Back Home for the Holidays: Projecting the Return of Eric Gordon

Published: December 25, 2012

In a two-part series by Michael McNamara and Mason Ginsberg, we take a look at how Eric Gordon’s return could impact both individually players and the team as a whole. Part One focuses on his impact on the offensive end, while Part Two will dive into the impact he could have on the defensive end.

Theory: The Return of Eric Gordon to The Big Easy will result in more easy points

The Hornets take the second fewest free throws in the NBA, they only get about seven 2nd chance points per game, and less than 10 fast break points per game. The return of Eric Gordon will result in all these numbers going up.

What the Numbers Say

Draw Foul Rate % (DF%) takes your number of field goal attempts, including the ones you were fouled on, and divides that by the number of shooting fouls you have drawn. Greivis Vasquez’s DF% is 6.1%, meaning that on average he will draw one shooting foul for every 16.4 field goal attempts. Roger Mason is 5.6% and Brian Roberts is 4.8%. Austin Rivers is at a very healthy 12.0%, but the rest of the guards on this team are far below the league average. Last year, Eric Gordon’s DF% was 15.7%. He got to the line a little over 7 times per game, and including non-shooting fouls, Eric Gordon drew more than five fouls on the defense per game. Getting his own free throws and getting the Hornets into the bonus earlier was a big reason why the Hornets attempted 8 more free throws per 48 minutes when he was on the court as compared to when he was off.

As for scoring off of offensive rebounds and in transition, it is a shame that the Hornets do not get more opportunities because they are highly efficient in both of these areas. They are #1 in the NBA in points per possession when they get out in transition, averaging 1.3 ppp in those limited opportunities. A big part of this is there ability to knock down three’s in the open court, when teams are outnumbered or are struggling to get matched up. One third of the Hornets field goal attempts in transition are three-pointers and the team shoots 51.5% from deep in those situations. They also rank #2 in the NBA with 1.31 ppp after an offensive rebound. The vast majority of these are tip dunks from Davis or easy put backs from Lopez, but two points is two points and this is one area where the Hornets active bigs can have a real advantage.

Last season, the Hornets offensive rebounding percentage didn’t really go up when Gordon was on the court, but they had a completely different set of big men, all of whom besides Okafor were below average offensive rebounders. The numbers don’t specifically say it, but common sense should tell you that with a guy like Gordon drawing multiple defenders on plays when he takes it to the hole, there will be more opportunities for a front line full of above average offensive rebounders. With regard to pace, the Hornets played at a slightly faster pace with Gordon on the court and had more opportunities when he was on the court than they get now, but they weren’t as efficient. Gordon was surprisingly inefficient in the open court, missing all five transition three’s he took and didn’t get to the line when he took it to the hole. He might be better served as a facilitator on the break, pushing the ball hard to the middle and kicking it out to Anderson, much in the same way that CP3 used to set up Peja.

How it Affects the Hornets

Right now the Hornets only shoot 18 free throws per game, and it is a shame because they are fifth in the league when it comes to converting free throws, shooting just under 79%. Anderson and Davis are two of the best free throw shooters in the league, shooting 89.5% and 84.1% respectively, while both Vasquez and Lopez shoot right around 80%. If Gordon plays 36 minutes per night, then the Hornets should get an additional six free throws per game, and based on their percentage, that will result in an additional 4.7 points. Plus, when you factor in Gordon taking minutes away from Rivers and the fact that Gordon hits his free throws at a much higher rate, then it is safe to theorize that the Hornets should score an additional six points per game from the free throw line overall.

As for second chance points and fast break points, there is no data that we can point to and say that Gordon’s return will definitely provide boosts in those areas, but if Gordon attacks the basket in both situations, good things are bound to happen. The Hornets already produce at high levels in both areas, and if they can just get two more put back opportunities per game and two additional transition opportunity, that will result in an additional 4 points per contest when compared to how they score in standard possessions.


Theory: Ryan Anderson will see an uptick in scoring efficiency, while providing a similar boost for Gordon

Given how efficiently Anderson has been scoring so far this season, improving in this area will be no easy task; however, I cannot foresee a way in which Gordon and Anderson playing together could possibly hurt either of them on the offensive end. The Hornets’ lack of scoring ability from their guards allows opponents to help off of them to keep Anderson from getting tons of open looks. Due to Ryan’s height and quick release, this often does not even matter, but expect him to have more daylight overall when shooting from deep once Gordon returns to action. Similarly, expect Gordon to have an easier time converting once he gets to the rim, as Anderson’s defender will have to stay close to him whenever he spots up beyond the arc.

What the Numbers Say

To estimate Eric Gordon’s impact on Anderson and vice versa, I decided to look for the teammate of Anderson’s whose offensive game is most similar to Gordon’s, and I think the answer is pretty obvious – Hedo Turkoglu. Both Gordon and Turkoglu operate the same way offensively – they like the ball in their hands, either to take open looks from long range or to get into the paint and get to the line. 

Out of the 2011-12 Orlando Magic’s top 20 utilized duos, only the team’s top two players, Anderson and Howard, maintained a better net rating (+9.5) than Anderson and Turkoglu (+8.1); for comparison’s sake, Anderson’s net rating alone last season was +6.0. This fact is much more impressive when considering the fact that Turkoglu posted the worst PER of his career last season of just 11.8. What he did do, however, was create excellent floor spacing while on the court with Anderson. Turk’s agility is not what it once was, but his shooting and ball-handling were key factors in helping Ryan achieve open looks. Gordon possesses both of those skill sets, and therefore should be able to help Anderson in a similar way.

