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Back Home for the Holidays: Projecting the Return of Eric Gordon (Part Two)
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 Two focuses on the impact Gordon could have on the defensive end. For a look back at Part One and the impact Gordon could have on the Hornets offense, click here.
Theory: The Hornets will allow fewer points in transition
The part of Eric Gordon’s game that will benefit the Hornets’ offense the most is his ability to attack the rim, earning himself high-percentage attempts and free throw attempts while keeping his turnover rate down. What makes this part of his game even more beneficial is the impact it will have on New Orleans’ transition defense.
What the Numbers Say
Look no further than the 2010-11 LA Clippers to see the kind of impact that Eric Gordon has on his team’s transition defense. With Gordon on the court, the Clippers allowed just 12.6 fast break points per 48 minutes. While he was on the bench, that number ballooned to 15.8. To compare, that 3.2 points per 48 minute difference this season is the same amount that separates the third best team (Oklahoma City – 11.7) from the seventh-worst team (Charlotte – 14.9). Given Gordon’s unique skill set, it comes as no surprise that his teams allow fewer fast break opportunities with him than without him.
All too frequently this season (in addition to their turnover woes), the Hornets have been forced to jack up a bad shot with the shot clock winding down, which often leads to their opponent getting out on a fast break and scoring with relative ease. By getting into the paint more often, these transition buckets will undoubtedly decrease.
How it affects the Hornets
Per NBA.com’s media stats tool, the Hornets turn the ball over on 16.2% of their possessions, tying them for 7th worst in the league. To make matters worse, they are 10th worst in the NBA in pace-adjusted fast break points allowed. Given the potential for Eric Gordon to both reduce the team’s turnover rate as well as limit the amount of inefficient long-range jumpers the Hornets are forced to take, the amount of fast break opportunities their opponents get should come down.
Theory: The Hornets Perimeter Defense Will Improve
Eric Gordon is a fantastic on-ball defender, which will not only reduce the efficiency of the man he is guarding, but it will force the Hornets to help less on defense, resulting in fewer wide open perimeter looks.
What the Numbers Say
The Hornets are a poor defensive team in transition situations, ranking 29th in that particular category. Vasquez is average in this category, allowing opponents to shoot 42% while giving up .86 points per possession. Austin Rivers, meanwhile, has been downright attrocious, allowing opponents to shoot 55% while giving up 1.14 points per possession. Amongst guards who play more than 15 minutes per game, Rivers ranks 7th from last in both categories. Now let’s compare that to what Eric Gordon has done over the last two seasons when put in isolation situations.
Opponents have shot just 24% against Gordon when going iso and are producing just over .5 points per possession. Gordon has also managed to turn his opponent over nearly 20% of the time when his opponent puts him in isolation. Compare that to a 11% and a 13% rate for Vasquez and River respectively. The numbers also say that when Gordon’s man spots-up, he is far less lethal, shooting just 32% over the past two seasons. Compare that to Austin Rivers, whose man shoots 48% overall in spot-up situations, including an unheard of 52% from three.
Spot-up numbers don’t give a fantastic representation of individual defense, especially when you have a team that helps as much as the Hornets. But the better you can cover your man individually, the less that your opponent has to help. In 2010-11 when Gordon was with the Clippers, LA’s three-point defense was nearly 10% better with Gordon on the court as opposed to off, both with regard to their percentage allowed and the total number of makes.
How it Affects the Hornets
Opponents isolate Rivers an average of twice per game and his man takes a spot-up jumper nearly five times per game. Based on his production on the defensive end over the past two years, if opponents were to follow the same course of action against Gordon, it would result in four less points on those same seven shots. While that is substantial, the true difference on this end could come from the other four Hornets not having to help one of their perimeter defenders. If Gordon could have the same impact on this Hornets team as he did in 2010-11 with the Clippers, opponents would make one less three per game if they took the same number of attempts. That may not sound huge, but percentage wise, that would put the Hornets in the middle of the pack with regard to 3-pt defense (they are 28th currently) and three fewer points allowed per game would catapult the Hornets from 16th to 8th in the league in that category.
Theory: The Hornets’ points allowed in the paint will improve
Eric Gordon may not be one of the league’s best defenders, but as noted above, he is unquestionably the Hornets’ best defending guard. He’s athletic and physical, and typically does a good job of staying in front of his man, something the team’s current guards struggle with tremendously. Inserting Gordon into the lineup will allow Monty to take some of the pressure off of Vasquez or Rivers by asking Gordon to guard the opponent’s more agile guard (if he so chooses). As a result, teams should find it more difficult to drive through the lane with as much ease as they are able to currently.
What the Numbers Say
In this instance, utilizing Gordon’s on-court/off-court splits in his last healthy season (2010-11 with the Clippers) won’t tell us much, because the team possessed other competent defending guards (such as former Hornet Rasual Butler) to utilize while Gordon wasn’t in the game. However, the fact that Gordon allowed a below-average PER to his matchups in that season gives at least some support to his ability to keep his man in front of him and out of easy scoring situations.
How it affects the Hornets
The Hornets allow the 5th most points in the paint per 100 possessions in the NBA. Obviously, post defense plays a large role in this ranking, but perimeter defense makes a major difference as well. If the Hornets’ guards can’t stop opponents from penetrating, scoring in the paint becomes much easier. The most egregious example of this so far this season comes via Greivis Vasquez.
When Vasquez is in the game, the Hornets allow 44 points in the paint per 48 minutes; as a team, that average would rank 3rd worst in the NBA this season. While he is on the bench, this number falls all the way to 37.1 points per 48 minutes, an average that would rank 4th best in the NBA. No single Hornets player’s benching helps the team’s post defense more than when Vasquez rides the pine. Small sample size comes into play for sure, but that kind of drastic difference isn’t simply a fluke. Allowing Vasquez or Rivers to guard the slower of an opposing team’s two guards while matching Gordon up with the team’s more agile guard should provide a significant boost on defense for the Hornets team as a whole.
Interesting to think that if Gordon had been fit since the start of the season and we'd scored 6 more and allowed 3 less, we'd have won 13 more games and be sitting 5th in the west right now (18-9). If Gordon stays healthy and we achieve that kind of win rate (.667) through to the end of the season, we could finish up with a winning record (42-40 at .512). It's a big IF but our schedule has been tough and will get easier so not impossible. A record of .512 is currently good enough for 15th worst record in the NBA. Dell - trade that pick quick before it's value drops off a cliff!