DeAndre Jordan’s on-court contributions paled in comparison to what he brought to the New York Knicks as both a mentor and leader.
New York Knicks fans didn’t quite know what to expect with the arrival of DeAndre Jordan near the February trade deadline. He was part of the package received by the Dallas Mavericks in the blockbuster deal that netted them Kristaps Porzingis yet didn’t really seem to serve much of a purpose on the court.
A former All-Star and All-NBA member, DJ was used to a starting role and consistent minutes, two things not necessarily guaranteed with his new team given the commitment to developing the young guys taking precedence over everything else. There was another center on the roster who couldn’t accept that, which is why the Knicks bought out the remainder of Enes Kanter’s contract.
Of the 19 games he appeared in down the stretch of the season, Jordan never came off the bench, but he did see roughly a 5.0 decrease in his minutes per game. He still managed to put up a double-double of 10.9 points and 11.4 rebounds a night, but the biggest benefit he brought to the Knicks wasn’t on the court but his presence just about everywhere else.
From the moment he came in, Jordan always seemed to understand the bigger picture of what New York was attempting to build. Whereas Wesley Matthews — another piece of the trade — was bought out in search of a larger role, DJ never demanded anything, instead wholeheartedly willing to take on the role of mentor and develop a defensive-minded culture.
For obvious reasons, he immediately gravitated towards Mitchell Robinson, a lanky 7’1” defensive juggernaut still incredibly raw. The parallels between the two were eerily similar. A second-round pick himself, Jordan struggled to harness his athletic abilities and find a niche early in his career. Eventually, he developed into a feared rim-runner and equally terrifying rebounder and shot-blocker.
His role with the Knicks was the completion of a full circle for his career. As a rookie, Jordan was mentored by another athletic shot-swatting center and a former Defensive Player of the Year named Marcus Camby. His newest teammate gifted him the opportunity to pay it forward and DJ took full advantage with tangible results to prove it.
Prior to Jordan’s arrival, Robinson saw just 17.2 minutes and put up 5.3 points, 4.1 rebounds with 2.0 blocks per game. After, those numbers increased to 24.7 minutes along with 9.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.0 blocks a night.
Most seasoned players oppose the idea of a youngster overthrowing them in the rotation. When head coach David Fidzale suggested inserting his young big man into the starting lineup, it was Jordan who offered his full support.
"“It’s what the league is about,” Jordan tod the New York Post in March. “It’s a fraternity. You learn from older guys like I learned from Marcus. Anytime you can help a younger player out that’s what you’re supposed to do."
Set to hit free agency this summer, the Knicks will look to re-sign Jordan both to continue his tutelage of Robinson while also possibly helping to attract good buddy Kevin Durant as well. How likely a deal is will depend on his asking price, as the last thing New York wants to do is compromise the precious cap space it worked so hard to free up.
DeAndre wasn’t brought to the Big Apple to help win basketball games. His nearly $23 million contract was simply used by the Mavericks to align the salaries of the trade. What he brought to the table, however, was more than that.
With such a young and impressionable group of players, New York is trying to build a winning culture from the ground up, which requires experienced veterans to show them the way. Jordan may not be a member of the Knicks for much longer, but his impact as a leader will be felt throughout the future of the organization for years to come.