Kawhi Leonard was announced as the 2015 Defensive Player of the Year in the NBA last week. Draymond Green had a legitimate shot at winning the award – his wing defense wasn’t on par with Leonard’s, but his ability to guard every position on the floor at a near elite level is a skill possessed by nobody else in today’s game. While these two players had strong cases to win the award, DeAndre Jordan – who finished third in the voting – had no business finishing in the top three.
Jordan isn’t even the best defender on his own team – that honor belongs to the most important player on the team in Chris Paul – but because he blocks a lot of shots and grabs a lot of rebounds, he gets recognition. Jordan isn’t a bad defender, but there are many reasons why he shouldn’t have received the recognition he did.
A defensive center’s primary objective is to protect the rim. Thanks to NBA.com’s SportVU cameras, we don’t have to rely on just blocks to judge a player’s ability to protect the rim anymore. While Jordan’s numbers are impressive (he allowed opponents to shoot 48.5 percent on almost nine attempts per game at the rim), DeMarcus Cousins, Robin Lopez, Andre Drummond, Tim Duncan, Serge Ibaka, Nerlens Noel and Pau Gasol all allowed a lower percentage while challenging more shots at the rim per game. Meanwhile, Rudy Gobert, Hassan Whiteside, Jonas Valanciunas and the Cleveland version of Timofey Mozgov all challenged at least 7.7 shots per game, played in significantly fewer minutes per game and allowed opponents to shoot lower than Jordan did at the rim.
The nine shots at the rim Jordan affects aren’t indicative of Jordan’s defensive ability, however. The number of times an opponent enters the lane only to see Jordan’s 9’6″ standing reach and leave quivering is big. Unfortunately, there’s a downside to Jordan chasing so many blocks:
In Jordan’s first block of the year, he showed how his athleticism can affect almost any shot. He helps off his man and blocks Jeremy Lin‘s shot directly to Chris Paul to lead to a fast break. When Doc Rivers misguidedly compares Jordan to Bill Russell, these are the types of plays he’s referencing:
These are the types of plays that are problematic for Jordan. While this particular block was a fantastic challenge, the issue with plays like these is Jordan chases the block ignoring his man in doing so. In this case, his man (Duncan) grabs the offensive rebound and gets rewarded with two free throws. Jordan could learn from one of the best rim protectors in the league when challenging shots:
The difference between how Andrew Bogut contests shots at the rim and how Jordan contests shots is the timing. Bogut makes a habit of challenging shots at the last possible moment in order to avoid the possibility that the player will pass to Bogut’s man, or change his mind and not shoot the ball. This could be part of the reason that Bogut allowed opponents to shoot only 44.6 percent from inside six feet (almost 15 percentage points better than their average), while Jordan allowed opponents to shoot about 57 percent from that same range.
On/off splits are difficult to truly measure a player’s impact on the court, but it’s a decent starting point. When Jordan was on the court this season, his team allowed 105.8 points per 100 possessions, a mark slightly below the league average of 105.6, per Basketball-Reference.com. When Jordan was on the bench, the team allowed 104.8 points per 100 possessions, which would have tied them with the 13th-placed Philadelphia 76ers in defensive efficiency. Those results could be swung by the team allowing fewer points to backups, but when Spencer Hawes and Glen Davis are the primary replacements for Jordan, something isn’t right.
DeAndre Jordan isn’t a bad defender; in fact, he’s a pretty good defender. His ability to switch onto smaller players and have some success is extremely beneficial in this era of spread pick-and-roll systems, but Jordan finishing above players like Duncan, Gobert, Bogut, Anthony Davis and many others in Defensive Player of the Year voting is enough for some voters to have their votes removed.