The Los Angeles air must be getting to Doc Rivers.
Rivers spent nine years getting an education in the history and tradition of the Boston Celtics, but apparently he’s already forgotten much of what he learned. In his first year as coach of the L.A. Clippers, Rivers has said some pretty surprising stuff, claiming the Clips “should be better than any team I’ve ever coached” and dubbing center DeAndre Jordan as a member of a new “Big Three” with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.
But Rivers isn’t content to classify Jordan with mere perennial All-Stars. He’s going all the way to the Hall of Fame.
“I genuinely see traits of Bill Russell” in Jordan, Rivers told Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com. He was being completely serious.
Rivers keeps saying wonderful things about Jordan, who, to be fair, has been pretty good this season. He’s averaging a career-best 2.4 blocks per game and has a career-low defensive rating of 98 points allowed per 100 possessions. He is a key cog in what the Clippers believe can be a championship-caliber machine.
He’s not Russell, though. He’s nowhere close. Come on, now.
Despite a spider-like 6-foot-11, 250-pound frame, Jordan actually hasn’t been much of a rim protector before this season. His career average is 1.6 blocks per game, but he’s posted a defensive rating of 103, suggesting that for every highlight-reel rejection, he’s allowed two or three layups due to being out of position. Although blocks and defensive rating aren’t available from Russell’s days — because the concept of above-the-rim defense didn’t exist until he invented it — Basketball-Reference estimates Russell added 10.3 wins per season to the Celtics with his defense alone.
Jordan’s career best in defensive win share is 3.2, set last season, when the Clippers didn’t trust him enough offensively to leave him on the court in the fourth quarter of close games. So there’s a bit of a disparity, to put it generously.
Listen, Jordan is already a solid defensive presence in the middle. He’s only 25 years old and could be on his way to developing into a major interior force. By the time Russell was 25, though, he’d won three titles and a Most Valuable Player award. He had completely altered the way people looked at the game of basketball. He was transformative.
Like Russell, Jordan is tall. Like Russell, Jordan blocks shots. If those are the traits Rivers “genuinely” sees the two players sharing, then that’s fair. Beyond that, comparing them is like comparing apples to wombats.