Welcome to our Lakers Season Preview Series! For the next several weeks, we’ll be writing columns every week day, breaking down the biggest questions we have about every player the Lakers added this offseason. Today, we take a look at DeAndre Jordan.
DeAndre Jordan and Marc Gasol could not be more different players. Jordan has had a successful, 13-year career because of his leaping ability and nose for grabbing rebounds, and Gasol’s equally-long time in the NBA was defined by his skill and high basketball IQ.
And yet, the two veteran centers found themselves in the same position after the All-Star break last season: replaced by a mid-season acquisition. In Jordan’s case, it was Blake Griffin; in Gasol’s case, it was Andre Drummond.
So why is it that the Lakers seemingly traded one to make room for the other? Because what makes Jordan different from Gasol is what could allow Frank Vogel to replicate the success he had during his team’s championship-winning 2019-20 season. Because while Jordan isn’t the player that JaVale McGee is (let alone the player he was last year), and nor did he enjoy the success that Dwight Howard had in a complementary role with the Philadelphia 76ers last season, he still does do many of the same things that made both McGee and Howard valuable. And, in certain areas, he’s even better.
The first thing that stands out about Jordan is his silly rebounding stats. For his career, Jordan has posted a total rebound percentage of 21.57%, which is the fourth-highest total rebound percentage in NBA history behind Reggie Evans, Dennis Rodman and — wait for it — Andre Drummond.
Unfortunately, “elite rebounder” isn’t the superlative it once was — it’s a big reason why Drummond’s contract with the Philadelphia 76ers is a fraction of the five-year, $130 million contract he signed with the Detroit Pistons in 2016. He’s also going to find it difficult to show his rebounding prowess with the likes of LeBron James and Russell Westbrook — two players that like to rebound and run — on his team.
That’s not to say Jordan’s rebounding won’t provide anything of value to the Lakers, but it shouldn’t be his most valuable attribute — if it is, something will have gone terribly wrong or very right, and I’d bet on the former in that scenario.
So what can Jordan bring to the Lakers in his 14th season? Interior defense.
Jordan isn’t nearly as mobile as he was in his prime, which has all but erased the little value he had on the perimeter, but he still makes opposing players second-guess themselves at the rim.
According to Cleaning the Glass, opposing teams attempted 3.5% fewer shots at the rim with Jordan on the floor last season, which put him in the 93rd percentile among centers in rim frequency differential. For context, opposing teams attempted 1.4% more shots at the rim with Gasol on the floor last season — the same respect clearly wasn’t extended there.
Ironically, though, Gasol actually had more success defending the rim than Jordan did last year. Not only was Gasol’s block percentage (3%) higher than Jordan’s (2.5%), but he held opposing players to a significantly lower percentage at the rim than Jordan did. Still, the Nets’ most-used lineup featuring Jordan held opponents to 54.2% shooting from the rim and 40% from the short mid-range. Those numbers improved across the board when all three of Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant were healthy.
The lineups Jordan struggled with were the lineups he was the focal point of the defense — lineups that included three guards and Jeff Green as the power forward. Jordan struggled in a similar way during his 50-game stint with the Dallas Mavericks.
Despite being a two-time All-Defensive team honoree, Jordan has shown he’s not someone you can build your defense around because of his limitations outside of drop coverages. The good news for the Lakers is that they won’t have to.
If we go with the assumption that Jordan will start because Vogel likes Dwight Howard coming off of the bench, Jordan would start in the frontcourt alongside Anthony Davis, who’s one of the most versatile defenders in the NBA. Davis’ speed and length, in theory, will make it harder for teams to exploit Jordan in drop coverages the way they did last season because Davis can close out on shooters and provide support at the rim — Green and Bruce Brown couldn’t that as well, for obvious reasons.
Additionally, if Jordan’s peers respect his defense at the rim as much as they did last season, then Davis’ job becomes easier on both ends of the floor. Just picture an opposing player forcing a bad shot over Jordan only for Davis leak out in anticipation of an outlet pass from one of Westbrook or James in transition. There’s a reason Davis thanked Rob Pelinka for signing Jordan.
Offensively, Jordan’s role will be simple: set screens and dunk the ball. It’s not the sexiest role in basketball, but it earned McGee a two-year, $8.2 million contract from the Lakers, Damian Jones a multi-year contract from the Sacramento Kings and it arguably saved Howard’s NBA career. The process yields results.
Now, is Jordan going to be the best center on the team? Probably not; it’s also unlikely that he’s the center that the Lakers are going to close with in important games. But given what the team needs — a center that can eat up minutes in the regular season and maximize the strengths of the starters — and the options that were out there, Jordan is fine, if not flat-out decent.