Great Post. I really like the stuff that you did with the comparable salaries. Its excellent food for thought, and If I come up with any good thoughts, I'll be back to post. Just wanted to say good work.
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Mid-Season Review: Eric Gordon
Here is another reader post. Thanks to Michael and all of our readers. –42
Mid-season seems like a perfect time to evaluate Eric Gordon’s performance this year. Coming into the year, Dell Demps and Monty Williams sang Gordon’s praises, consistently stating to disgruntled fans that he was the Hornets’ best player and a pivotal piece to the team’s future. The max contract Gordon signed reinforced this notion, and many fans, including me, expected him to have a great season as the Hornets’ primary offensive option. What were reasonable expectations for him this season, is he valuable relative to his contract price, and what should we expect from him the rest of the year?
What the statistics told us to expect
Gordon had a very efficient rookie year, sporting an impressive 59.3 TS%. Since then, his efficiency has dropped every season. Conversely, his usage rate has climbed in every one. It is not uncommon to see these two variables trend in opposite directions: many players are unable to sustain efficiency while increasing their usage rates, as an increase in offensive responsibility often leads to more attention from defenses and tougher shots. However, the fact that he has consistently become less efficient when increasing his usage rate indicates that he may be unready or unable to take a sizable step forward on offense. This is not meant to suggest that Gordon cannot be an effective scorer in the league, as his statistics in previous years display his ability to act as a potent #2 option. But there appears to be no evidence supporting the idea that his offense was going to leap to an elite scoring level this year. If anything, the data appeared to show that Gordon would return relatively close to his 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 form.
Actual 2012-2013 Statistics
What they show: Gordon’s averages are largely unimpressive, but they are skewed by the lowest minute average of his career. If his numbers are adjusted to a per 36 minute basis, his points per game and assist per game averages very closely approximate the averages of his previous two seasons. Despite his limited minutes, he is turning the ball over a career-high amount of times. His rebound per game average is at a career-low, but this is largely inconsequential, as he is such a horrid rebounder that it matters very little. This will be addressed later.
Eric Gordon may have been handed a max contract, but there are different levels of max contracts, and their values can vary substantially. Gordon’s contract is valued at $13,668,750 this season, making him the 25th highest paid player in the NBA. I decided to find the 10 players whose contracts’ value fell closest to Gordon’s (5 above, 5 below), and compare their production levels this season to his.
Eric Gordon is the only player on this list that has never made an All-Star game (the column above relates to this year’s All-Star game), but to be fair, only one of the players on this list (Westbrook) has made it more than twice. Aside from Westbrook and Love, none of these guys have been or will ever be an absolute lock for the All-Star game. Not one of the players on the list has ever been selected to 1st Team All-NBA status, only two (Westbrook and Love) have been 2nd Team All-NBA, and just half of them have ever been selected to any of the 3 All-NBA teams.
Almost all of these players are productive, but based on the data and accomplishments listed above, a return to previous form for Gordon would provide decent value for the Hornets relative to these other players. Being a max player carries a high level of expectation, but being handed a fat contract hardly means that a player is a bona-fide superstar. Most of these guys are 2nd or 3rd options on championship teams, not transcendent superstars like LeBron or Kevin Durant. There are certainly things that Gordon can work on, and I will hit on some of these areas in the following sections. The most important thing he can do to give the Hornets some value is to stay healthy, as his talent means nothing in a suit.
*Note: you may have noticed that Rashard Lewis’s statistics are not entered into the table. I chose to omit them out of respect for a fellow Louisiana native. Lewis is very much on the back end of his career, and after being bought out for roughly two-thirds of his contract by the Hornets, Lewis is now playing on the Miami Heat for the league minimum. The NBA may be “where amazing happens,” but it is also where overpayment happens.
How he’s affecting the game (Offense)
Gordon’s game revolves around his ability to get to the basket and score. He is an okay shooter: good enough to garner some respect from opposing defenses, but not lethal enough to make it the primary focus of his offense. Getting to the rim is an essential skill for an offense’s primary option. It not only leads to easy baskets and foul trouble for the opposing team, it exerts pressure on a defense to shift to stop the ball. This can lead to teammates being left open for shots, and it can also produce easy offensive rebounds. Unfortunately, Gordon has not been as effective driving the ball this year. Part of his struggles relate to an impairment in his ball-handling ability, which has hampered his success in creating separation from his defender. He is turning the ball over at a career high rate, and when he loses the ball, he picks and chooses when he is going to hustle back on defense. Most of all, his inability to get to the rim has prevented him from creating easy shots for the Hornets’ offense.
How he’s affecting the game (Defense)
Gordon is an adept one-on-one defender, but he offers little help elsewhere. He does a very good job chasing his man around screens, using his strength, agility, and quickness to fight through picks without losing his mark. He also excels at keeping his assignment from getting into the paint with the ball. As far as team defense goes, however, he is largely ineffective. He puts forth little effort in covering for teammates, instead staying with his assignment or standing around. Rebounding is his greatest weakness, and from watching his film, it is easy to see why: he employs the “stand and watch” strategy, generating no effort to box out his man, or any man for that matter.
What to expect for the rest of the season
As Gordon continues to shake off the rust, he should show improvement in his ability to get to the basket and finish his opportunities. He is finishing at a career low 50% at the rim, a marked decline from his previous season low of 59%. Expect this rate to improve as he works himself back into game shape.
The most important area of Gordon’s game to watch is how he creates for his teammates. His scoring is vital, but an improvement in his ability to drive the ball should lead to better opportunities for the other Hornets. Even if he’s not credited with the assist, Gordon’s penetration can draw extra defenders and help make things easier for a team that is largely devoid of other shot-creators.
Gordon could also provide more value to this unit by finding other ways to contribute. Even the best NBA players (perhaps minus LeBron) have nights where their shots are off, but they often find other ways to contribute. Maybe this means Gordon getting back in transition defense, involving his teammates on offense, or providing better help defense. Gordon needs to find a way to affect every game in a positive way, but we must adjust our expectations to that of a 2nd or 3rd option on a playoff team. Perhaps he will put up big scoring numbers (with moderate to low efficiency), or maybe he will put up very good scoring numbers at a very good efficiency. Whatever it is, he needs to produce, and we need to temper our expectations.
*Update: this article is moot if Commissioner Gordon gets dealt by the deadline tomorrow, and there are rumors linking him to Golden State. If Gordon leaves, we lose a very good player (when at his best), but shed a contract and allow ourselves more financial flexibility moving forward. We would also avoid the risk of another serious injury that could possibly have serious implications on the rest of his career.
Thanks, Nick. I wanted to establish a baseline of what to expect from Gordon. Seemed like most of the guys were of the quasi All-Star type, and I think Gordon has that quality when he's healthy (which, of course, is rare). And yes, definitely let me know if you come up with any ideas.. always willing to listen. I really enjoyed the Rivers piece, by the way. What site did you use to format your tables? I had a ton of trouble with mine.
Ah, okay. It was tough to do on this one.. had to consistently resize tables because alignment issues are compounded in larger tables.. I guess we'll keep experimenting with it.
I formatted his using a different tool. I experimented with you by referring you to that other site. I think it's a net improvement, actually . . . the other way in painful . . .