Sports

Clippers center DeAndre Jordan learns by the seat of his pants

BasketballSportsDeAndre JordanLos Angeles ClippersNBAJobs and WorkplaceKevin Garnett

The last Clippers fans saw of DeAndre Jordan, he was making his usual fourth-quarter playoff moves.

Turning his head to watch teammates run up the court. Readjusting in his seat whenever the urge struck. Standing up during timeouts.

It's tough to earn your eight-figure salary when you're confined to the bench for four of six fourth quarters, as Jordan was during the Clippers' first-round loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

"There's always some frustration," Jordan said of not playing late in games. "The competitive players in this league, that's what it's about."

Jordan's minutes were reduced largely because of his inconsistency and inability to make free throws. It was one of the concerns the Clippers had when they tried to trade him this summer to the Boston Celtics for Kevin Garnett.

The tenuous relationship Jordan shared with coach Vinny Del Negro has been replaced by the giddy anticipation Jordan feels about playing for Doc Rivers.

And it just so happens that the philosophies of the Clippers' new coach and his starting center appear to be perfectly aligned.

"My focus and his focus are defense," Jordan said. "Everything else is going to be a bonus for me."

Of course, that's not to say the weaknesses in Jordan's game don't linger over the Clippers' championship hopes as they prepare to open training camp Monday.

Even if Jordan and Blake Griffin fulfill Rivers' wish to form one of the best defensive combinations of big men in the NBA, Jordan probably needs to make more free throws to play late in close games; his 38.6% accuracy last season was worst in the league among full-time starters.

As Jordan listed off-season improvements — including endurance and a diversified offensive skill set — one item was conspicuously missing.

Yep, free throws.

"I'm going to shoot the ball the same way, man," said Jordan, who turned 25 in July. "I'm not really thinking too much into it. I watched a lot of film of last year, the shots that I made and the shots that I missed. I feel like if I just keep the ball up and don't have a hitch in my shot and don't think about it as much and — no offense — don't pay attention to what you guys [in the media] say, I'm going to be fine."

Ignoring criticism is the area in which Jordan said he has grown the most since his rookie season five years ago. That's certainly helpful, considering claims he's been little more than an overpaid statue since signing a four-year, $43.2-million contract in December 2011.

Jordan also had to repeatedly deal with rumors he would become a Celtic, first before the trading deadline in February and then over the summer when the NBA nixed a proposed deal involving Garnett and Rivers.

"The NBA is a business and ultimately people are going to make moves to try to help their organizations out and try to get wins," Jordan said. "With all that being said, I'm still here, I'm still a Clipper and I'm happy here. But I really didn't read too much into it. I just wanted to focus on my game and wherever I was, I was going to play my [rear end] off for whoever it was."

Jordan's offensive production has slowly improved, to a career-high 8.8 points a game last season, when he also averaged 7.2 rebounds and shot a league-high 64.3% from the field. But are those numbers worthy of a player who will make $10.9 million this season and $11.4 million in 2014-15?

"I think he's really shown a vast amount of improvement since he's come in the league," said ABC and ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, the former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach. "Now whether he has another big jump will be up to what he sees for himself. You don't get that improvement without being a tremendous worker, so if he wants to work for it I think it's right there."

Jordan acknowledged that he needs to master more than lob dunks and easy putbacks, something he has shown only in flashes.

"Last year, I got the ball a lot early on in the season and I was able to make moves and be productive down in the post," Jordan said. "We went away from that a little bit, but I'm working on those same things. I'm working on an off-the-glass jump shot, a little face-up game. Hopefully some of that can be incorporated this year."

Jordan hopes the additions of sharpshooters J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley can give the Clippers a more dynamic offense, particularly in the half-court sets that were so stagnant at times last season.

If things go as planned, the defense can lean heavily on Jordan. His summer moviegoing experience included films of Rivers' former players, giving Jordan a look at the schemes his coach likes to use.

"We've talked a lot about different things for me to do and how I'm going to be involved this year," Jordan said. "I'm ready to go, man. We have a lot of things we want to accomplish this year, a lot of making up from last year and I'm really looking forward to the season."

Especially if he can see more than the view from the bench.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: latbbolch

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BasketballSportsDeAndre JordanLos Angeles ClippersNBAJobs and WorkplaceKevin Garnett
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