Tomorrow’s story today …
DeAndre Jordan has made seven consecutive free throws.
He’s almost doubled his career scoring average.
Shaquille O’Neal called him the Western Conference’s best center right now.
Jordan’s progress with the basketball in his hands has been so remarkable so far this season and so helpful in balancing the Clippers’ all-too-predictable offense that it’s difficult to select which of the three lines above is more astounding than the others.
Let’s go line by line.
First, the Clippers hired a shooting coach, Bob Thate, to work with Jordan and power forward Blake Griffin to improve their free throw percentages. The Clippers believed Jordan and Griffin gave away points with poor free-throw shooting.
Jordan shot 52.5 percent in 2011-12, a career best, but nothing to brag about. He’s connecting at only 46.7 percent (7 of 15) this season, but he’s made seven in a row going into tonight’s game against the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.
So, perhaps Thate’s tutoring is playing dividends.
Second, Jordan’s scoring average is up to 11.3 points after seven games. His career average was a paltry 6.1 points after four seasons as a defense-first center on a team that didn’t ask him to do much offensively.
Jordan has shown a willingness to shoot when in the low post so far this season. He’s displayed a nice touch on his running hooks, confident in his shot with either hand. He’s also been unstoppable at point-blank range, dunking with authority.
Third, O’Neal’s comments came after fellow TNT analyst Steve Kerr addressed the Clippers’ lack of offensive variety last season. Without naming names, Kerr suggested the Clippers relied too heavily on Griffin and point guard Chris Paul.
This season, the Clippers have encouraged Jordan to look for his shot more often.
“We tell ‘D.J.’ he’s a huge part of this team,” Paul said of Jordan, who has scored 20 points or more twice this season and has two other games with 10 points or more. “He knows it, too. To us, he’s one of our most valuable players.”
O’Neal, who knows a thing or two about playing the center position after a Hall of Fame career that included three NBA titles with the Lakers to start the 2000s and a fourth with the Heat, praised Jordan’s play.
“I don’t know what all the other big guys were doing this summer, but I know what DeAndre Jordan was doing. He was working on his game,” O’Neal said during last Thursday’s telecast of the Clippers’ victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
“He’s playing like a real big man, taking his time and going right over the top,” O’Neal continued. “I’m going on the record. The best center in the West right now is DeAndre Jordan. You heard it here first.”