DeAndre Jordan, the 6-foot-11, goateed center for the Clippers, operates on defense like an NFL middle linebacker.
His eyes dart, from the opposing coach to his point guard to try to see what play might be coming. His long arms extend in the air, signaling for his teammates' attention. His deep, booming voice then bellows out the play.
Jordan is the captain of the Clippers' defense, and he's intent on putting his team in the best possible position.
"When I know this play is going at Blake [Griffin] in the post, I'll say, 'Blake, post up coming at you,'" Jordan said. "I'll know that Matt Barnes' guy is going to throw the post pass. So I'll tell Matt to press the ball to make sure it's a hard pass. We just try to disrupt the offense as much as possible.
"It's crazy how it's changed that fast. Now I know the plays other teams are running instead of having to ask the coaches. I think it comes from more studying and just watching the games more."
Jordan has become one of the NBA's best defensive performers and is in the conversation for defensive player of the year. He is third in the league in blocked shots at 2.46 a game; he has a presence on the court; he's active and communicates.
"I think in the past, he just kind of floated around there," Phoenix Suns Coach Jeff Hornacek said. "He tried to block a shot when guys came to him. But I think he's in their defensive philosophy. He's rotating out to guys. He's much more active with moving his feet. And when you have a guy that is that big, that athletic, that can do that, it clogs up a lot of things. That's been a big part of their success too."
Jordan studied tape of his idol Bill Russell, learning that there can be art in the blocked shot.
"In my first couple of years, I was just trying to block it ... or block it out of bounds to get an 'ooh or ah' from the crowd," Jordan, who wears No. 6 in honor of Russell, said, laughing. "But now, from watching film and studying guys like Tyson Chandler or Bill Russell, those guys are able to tip it to a teammate or tip it in the air to keep the ball alive."
Jordan leads the NBA in rebounds at 13.8 a game, and he also leads the league in defensive rebounds at 9.7. He has collected at least 12 rebounds in 59 consecutive games and has double-digit rebound totals in 73 of the 79 games he has played this season. He had only 23 double-digit rebound games last season in 82 games.
"He's blocking shots. He's altering shots. He's getting rebounds," Oklahoma City Coach Scott Brooks said. "He understands pick and rolls and defensive coverages. If he's not defensive player of the year, he's definitely first team [all-defense]."
When the Clippers began negotiating with the Boston Celtics to bring Doc Rivers to Los Angeles to be the coach, Jordan's name was prominent.
Some reports had Rivers coming to the Clippers with Kevin Garnett and Jordan going to Boston.
Rivers said he wasn't involved in the talks between Clippers President Andy Roeser and Boston President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge, but he said he told Ainge there was no way the Clippers would part with Jordan. Rivers spoke with the center after becoming Clippers coach.
"The whole thing with DJ, for me it wasn't about the trade," Rivers said. "For me, it was just telling him what I thought of him, what I believed he could be and I really laid it out. I was very honest. I told him it's in him. It's up to him.
"He's a gifted defender. There's nothing wrong with that being your gift."
Jordan was sold.
"Doc brought up the KG trade," Jordan said. "He was man enough to tell me that he didn't want to trade me. I felt like ever since then, I know I can trust him because he didn't have to tell me that."
Jordan is still a poor free-throw shooter, making only 43.9% of his free throws, an improvement over last season when he made just 38.6%.
"Doc told me, 'When they foul you, I'm not going to take you out. If you make one, good. If you make both of them, great. If you miss both of them, you better go down and get me a stop so it'll be the same,'" Jordan said. "So I really took that to heart."
Jordan, 25, is having a career year in his sixth season.
He's averaging career bests in points (10.4), rebounds, blocks, minutes played (35.4) and field-goal percentage (67.4%, which leads the NBA).
And Jordan has impressed many with his play, especially former Clippers teammate and mentor Chauncey Billups, who is now playing with the Detroit Pistons.
The two still talk via text or cellphone several times a week.
"DJ has grown three or four seasons in a few months," Billups said in a phone interview. "All the things that he's doing now, I was on him hard because I felt like he could have done that last year.
"But he wasn't ready. He has focused in and he's committed himself and he's getting that same message now from somebody that can hold him 100% accountable, which is Doc and [Clippers assistant] Ty Lue, who is doing all the defense. In my eyes, DJ is one of the most improved players in the league. I believe he should be the defensive player of this year."
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