Matt Barnes’ Strong Play, Lamar Odom’s Improvement Make DeAndre Jordan’s Late-Game Exclusion No Less Perplexing

Blake Griffin, DeAndre JordanEarlier this week, I posted a story asking for your help after I discovered that DeAndre Jordan has been missing in action from the fourth quarter in just about every game during the Clippers’ win streak. Because my own opportunities to watch the Clippers are limited, I wanted to hear from Clippers fans (you poor, poor souls) for some deeper observations to explain the reasoning behind this befuddling move.

After Christmas Day brought yet another lopsided victory in which Jordan did not record a millisecond of playing time in the fourth quarter, let’s take a look at your responses, and my thoughts on each.

Yo, Ben, I’m writing this in response to your article about DeAndre Jordan. Honestly, how many touches does the dude get in a game? If you’re in a “semi-close” game, do you want to give anyone free throws? (They are “free.”) Also, this seems pretty ridiculous comparing a player like Shaquille O’Neal, who was a dominant force, versus DeAndre Jordan. Let’s get real man. The hack-a-DeAndre plan is pretty absurd. Hack-a-Dwight [Howard] at least makes sense, kinda. Neither gets touches like Shaq.
— Joseph T. Lepri

Let me start by saying that I respect any reader who prefaces his comment by warning that he drank a lot of spiked eggnog prior to writing, as you did in the subject line of your email, Joe. I’m putting this question first to clear up any confusion. I’m not saying opponents should foul Jordan to rein in Jordan — they should foul Jordan to rein in Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford. Yes, free throws are free, but if you can limit those guys’ opportunities to score two or three points, it seems worth the trade-off to send Jordan to the line for one point at most.

It has a lot to do with a concerted effort to get Odom where he needs to be. He’s getting D.J.’s minutes.
–@RolandTGunner via Twitter

The Lamar Odom factor is understandable, since he was such a major part of the Lakers’ last two titles and can be a game-changer when he is right. If the Clippers can get him back to something resembling his last two or three seasons with the Lakers before he (mentally) took last season off, they would have a bench that could compete with several teams’ starting fives.

(Seriously, you have to give the Clips’ bench at least a fighter’s chance in a matchup pitting Odom, Crawford, Matt Barnes, Grant Hill and Eric Bledsoe against Anthony Davis, Robin Lopez, Al-Farouq Aminu, Austin Rivers and Greivis Vasquez. Davis is for real, Vasquez is a potent pick-and-roll threat and Lopez plays hard, but …)

The problem is, I do not see this as Odom taking Jordan’s minutes. It seems to me that a more accurate explanation is that Odom is taking Caron Butler‘s minutes as a swing-forward (as our next reader points out), while Ronny Turiaf has been manning the paint when the Clippers need somebody down low. Turiaf is a valiant survivor of heart surgery and helped calm Jeff Green during his own heart ailment, but — really, Ronny freaking Turiaf?

Occasionally, the Clippers are going without a true big man altogether. This is fine so far as it goes. The Heat went to a super-small lineup with Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Shane Battier in the frontcourt to win the title last season, while the Celtics often played an unconventionally small lineup around Kevin Garnett to get to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Knicks’ success with Carmelo Anthony at the four is well-publicized and even the Thunder have gone with lineups in which Kevin Durant is technically a “post” player. Benching a player making more than $10 million is a lot different from benching Joel Anthony or Greg Stiemsma, however. Sticking Jordan on the bench in the clutch makes him a sunk cost roughly equivalent to one-fifth of the salary cap.

It is simple… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Their current rotation and bench are working out better than they ever envisioned. There is no reason to play D.J. in the fourth quarter, not so much because of the poor free throw shooting but because Lamar Odom is starting to play like he was a couple of years ago. Matt Barnes is playing the fourth quarter, moreso than the starter Caron Butler, who’s getting paid 10 times more than Barnes. Crawford, the leading 2013 sixth man of the year, is finishing games and at times even Eric Bledsoe plays big chunks of fourth quarter with Paul on or off the court. The Clippers are 12 men deep.
–Dionisios Marinos, via Facebook

Barnes has shocked me with how good he has been. He is not just a hack artist who brings no other skills to the table, as he was for most of the last two years with the Lakers, in my opinion. Like many veterans who play with Paul, Barnes seems re-energized and is running the floor as though he were 27 years old again. I would ride Barnes until he broke if he played like this in the playoffs.

The rub, though, is that this is not the playoffs. The point is not to play your best ball in November and December. The point is to build up throughout the regular season so you can play up to your potential in the playoffs. Barnes, Turiaf and Ryan Hollins are fine now against the Suns, Nuggets and Kings, but how about the Thunder and Spurs in June? When the Clippers signed Jordan to a four-year deal last December, they sent a message that they considered him a budding elite defender and finisher. They sent a message that they intended for him to be a crucial part of a championship-contending team. He cannot get there, and the Clippers risk falling short of the potential they themselves implied with that contract, if he is mired on the bench during the teachable moments of the regular season.

The conclusion I draw, based on your responses, is that Clippers fans are not nearly as perturbed about Jordan’s lack of fourth-quarter playing time as I thought they would be — and perhaps as much as they should be. Considering the long, sordid history of the franchise, I can understand why they would want this win streak (14 games and counting) to continue at all costs.

As amazing as this is to write, though, the Clippers are a legitimate title contender — not a Pacific Division title contender or a Western Conference title contender, but an NBA championship contender, complete with rings, a parade and a banner. It is tough to see them fulfilling that potential without Jordan as a major part of the equation. If finding a way to work him in comes at the cost of a few regular-season wins, is that worth it?

Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and a whole bunch of other players who are a lot more used to winning than the Clippers would resoundingly say, yes.

Anyway, this was fun. Let’s do this again. Next topic: Which one of Griffin’s Kia commercials is the best?

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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