How it Affects the Hornets

So far this season, Ryan Anderson’s net rating by himself is 2.4 points per 100 possessions better than the Hornets’ net rating with both he and Vasquez on the floor, and 2.7 points per 100 possessions better than the team’s net rating with both he and Rivers’ on the court. Neither of the Hornets’ two most frequently used guards do much to help Anderson get free for open looks, and individually, those two guards are simply not talented enough at this point to take full advantage of the spacing that Anderson creates. Insert Gordon for either of them, and things change drastically. With Anderson and Gordon on either side of the floor, opposing defenses will struggle to contain them both, thanks to the unique offensive arsenals that each provide.

Theory- Greivis Vasquez will thrive playing off the ball and could even play some small forward

Gordon likes having the ball in isolation and pick and roll situations. Therefore, when he is on the court with Vasquez, we can anticipate that Vasquez will spend more time off the ball, either spotting up or looking for backdoor cut opportunities. In addition, we have also seen Monty go to a three-guard lineup several times this season due to his lack of acceptable options at small forward. When Gordon returns, Monty will still have to find minutes for Rivers, and when Rivers, Gordon, and Vasquez play together, Greivis will be the one asked to play the three.

What the Numbers Say

In the nine games we got to see Eric Gordon last season, his isolation and P&R numbers were through the roof. He shot 48% on isolation plays, scoring nearly a point per possession, good for 18th in the league in those scenarios. In pick and roll situations he was elite, scoring over 1.2 points per possession, which was the best in the entire league. He shot nearly 56% when he took the shot coming off the pick and roll, shot 40% from three, only turned it over 8.5% of the time, and got ‘And 1’s’ once per seven attempts. Downright amazing.

Now let’s compare that to what we have seen from Vasquez this season. In isolation situations, Vasquez is nearly as efficient as Gordon, shooting 45% from the field (46% from three) and is scoring slightly over 0.9 points per possession. The big difference between the two comes in the pick and roll game where Vasquez is getting 44% of his shots despite only shooting 37% and scoring 0.6 points per possession- half of what Gordon scores in similar situations. Now compare that to his spot-up shooting numbers, where he is averaging over 1.1 points per possession and you can see that Vasquez is more efficient in that role. Backdoor cuts are another source of efficient offense, as he is getting 1.33 points per shot in those situations.

As for Vasquez playing more small forward, it should lead to some pretty lethal offense, but will cause Monty headaches defensively. So far this season, Vasquez has played about 10% of his minutes at the three and has posted a PER of over 17 during those minutes. His effective field goal percentage is much higher when he is on the court in a three guard lineup (50%) and his turnover percentage is at its lowest. Not surprisingly, however, the Hornets are also getting torched defensively when Vasquez is the biggest wing player on the court, giving up nearly 120 points per 100 possessions.

How it Affects the Hornets

Right now, 70% of Vasquez’s offense comes in pick and roll situations, isolations, or spot-up opportunities. He is incredibly efficient in the latter two, but because he is the only true point guard on this team, the majority of his shots come out of the pick and roll, where he is the least efficient. If we can assume that he will still get 70% of his shots in these situations, but Gordon’s presence will reduce his pick and roll’s to 20% of his offense and increase isolations, cuts, and spot-ups, then the numbers say that Vasquez’s shooting percentages and points per shot should skyrocket. Right now, he is shooting 41% overall, but in the scenario where his pick and roll offense is cut in half and he replaces it with spot-up offense, he would project as a 45% shooter. So far, two-thirds of his spot-up attempts have been three’s, while only 10% of his P&R’s have resulted in threes. Meaning, that Vasquez could take two less shots per game and still maintain that same twelve points per game scoring average.

By taking away roughly 8 pick and roll opportunities per game and giving them to Eric Gordon, the numbers say that this will result in nearly five more points per game. The biggest effect will be felt with regard to three-point plays, either the traditional way (‘And-1) or via shots behind the arc. Currently, only 3% of possessions end in a three-point play when the Hornets ballhandler is in the pick and roll, but this is the situation where Gordon actually shoots best from behind the arc (40%). On over 20% of possessions when Eric Gordon shot as the pick and roll ballhandler last season, the play produced three points.

When you put it all together- more spot-ups for Vasquez, with the P&R’s going to Gordon, the Hornets would project to score an additional 11 points per 100 possessions if the numbers carry over. That would put them at nearly 114 per 100 possessions with Gordon on the court, which would put them slightly ahead of OKC for 1st in the NBA, which sounds crazy. That is until you consider that the Hornets posted an Offensive Rating last season of 112.4 in those minutes that Eric Gordon was on the floor. Combine that with the possibility of Vasquez, and not Aminu or Ariza, playing the three and you have all the makings for one of the best offenses in the entire NBA. Even if you assume that the Hornets will play as poor with Gordon off the court as they did last year (101 pts per 100) for the twelve minutes he sits, that still puts them around 111 points per 100 possessions, which is 8.4 points better than they are averaging now and would project to them having a +.500 record even if their defense continues to be as bad as it is currently, which it won’t be.

But more on that tomorrow in Part Two of our series.