By Sekou Smith, NBA.com
VIDEO: Chris Paul talks about DeAndre Jordan’s growth and impact on the Clippers
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Award season is basically a month away.
A regular season filled with plenty of candidates and campaigns that roll with the ebb and flow of the marathon that is the 82-game season will come to an abrupt end. Who will be left standing at the end of that roller coaster for remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, no race has more viable candidates than the Most Improved Player honor.
My sparring partner on almost every debatable topic, NBA TV research ace Kevin Cottrell, weighs in with a case for a somewhat unlikely prospect … Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who has seen his game change dramatically under the tutelage of Doc Rivers:
Throughout the season Lance Stephenson (IND), Gerald Green (PHO) and Goran Dragic (PHO) have drawn praise for the Most Improved Player (MIP) award, but one that’s often overlooked is Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. Is it because Jordan is a big man? Since the award was handed out (after the 1985-86 season) 5 of the 28 winners played the center position. In fact, the last big man to win the award was Jermaine O’Neal after the 2001-02 season. While the team’s anchor typically gets the least amount of touches, some may argue that they have the smallest impact on a game. Jordan is currently posting career highs in four statistical categories (PPG, RPG, BPG and FG%), proving he’s enhanced his game on both ends of the floor. If that doesn’t sway voters, the center has recorded 35 double-doubles, something he did a total of 39 times in his first five seasons combined.
In recent years, the hardware has gone to the player who had the biggest improvement in the points per game category, as illustrated by the last five MIP winners.
SEASON — PLAYER — PPG Improvement
2012-13 — Paul George +4.9
2011-12 — Ryan Anderson +5.5
2010-11 — Kevin Love +2.7
2009-10 — Aaron Brooks +8.4
2008-09 — Danny Granger +6.2
In NBA debates fans and experts alike tend to have a love affair with number of championships won and an infatuation with scoring barrages. While winning is the goal and scoring entertains, one should be awarded for their overall improvement of their game and not just their ability to put the ball through the basket. For sake of argument let’s look at the top 5 candidates for MIP this season and their PPG improvement.
PLAYER — PPG IMPROVEMENT
D.J. Augustin (CHI) — +9.5
Gerald Green (PHO) — +8.6
Goran Dragic (PHO) — +5.8
Lance Stephenson (IND) — +5.2
DeAndre Jordan (LAC) — +1.5
At a quick glance, Chicago guard D.J. Augustin should run away with the award. However he’s only appeared in 46 games for the Bulls and his improvement is based on the gaping hole left at point guard by the MVP Derrick Rose. Suns Forward Gerald Green bounced around Europe and the D-League before landing with the Pacers last season. After showing flashes in Indy he signed with the Suns where he was met with an array of minutes and shots on a young team. We’re finally getting a chance to see what Green can do in the NBA, this does not mean there was improvement. Dragic’s opportunity to score was created by the absence of Eric Bledsoe due to injury. As for Stephenson, he has the best argument to win the award. Not only does he lead the league in triple-doubles (4), but he’s been the Pacers second best player and a big reason why they continue to have the best record in the East.
All candidates are worthy of being mentioned, but Jordan was the motivation behind this post. Jordan’s stat line reads: 10.3 ppg 13.8 rpg 2.4 bpg 66.7 FG%. Those are gaudy numbers for a player known solely as a dunker. As for his circumstance, it has been about accountability. In the past Jordan has spent more time on the bench in the final period than in the paint. To support his overall improvement, he averages 7.5 (fourth quarter) minutes per game as opposed to 4.9 last season. To simplify the numbers, Jordan played in all 82 games last season and appeared in just 4th quarters. That has improved drastically this season, as he has appeared in all 69 games and fourth quarters.
Like any league awards, voters will find a way to be critical of players in the most miniscule way to determine their winners. In Jordan’s case some will point out his 45.3 FT% as reason enough to not win the award. That too is up from an embarrassing 38.6 FT% from a year ago. DeAndre has gained confidence at the line having made 40 more free-throws this season than all of last season, a big reason why he’s playing well into the 4th quarter.
Last postseason the Pacers and Spurs were left wondering what would have been if their big men were on the floor in crucial moments of 4th quarters to protect the basket and secure game-winning rebounds. Due to Jordan’s off-season work, the Clippers should not be left wondering “what if” this postseason.
Furthermore, DeAndre Jordan should not have to wonder what it would be like to be named the NBA’s Most Improved Player.
I’ve had Stephenson and Dragic atop my theoretical ballot for much of this season. They’ve both been so good for so long this season that it’s hard to imagine one of them not walking away with the MIP hardware.
But the case for Jordan is legitimate. And the way he is playing and the Clippers are performing this season, Jordan’s campaign could go well into the postseason.