So far this season, the NBA’s Battle For Los Angeles belongs to the Clippers. While, Kobe, Dwight and the drama-filled Lakers have still been the center of attention for many, the better basketball has been played by the other team in Tinsel Town. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the household names, no doubt, but a total team effort is what has the Clips looking like a legitimate contender in the Western Conference this year. Starting center span style=”color: #ffdb76;”>Deandre Jordan, and backup point guard Eric Bledsoe, are major reasons for the Clippers’ great success, as the two young guns, still yet to hit the prime of their careers, have made drastic improvements to their games.
Entering this season, Jordan had made a name for himself by dunking everything in sight. Unfortunately, dunks and horrendous free throw shooting was about all he was known for. His back-to-the-basket post game was under constant scrutiny. Since the preseason, he’s shown off a deeper repertoire of moves and improved footwork, using up-and-unders, and right and left-handed jump hooks to go along with his ridiculous patented slams.
“I’ve just been more confident,” said Jordan, now in his 5th season. “Whether it’s been offense, defense, at the free throw line, I’ve just been super-confident when I’m out there and my teammates trust me so that makes me more comfortable. I really did the same thing [as other off-seasons]. I got more reps up and my teammates saw me with the ball in the post in the summer time and they trust me with it. I really did the same thing, nothing different, but they trust me now. That’s big.”
As a result, he’s averaging just under 10 points per game, a definite step up from his 6.3 career average. His 58 percent field goal shooting is fourth best in the league, and playing with some of the best playmakers in the league – Paul, Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford and Chauncey Billups – make his job a simple one. “The only thing I really gotta do is set screens and have my hands up. That’s it. And get ready for a pass that’s gonna be up where the rim is. They make it easy for me.”
Paul, Crawford and Billups have helped simplify the game for Bledsoe, too, who’s taken full advantage of the opportunity to learn from his elders in his third season. “My biggest improvements came when I was hurt, being able to learn so much from Chris and Chauncey,” said Bledsoe, one of the biggest surprises and most exciting players in the league this season. “The game is being slowed down to me now, as far as when to change speeds, when to give [guys] the ball.”
“He’s made a lot of progress,” Billups said of his pupil Bledsoe. “I’m so proud of Bled. What he does more than anything, is he’s studying the game more now. We watch films together, talk about little things he can do to effect the game with his minutes. Athletically, he’s a freak. He’s been blessed with a gift athletically, but the thing he’s stepping up is his mental approach to the game. You can just see it, the way he reads pick and rolls, game situations, managing the game when he’s out there.”
After getting out to a slow start last year because of an injury, he’s averaging career-best numbers across the board and affecting the game in every aspect this season. The efficiency has been fantastic: 10 points, three assists, three rebounds, 1.5 steals and almost one block per game on 50 percent shooting in 18 minutes. “The role of the bench in general is to come in and change the pace, just like any other bench, but I think we’ve got a lot more firepower than most benches,” said Bledsoe. Bledsoe’s blazing speed is a great contrast to the always under control Paul, as he serves as the key catalyst for the Clippers’ bench, which has arguably been the best in the league.