When it came down to crunch time last season, Vinny Del Negro didn’t trust DeAndre Jordan. That’s why Jordan never touched the court in the fourth quarter in four of the six Clippers playoff games last year, when they lost to Memphis.
To be fair, Del Negro had no reason to trust Jordan — his defensive rotations were late plus he shot 38.6 percent from the free throw line (hack-a-Jordan became a thing). Jordan was a late game liability.
Jordan says he plans to change that this season. He better if the Clippers have plans of being the contender they look like on paper.
New Clippers coach Doc Rivers brings a more positive attitude and a clean slate — Jordan will get the chance to prove he should be on the court in crunch time. Jordan told the Los Angeles Times he thinks that he will earn the court time.
“My focus and (Rivers’) focus are defense,” Jordan said. “Everything else is going to be a bonus for me.”
Okay. But what about those free throws?
“I’m going to shoot the ball the same way, man,” said Jordan, who turned 25 in July. “I’m not really thinking too much into it. I watched a lot of film of last year, the shots that I made and the shots that I missed. I feel like if I just keep the ball up and don’t have a hitch in my shot and don’t think about it as much and — no offense — don’t pay attention to what you guys [in the media] say, I’m going to be fine.”
Whatever work Jordan did this summer he is going to get ample opportunity to showcase it because the Clippers are thin along the front line. If Jordan isn’t getting it done, Doc is going to have to turn to Byron Mullens and Ryan Hollins. That’s not good.
Jordan’s defense is the single biggest key to the Clippers being the contenders they think they are. The Clippers were a top four offense in the NBA last season then they went out and added shooters like J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. With Griffin and Jordan still improving their games, the Clippers are a top three offense this season, and maybe the best in the league.
But can they stop anyone when it matters? Not consistently last season, and not in the playoffs. Doc Rivers was a great defensive coach when Kevin Garnett was the guy quarterbacking the D and patrolling the paint. Can he coach Jordan up into that role? Is Jordan really ready for it?
It won’t matter if Jordan can’t stay on the court — his free throw issues had him sitting the fourth quarter a lot last season, including in the playoffs against a massive Memphis front line, when Los Angeles needed him most. Rivers will be forced to yank Jordan, too, if the free throws don’t fall.
Jordan has said he worked hard on his game and weaknesses. We’ll start to see that next week when camps open. No pressure, but the Clips are relying on you to get them to the next level.