While watching the playoffs I can’t help but think of the Nuggets. I long for certain players to somehow end up on the Nuggets’ roster in the coming year, even if I know it’s not logistically possible. I try and analyze the way playoff teams are constructed, from different personalities and skill sets, to team identities, strengths and weaknesses. Watching other teams in the playoffs is always enjoyable — especially this year — as I can push aside my myopic fandom and try my best to truly think like an NBA GM. And while there are always different nuances you pick up on from year to year, one common thread I’ve noticed with playoff teams that make the jump from simply appearing in the postseason to actually advancing is inner development from long-term investments. Case in point: DeAndre Jordan and the L.A. Clippers.
Prior to this year Jordan had participated in two postseasons averaging less than five points and 6.5 rebounds per game while playing an average of at least 23 minutes per contest. In all the regular seasons before this year Jordan had never averaged more than nine points or eight rebounds per game. Basically, up until 2013-14 Jordan has been nothing but an average, over-payed NBA center.
Then Doc Rivers came along.
This year Jordan averaged 10 points, 14 rebounds (doubling his average from last year) and 2.5 blocks per game all while shooting close to 70 percent from the field in the regular season. Thus far in the playoffs Jordan is averaging 12 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks per game while shooting 76 percent from the field. In Game 7 of the Clippers’ first-round matchup against the Warriors, Jordan logged 15 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks, playing a key role in helping the Clippers advance following the tumultuous Donald Sterling fallout. In the process Jordan became the first player in NBA history to have three games of at least 15 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks in a seven-game series.
DeAndre Jordan has been in the league for six years. He’s had four coaches and ample playing time to prove his worth. For five of those seasons and through three of those coaches Jordan showed flashes of brilliance but remained a largely mercurial player who appeared more lightening strike than steady storm of production. But the Clippers never gave up on Jordan. Instead, they made a pledge of confidence and patience, signing him to a lucrative long-term contract which is now paying off in the form of NBA records and playoff wins.
This movie likely sounds familiar to Nuggets fans because it’s the exact same one they’ve been watching with JaVale McGee the last few years. There are of course variances — McGee and Jordan aren’t the exact same player — but like every superhero movie made these days, the structure is nearly identical.
Both McGee and Jordan declared for the NBA Draft in 2008 and were some of the most impressive physical specimens coming out of college in years. Both stood 7 feet. Both could jump as high as most guards. Both were extremely raw. Both probably should have stayed in college a few more years. Both had tremendous upside but were inconsistent and lacked discipline. Both were considered to have low basketball IQ. Both had all sorts of question marks surrounding their level of enthusiasm for the game as well as their maturity. Both were considered to have a high probability of becoming busts (hence their draft positions). Yet here we are, six years later — five of those consisting of temptation, disappointment, struggle and mediocrity — and Jordan has just defied the myriad preconceived sentiments about his abilities. All it took was the right coach, the right time, the right team.
I’m no JaVale McGee apologist. If the Nuggets are able to find commensurate value for McGee via trade this summer, I will not weep. I will miss his plethora of Shaqtin’-a-Fool moments, but weep I will not. However, trading McGee before he fully recovers from injury, before he matures another year, and most importantly, before Brian Shaw has a chance to work with him (see: Hibbert, Roy; Faried, Kenneth; Mozgov, Timofey) is unwise, by my estimation.
Because I’ve seen this movie before — most recently featuring DeAndre Jordan — and I have a pretty good idea of how it ends.