DeAndre Jordan has seen the floor in all nine games the Lakers have played so far this season, coming off the bench in two and starting for seven. And Frank Vogel seems – through both words and deeds – quite committed to him as a starter, despite most numbers above a small sample size suggesting that Jordan has been more effective off the bench.
For his part, Jordan says that his way of thinking doesn’t change, whatever his role.
“I don’t think it’s possible,” Jordan said on Friday after the team’s fourth practice of the season. “My job is the same whether I get off the couch or start. My job for this team is to defend as best I can, run across the floor, change and change shots, be the defensive anchor for us and get our playmakers open. Be a great veteran and a piece for this team to compete. ”
That may be true, but it doesn’t mean the context around him hasn’t made Jordan more effective as a banker than a starter. In just 128 minutes in total between the two rolls, units with Jordan have a better offensive, defensive and net rating when he comes off the bench, with the team outperforming a total of nine points per 100 possession during the 33 minutes Jordan has as a reserve. (net score of 7.9) than they have been in the 95 minutes he spent as a starter (-1.9), according to NBA.com.
These are extraordinarily small sample sizes to draw firm conclusions, but lineups in which Jordan is more effective in the games he’s taken off the bench is also a measure of intuitive sense. For starters, at this stage of his career, Jordan isn’t quite a starting-caliber player, or even an everyday-caliber player. But the injuries that have plagued the Lakers also mean that regardless of his opinion of his level of play, he needs to play at this point and getting off the bench may be the best way to make him most effective, because he’s just does not supplement the stars they need to get the most out of it.
For starters, starting Jordan alongside Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook cramps the field for both, nor does the team get the defensive value it wants from that configuration. The production the Lakers take out of the 33-year-old veteran is also certainly not worth taking to the floor in a lineup that also includes so-so shooters in Kent Bazemore and Avery Bradley for a team that must score to survive while LeBron James is out in the near future.
With Jordan being the only big one on the floor, though, he’s a bit more useful, or at least hurt less of the lineups he’s in. He can be in the dunker spot without other teams having multiple other places to help from, while playing him as a starter leaves a lot of paint to keep an eye on Jordan and Davis as well as drivers at the same time like Westbrook, while sending extra help wherever they want from questionable perimeter gunmen.
Off the bench—and, most importantly, without Davis—Jordan can simply clean up the trash or make himself available for dump-offs when Westbrook or others reach the brink. He and Westbrook have flashed some decent chemistry on lobs, complemented by shooters like Carmelo Anthony in the team’s reserve units.
It’s not Jordan’s fault that none of that can happen in the starting lineup, but it doesn’t mean the team can continue to paralyze both Davis and Davis. and which should also be their best unit for him. Especially not while James is out, when they need to get the most out of every lineup they play alongside their stars. If Jordan’s mindset is really the same regardless of his role, then it’s probably time for the Lakers to test that theory and see if they can help him and themselves at the same time.
None of this is to say that the two big lineup can never work. Lineups with both Davis and Dwight Howard have been far superior in defense, with only 90.9 points per 100 possessions, more than five points better than the best defensive team in the NBA and far better than formations where Davis plays without him (107.6 defensive rating). The team’s attack fell off a cliff in those minutes (nearly nine points less per 100 possession than in Davis’s minutes without Howard), but those groups still have a better net score than other units with Davis (+5.4 vs. . -2.3) because of their stifling defense.
In other words, it’s easy to see what Vogel is going for in wanting extra size and length at the rim. It can work. Jordan just can’t afford it. Lineups with him and Davis are surpassed 2.9 points per 100 possessions, and while Davis’s minutes without Jordan aren’t much better due to those same splits (net score of -2.8, suggesting that sometimes Jordan isn’t solely responsible for his struggles this years), there is still no argument (at least initially) for the Lakers to continue to justify its use. The two-headed lineup can work defensively with Howard because of his superior defensive instincts and abilities, but that just can’t be with Jordan at this stage of his career.
It’s probably no coincidence, lousy opponents aside, that the Lakers went 2-0 in the two games. Jordan was a reserve, and his otherwise 3-4. So if Davis is missing time with his right thumb sprain, there’s an argument for Jordan (or Howard) to start. If not, the last two minutes should split into bank bursts, and probably not much else.
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