Free Agency

DeAndre Jordan fills a huge need for the Mavericks at center

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DeAndre Jordan (Getty Images)

At long last, DeAndre Jordan is a Maverick.

The one-time All-Star came close to making Dallas his home in the summer of 2015, when he made a verbal agreement to sign a $80 million deal with the Mavericks, only to change his mind at the last second and re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. While that burned some bridges at the time, it didn't stop the franchise from making him a one-year, $22.9 million offer this offseason when he turned down his player option to become an unrestricted free agent.

Jordan joins a Mavericks team looking to compete in the Western Conference next season. They won 24 games in 2017-18 - the team's lowest win total in 20 years - but Dallas acquired the most NBA-ready prospect in the 2018 NBA Draft in Luka Doncic and already have a number of veterans in place who can help them take the next step, Jordan now being one of them.

The biggest way Jordan's presence will be felt in Dallas is in the paint. According to NBA.com, the Texas native scored over a third of his points on a combination of pick-and-rolls and cuts last season, doing so at a rate few players could match. (Not only did he rank in the 83.1 percentile with 1.25 points per possession as the roll man, he finished in the 82.0 percentile with 1.41 points per possession on cuts). Being 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan makes Jordan a massive target for his teammates on drives and he's still one of the most athletic big men in the league, making him a lob threat whenever he's close to the basket.

With Dennis Smith Jr. and Doncic both being talented pick-and-roll scorers who can break defense down off the dribble, the addition of Jordan will simplify their options when he's the one setting the screen or hanging out on the baseline because it will force his defender to make the tough decision between sticking with him on the roll/cut and helping out. If they choose the former, driving lanes will open up for them. If they choose the latter, Jordan will slip to the basket for a high-flying dunk.

Jordan finished last season with the second-most dunks in the league, more than 100 of which came in the form of an alley-oop. His gravity in those situations also led to 4.0 screen assists per game, ranking top-10 in the NBA. He was even more effective in that category in 2016-17, ranking fourth with 5.5 screen assists per game.

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When he's not scoring on rolls and cuts, Jordan can be found fighting for rebounds underneath the basket. Only Andre Drummond and Steven Adams pulled down more offensive rebounds than Jordan last season, and he turned those opportunities into 3.4 points per game for himself (28.2 percent of his offense). It's hard enough for like-sized defenders to keep him out of the paint after missed shots, and smaller players have almost no hope when they're forced to switch onto him.

Jordan's relentlessness in attacking the offensive glass bodes well for Smith and Doncic as well. With both of them being scorers who are at their best with the ball in their hands, pairing them with a low usage center - 53 centers were involved in more plays than Jordan during their minutes on the floor in 2017-18 - will give them the freedom they need to be aggressive playmakers knowing they have one of the most dominant offensive rebounders in the league cleaning up their mess.

It would have been a different case had the Mavericks used their cap space to acquire someone like DeMarcus Cousins this offseason. Whereas Cousins is a high usage center who is used to having the offense run through him, Jordan has made a career out of setting hard screens, spacing the floor vertically and pulling down offensive rebounds in volume.

Jordan's reliance on his athleticism could become problematic as he ages considering he hasn't developed any semblance of a jump shot and still struggles to generate efficient shots for himself and others, but Rick Carlisle has experience working players with Jordan's skill set into his system. The Mavericks head coach will likely maximize spacing by surrounding Jordan with at least three shooters at all times - starting with Doncic, Wesley Matthews and Harrison Barnes, plus Smith at point - much like he did when Tyson Chandler helped Dallas win a championship in 2011.

Of greater concern is how Jordan regressed as a defender last season. A two-time member of the All-Defensive First Team, Jordan is coming off a season in which he averaged 0.9 blocks per game and posted the lowest block rate of his professional career. He wasn't particularly effective at protecting the rim when he wasn't blocking shots, either, giving up 60.4 percent shooting in the restricted area. That marked a sizeable increase from 2016-17 (55.6 percent) and 2015-16 (51.9 percent).

It contributed to the Clippers having their worst defensive rating with Jordan on the floor since the 2012-13 season, a troubling sign for a soon-to-be 30-year-old once considered to be one of the best defenders at the center position.

Season Clippers Defensive Rating with DJ Clippers Defensive Rating without DJ
2012-13 104.1 97.8
2013-14 102.3 101.4
2014-15 103.1 102.8
2015-16 100.3 102.2
2016-17 103.7 109.8
2017-18 109.0 105.6

The Mavericks can only hope a new environment will help him regain his All-NBA form. At his best, Jordan is an elite rim protector who has the mobility to extend himself out to the perimeter when involved in pick-and-rolls. His versatility will certainly make a difference on a Mavericks team that ranked in the bottom half of the league in defensive efficiency unless, of course, last season was a sign of things to come for the Texas A&M product.

It's why Dallas was smart to offer Jordan to a one-year deal as opposed to a multi-year one. If Jordan can prove himself to still be the two-way force he was in 2015-16 and 2016-17, the Mavericks might be the front-runners to sign him to a long-term contract when he hits unrestricted free agency again. If he can't, they can move on from him and use his money to pursue a center who fits in better with the timeline of their young core of Smith and Doncic.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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