DENVER — Asked if it feels as though he’s rounding into form and playing more like the “old DeAndre Jordan,” the veteran entering his 12th NBA season frowned and took slight umbrage at the characterization. In his view, he hasn’t gone anywhere.
“I think that’s just who I am, not the ‘old DeAndre,’ ” Jordan said. “That’s what I do, man.”
At 31, Jordan is playing a different role for the Nets, alternating between starting and coming off the bench but mostly backing up third-year center Jarrett Allen. After starting somewhat slowly in his first seven games before missing one with a sprained ankle, Jordan has returned to average 15.5 points on 14 of 17 shooting and 14.5 rebounds the past two games.
Both were losses, and the Nets (4-6) faced another tough one against the Nuggets (7-3) Thursday night at Pepsi Center. Jordan figured to play a major role, pitting his 6-11, 265-pound bulk against that of 7-foot, 250-pound Nuggets All-Star center Nikola Jokic, who averaged 17.0 points and 9.0 rebounds.
Jordan had just one double-digit scoring game in his first seven appearances when the Nets’ guards often misconnected trying to find him with lob passes near the rim. But now, they are starting to connect, and it’s reflected in Jordan’s shooting percentage.
“It’s a timing thing,” Jordan said recently. “Obviously, J.A. and I are different. They’ve been with J.A. for a few years, and I’m different. I think it’s more rhythm. We’re finding it now.”
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson has brought Jordan off the bench six times, which he had not done since the 2010-11 season. Against the Jazz on Tuesday, Atkinson tried something new. He sent 6-11 rookie Nic Claxton out to play power forward alongside Jordan at center. It’s not often the coach uses two big players together, but it was effective the two times he did it.
With a smile, Jordan said, “I thought Kenny was tripping for a second. But when Nic came in, I was like, ‘Am I coming out early?’ But it was cool. Nic has got a guard mentality. He’s very skilled. You saw one play where he got the rebound and pushed it up the floor and found somebody for a layup. That’s what I love about Nic is he’s skilled and he’s not afraid to get out there and play his game but within what we’re trying to do.”
Even though Jordan never shoots three-pointers and Claxton is just beginning to work on adding that shot to his arsenal, Atkinson liked the look of that combination.
“It’s a little unique,” Atkinson said. “Playing those two five men together, with Caris out, we kind of wanted to try something.”
Because Atkinson generally plays small to spread the floor with shooters on offense, the Nets sometimes get hurt at the defensive end. Jordan agreed there are times when having himself and Claxton on the floor at the same time improves the defense, especially rim protection.
“But it’s not just about the bigs,” Jordan said. “It’s all of us. We’ve got to be connected on a string. We’ve got to try to put it together for as close to 48 minutes as possible.”
Jordan said the Nets’ slow start to the season simply is the sign of a team still adjusting to the addition of several new faces, including himself. “We’re a new team,” Jordan said, noting that Caris LeVert is out after undergoing right thumb surgery Thursday. “We’ve got guys stepping in like Garret Temple, who is great on both sides of the basketball, (Dzanen) Musa coming in, David Nwaba. We’ve got a deep team. We didn’t really have a full training camp with some injuries, so now we’re experimenting with lineups. But I think everybody is ready to play.”