The Nets bench has undergone a constant overhaul this season. With long-term injuries to Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert, and now David Nwaba, Wilson Chandler’s suspension, Iman Shumpert’s brief stint, and the 2018 draft class often looking unplayable (whew!), Kenny Atkinson and his staff have had to mix and match to find the right combinations. The rotation has been shuffled again and again. It’s who’s up, who’s down, who’s around. However, one of the few constants has been Hyland DeAndre Jordan Jr. (Yes, that’s his name. Check Wikipedia. We did.)
The three-time All-NBA center has settled quite nicely into a bench role and his play has been trending up as the season progresses. After sometimes looking lethargic early in the season like he had last season in a garden not far away, like maybe he lost more than a few steps, Jordan has rebounded (pun intended). It’s not uncommon for a veteran to play himself into shape and it seems as if Jordan has done just that.
In the midst of the euphoria over The Clean Sweep, there was some (okay a lot) of questioning of his four-year, $40 million deal. He was brought in to partner with pals (and 2016 Olympic teammates) Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Although it was a request, maybe a demand, from the star duo of Durant and Irving, many still scratched their heads as to why the Nets committed so many years at big money to an aging, declining center when they already had a promising center in Jarrett Allen, who’s a full decade younger.
Fast forward to today and now the talk around the league is about the Nets having one of the better two-man center tandems in basketball, Lob City II as some have said. Jordan has dispelled any concerns on whether he’d be willing and able to share minutes with Allen. He has willingly and unselfishly come off the bench for the betterment of the squad.
Jordan has also quickly become one of the most well-liked and respected figures in the Nets locker room — alongside Theo Pinson. Meanwhile, Jordan’s presence as a mentor has also been beneficial to Allen. The third year center has taken a big leap, from both a mindset and physicality standpoint. No doubt a big part of credit is due to Jordan. Allen has been playing with much more confidence on the court, ferociously attacking the glass and protecting the paint — mirroring Jordan in many ways.
The 6-foot-11, 265-pound Jordan has given the Nets everything they could’ve asked for; leadership, toughness, size, defense, and a tangible personality upgrade that seems to have rubbed off on the rest of his teammates. Not to mention his pre-game hair style tips to Allen.
As his season has been on the uptick, Jordan has maintained his reputation as an elite rebounder and strong interior defender. Moreover, Jordan has added a new wrinkle to his game, often acting as the lead playmaker in the half-court for the Nets’ short-handed second unit. Take a look...
When thinking about the NBA’s best playmaking centers, a few names roll off the tongue … starting with Denver’s Serbian mind-melting sorcerer, Nikola Jokic. A pair of the league’s sweetest-dishing elder-statesmen, Marc Gasol and Al Horford, have earned themselves a nod as well over the years. Two youngsters, Domantas Sabonis and Bam Adebayo, also deserve consideration as well. To the (admittedly obnoxious) hipster NBA fans (ha, hello there!), names like Kyle O’Quinn and Harry Giles III may also come to mind. Respects due to Karl-Anthony Towns as well, who has made tremendous strides as a passer this season.
And then, farther down that list – and probably a bit too far – is DeAndre Jordan; a man who has breathed new life into a relatively listless bench unit with his ball-pinging eccentricity as a seldom-seen high-post initiator. Jordan’s ability to execute from the pinch post may seen refreshingly antiquated. He makes plays we haven’t seen since the days of the triangle offense.
Okay, okay, we’ll admit it. That last sentence from the paragraph above was a slightly silly Elastigirl-like-stretch to prove a point. But the general ideology still stands upright and unwavering. Jordan’s ability to create from the top of the key catches defenses completely off-guard; his pin-point accuracy on 22-foot bounce passes is an atypical trait for the prototypical rim-running, 7-foot high-flyer.
Saturday’s showcase against the forever-free-falling Atlanta Hawks was the latest example of Jordan’s fantastic facilitation. Jordan’s season-high 20-rebounds were subject to any and all mainstream attention. Because of this, his (also season-high) six assists were soundly swept under the rug.
Here, he kindly feeds Spencer Dinwiddie two of his 39 points with a well-timed flick-of-the-wrist dime. (It kind of goes without saying, but credit due to Dinwiddie for the creativity on the slipped screen and subsequent back-cut.)
Jordan did more than his share in resurrecting the wandering basketball soul known around these parts as Rodions Kurucs. On the night, Kurucs netted 6 points on 3-of-3 shooting. Two of those slump-busting buckets came from Jordan’s vision with perfectly timed dimes to the cutting Latvian.
The second of these two assists was especially notable. Here, Jordan utilizes Kurucs’ best and most crystallized NBA skill: backdoor cutting. With Kurucs quietly lifting from the right corner to the nail, Jordan waited -- patiently -- for his teammate’s final counter. Sure enough, with a swift v-cut to the middle of the paint, Latvia’s Tasmanian Devil hooper freed himself of De’Andre Hunter’s grasp, and Jordan slipped him a swift chest-pass for the crisp lay-in.
After the exquisite 12-point, 20-rebound, 6-assist performance by Jordan in the comeback win over Atlanta, Garrett Temple said:
“You know what you’re going to get out of D: veteran guy that can really protect the rim obviously, put pressure on the basket on the offensive end and get every rebound that comes off the rim,” Temple said. “That’s been his game.’
Temple, acknowledging Jordan’s newfound skill added, “Obviously the assists, the ability to pass, play off cuts with him … that was really big for us.”
Then, there’s his new routine, first noticed by John Schuhmann of NBA.com. After every assist, Jordan will bend over and pick up an imaginary dime. Ca-ching.
Partly out of necessity, the Nets have found yet another weapon to add to their arsenal, a nice piece of change (pun intended again). Let’s jump ahead to next season, or even perhaps later this season, how dangerous could Jordan’s top of the key passing be when flanked by Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert, and Kevin Durant?
Jordan’s 20 rebounds in Saturday’s win over the Hawks were a season-high and the most off the bench by any player in the NBA this season. It was also the 60th 20-rebound game of his career. He stands second in the entire NBA in rebounding rate — trailing only Detroit’s All-Star, Andre Drummond.
To make matters even more impressive, Jordan’s Saturday stat-line made him the first player in Nets franchise history to reach those totals off the bench and just the third in NBA history to do so, joining Charles Barkley and Enes Kanter.
Jordan has proven an invaluable member to the Nets’ success, both on the court and in the locker room. He’s gotta be the biggest surprise of the off-season signings. He has been instrumental in the Nets being able to survive while shorthanded, serving as the sturdy tree in the middle of a treacherous hurricane.
With Irving and LeVert on the mend, the Nets will have to weather the injury storm at least a little bit longer, leaning on their anchor, DeAndre Jordan, to keep them grounded.