forward] Nick Collison, he's told me, 'I'm not letting you get a rebound.' He's a strong dude, and we go at it. That all shows me that teams know I'm a threat," Jordan says. "I'm still getting a rebound, though."
After the clock expires, the humorous Jordan can be found cracking jokes with the guys or somewhere pranking unsuspecting bystanders. Still a kid at heart, Jordan made a series of hidden camera videos two years ago on Venice Beach. In one, he wore a horse mask and popped out to scare people, and in another he walked around with a hidden fart machine. (Not funny, DeAndre!)
All jokes aside, Jordan has become more disciplined with his game — starting with his free throws. Jordan is trying to raise his career 42.5 percentage by staying late after almost every practice to take nearly 100 of them. As he looks to perfect his charity-stripe shot, he's still making sure no one gets a good look off him because, while the Clippers are loaded with scorers, Jordan is the team's only true big man. Says Crawford, "He does the dirty work and covers everybody's mistakes."
Crawford may call it dirty work. But to Coach Rivers? It's a work of art.
Photos: John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated, Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated