DeAndre Jordan is a worse free throw shooter than some players are three-point shooters.
With a 44% career free throw rate, Jordan is a huge liability late in close games, enough so that coach Vinny del Negro has to be wary of playing him in such situations.
In fact, Jordan averages 26.5 minutes per game but has played just 4.5 minutes per fourth quarter, well below what you’d expect for a starter and one of a team’s core players. He’s been protected on the offensive end such that he’s actually yet to take a free throw in the fourth quarter, and has only been afforded 0.5 field goal attempts per fourth quarter. Basically, when Jordan plays in the fourth, he is there for defense only.
I was interested to see if Jordan (a) is in a unique situation with limited fourth quarter minutes and (b) should be a better free throw shooter given his shooting rates elsewhere.
Is this unique?
For the first point, I used NBA.com’s Advanced Stats Tool to find players in “crunch time” (last five minutes, ahead or behind five points) who had the lowest usage rate.
We are, of course, dealing with very small samples at this point in the year, so Jordan is one of many players with a miniscule usage rate in small crunch time minutes. He’s certainly not unique in this regard, but it warrants further and more detailed study controlling for FT%, position, etc.
Should he be better?
For the second part, I had planned to compare Jordan’s shooting percentages from different distances and come up with a sort of “expected FT%.” However, Jordan shoots so exclusively inside of five feet that the exercise would have been pointless.
Just how limited is Jordan’s range? Well, he’s taken just 23 shots outside of five feet this season, and just five outside of nine feet. He’s a 65% shooter within five feet and shot 66% from there last year (when he took just 32 shots outside of five feet and just 10 outside of nine feet). It makes sense for him to stay there since he’s so effective, and the samples are too small to know if he’d be any good from elsewhere (anecdotally, I doubt he would).
Are they right to bench him?
So the question for the Clippers becomes whether Jordan’s defense (and other offensive tools, such as screen settings, providing the threat of post offense, etc) is worth enough to keep him on the floor despite his free throw shooting.
The Clippers are actually better offensively with Jordan on the court, by 5.5 points per 100 possessions, but this is almost certainly due to him spending all of his time with strong teammates. Defensively, the team rebounds and blocks slightly better with Jordan on the floor but allows a significantly higher eFG%. The net effect is that the Clippers have been 7.1 points per 100 possessions worse on defense with Jordan off the floor.
Overall, the Clippers have been +4.3 points per 100 possessions with Jordan on and +5.9 with him off. He’s a slight net loss if we don’t control for his teammates, which is nearly impossible since he’s played 332 of his 344 minutes with Chris Paul.
Basically, you can’t fault Vinny for gluing him to the bench when the game is on the line. He hasn’t proven enough that he’s a better option than Turiaf, Hollins, or a smaller lineup, and until he can more reliably hit the freebies or more definitively prove himself a defensive presence, there’s not enough evidence to cry foul on del Negro.
And even if you could cry foul, Jordan would likely miss the free throws.