The days of the traditional, towering, back-to-the-basket Centers who are detrimental to floor spacing and defensive switching appear to be behind us. Seemingly every young big man who enters the league these days has no reservations about putting one up from distance. The few who are reluctant to do so at least bring other valuable strengths to the table – playmaking, high IQ, ball-handling, superb athleticism, defensive versatility, etc. Before long, the word “unicorn” will be a formality; the whole league will be bombing from deep, handling the rock, and switching on defense with ease. What a time to be alive.
Although they’re becoming more mythical by the year, there still exists a small gaggle of those endangered, traditional skyscrapers manning the paint. Rudy Gobert and Clint Capela make their living playing this role. Both of these guys are outstanding defenders and know their role on offense. They bring a high level of production on both ends but struggle mightily with outside shooting and Free Throws.
Our subject at hand today once appeared to be cut from the same cloth as Gobert and Capela. DeAndre Jordan fits the mold of all the descriptions laid out above, except one. While he still doesn’t show any signs of a three-ball, his Free Throw shot has quietly improved high enough to sneak out of punting territory. At the time of my writing this, his FT% is sitting above 70%. While that might not look like a Golden Ticket, it’s extremely impressive given that he’s never shot higher than 58% in his career – and that 58% was last season after he’d obviously been working on it. The highest he’d ever average over the last 5 years before then was 48.2%. He’s been putting in the effort, and it’s finally showing in a relatively big way.
The thing is, his efforts haven’t quite brought him back into the Top 50 of standard, 9-cat Fantasy Basketball rankings. It used to be that if Jordan just had a somewhat average FT%, he’d be a 2nd-round value. So what gives?
Taken for a Ride
DeAndre Jordan’s Fantasy ranking has frustratingly fluctuated more than a healthy player’s value should over a 5-year span, especially when considering that this handful of years was during his prime. Have a look:
That’s one heck of a roller-coaster. The big fella’ journeyed from 4th-round value to late 6th, back up to 4th, then back down to 6th again. Now here he stands – smack dab in the middle.
His Minutes and Rebounds haven’t fallen a significant degree compared to what he’s posted over the previous 3 years, and we’ve already mentioned that his FT% has risen tremendously. Let’s look a bit deeper.
Previous 3 Years
Previous 3 Years
His Assists are up, which should also be a plus to his value. The major detriments, relative to recent season averages, are to his Blocks, Turnovers, and FG%. The Blocks may never come back up to what they were during his younger years but I believe Jordan will finish this season inside the Top 50, even though he’s on the outside looking in at the moment. Here’s why.
Looking at the graphs, you’ll notice two things that hint at positive regression.
The first is his FG%. There’s nary a reason to believe he can’t get that back up to at least what his average has been over the last few years. The only argument to be made against that is that maybe his age is catching up to him. For a guy who plays such a physical, bullying brand of basketball, it’s not an argument to be scoffed at. A real scenario exists where DJ’s FG% never returns to the glory years of 2014-’17 when he averaged over 70% for three straight seasons.
If that less-than-optimistic viewpoint comes to pass, there’s still a saving grace. The second hint at positive regression is his Turnovers. I feel so strongly that his value will increase even further because those TO’s are sitting at a career-high at the moment. That, by itself, may not be the strongest of arguments, but when you take a gander at his Usage%, something’s fishy. His Usage is as low as it’s been since 2014-’15, when he finished with only 1.3 TO’s per game. As we know, Usage Rate correlates to Turnovers. Conversely, lower Usage should obviously mean less TO’s.
Room for Improvement?
All things considered, I expect Jordan’s inefficiency issues to improve a bit. He may not take a monstrous jump in the rankings, but a modest 5-8-spot increase is nothing to turn your nose up at. That would slot him comfortably in the Top 50. I wouldn’t go trading a shiny, high-upside, Top 50 player for him, but if you can buy low on DeAndre with, say, a lesser player closer to the 60-70’s, I would consider that a win.
DeAndre Jordan’s best days might now be in the rear view mirror but he’s displayed a nice ability to improve unexpected aspects of his game. The uptick in Assists is nice, although it might be a number too high to consider it
We’ve covered why I believe Jordan can finish in the Top 50 this season. What about the future? We are Dynasty-driven after all.
Proj. 18-19 Rank
Questions linger about DJ’s future Fantasy upside. As a Free Agent again this coming Summer, any team that signs him won’t be bringing him in as a backup – not yet. He’s on the wrong side of 30 but he still believes he has enough left in the tank to contribute to a winning cause. He’s not going to any team that he thinks he won’t be starting for. Without another competent starting Center to compete for minutes with in Dallas, it’s a good bet to say he stays put unless the Mavs are eyeing a younger piece to take Jordan’s spot. There’s not many options either way. Nikola Vucevic and DeMarcus Cousins might be the only two starting-caliber big men who fit the notion of a player who would be considered a better option at this point. Let’s say he remains a Maverick next year. The way this roster is currently constructed, DJ would be in a very similar position.
What about the following year? There are too many variables and hypotheticals to give a clear-cut projection for two years down the road. Dallas could have a better, younger option by then. Or maybe not. Either way, Jordan’s aforementioned style of play doesn’t bode well for his future. Players like him commonly tend to break down by then, if not beforehand. If DeAndre is still in the Top 100, it’s a triumph. Top 125 might be more reasonable – even if he plays second fiddle to a youthful Unicorn ahead of him by then. For context, Nerlens Noel is just inside the Top 125 right now, playing less than 14 minutes per game behind Steven Adams.
In Closing… Dynasty Style
Riding him out over the rest of this season would be a good play given his impressive improvements. Beyond that is a bit shaky. If you can deal him over the Summer for another (younger?) Top 70 Center, you should pull the trigger. That being said, I wouldn’t go looking to sell low on him. He’ll still have at least one more year of useful production, depending on where he lands in Free Agency.
All in all, DeAndre Jordan’s kind seem to be fading away. In the not-so-distant future, every Fantasy team might be getting their Blocks and Rebounds from players who also provide other stats, whether it be 3’s or Assists, or even good percentages. Let’s not take for granted the time we have left with traditional big men. Maybe the rise of the Unicorns will allow us to buy low on these old school players.