In September of 2013, we wondered if the Clippers could, as a unit, play defense–it was the difference between a championship berth or a routine early playoff exit.
In September of 2014, the questioned has shifted a bit, focusing on whether the Clippers can become an elite defensive team, joining the ranks San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Chicago, etc. have inhabited for the last few years. Last season, the Clippers showed signs of progress–a better system with Doc Rivers in the fold as DeAndre Jordan made leaps as a rim protector. With Ekpe Udoh, the recently signed power forward, their chances of shooting toward elite increase ten-fold.
Udoh isn’t a defensive mastermind who deserves considerations for Defensive Player of the Year on a season-by-season basis, but he’s well informed on how to play defense, can protect the rim, and loosens the need to put all eggs in the DeAndre Jordan basket.
Whichever method works best for you (eye, base statistics, advanced statistics), they all speak highly on Udoh’s defense.
Via SportsVU, Udoh forced opponents to shoot 47.6% at the rim, 13th in the league amongst players who played in 40+ games and allowed 5.0 attempts at the rim per game, behind the likes of Roy Hibbert (1), Tiago Splitter (3), and Joakim Noah (10).
And for the bunch that isn’t keen on advanced statistics telling ones story, Udoh’s ability to defend is readily apparent once you cut on the film.
A poor rotation from Ersan Ilyasova leads to this block. If put alongside Blake Griffin or Spencer Hawes, this could become a casual sight–especially Hawes who lacks the mobility to read-and-react to smaller, quick players at an instant.
Here is another example of Udoh reading the play and putting himself in position–in a timely manner–to contest the shot.
A late rotation = an easy basket here for Martin.
Another excellent showing of Udoh’s defensive ability are present in this clip against the Brooklyn Nets. Guarding Reggie Evans, Udoh is aware he’s free to drift toward the ball to better deter Joe Johnson from attacking the paint.
Bad defense from Monta Ellis allowed Johnson to spin baseline, but Udoh recovered in time to deter Johnson at the rim and collect a block.
Udoh has even showed to be an adept post defender despite lacking the bulk to bang with some of the better centers, as seen in this clip with Al Horford of Atlanta.
If Rivers sees fit to retain some resemblance of a league average defense with DeAndre Jordan off the floor–whether fatigued or in foul trouble–inserting Udoh behind Griffin or Hawes could allow him to do so.
These are instincts you won’t find in Spencer Hawes, Glen Davis, or Hedo Turkoglu, the three reserves Udoh will fight for minutes with. These are instincts you may find with Blake Griffin, but he lacks the physical tools to become an elite rim protector. And these are instincts that are sometimes hard to find in DeAndre Jordan–shoddy rotations plagued Jordan all last season (there’s growth, but he’s not there yet).
Udoh isn’t a perfect player (we’ll address his deficiencies in a later post) and won’t need to be perfect to make an impact on Los Angeles, but he’s perfect for what this team needs. It’s a step up from Byron Mullens. From Antawn Jamison. From Ryan Hollins. From Glen Davis.
He’s just what the doctor ordered up.