Eric Gordon: Sifting Through Fool’s Gold

Published: March 28, 2013

Eric Gordon, by all accounting measures, is having a dropoff season.  His rate of scoring has dipped, as has his efficiency.  Less tangibly, but still noticeably, he has not had the burst that he previously had.  In short periods of time, he has shown glimpses of the player he used to be.  His first game back, versus the Bobcats, provided us with somewhat regular Gordon production, and his last game, versus the Clippers, reminded us of the effective Gordon that we saw in just 9 games last season.

I decided to do analysis of Gordon’s top 5 scoring performances of the season (based on points) in an effort to determine why he was effective in his high-output games.  Was he making and taking good shots?  Was he taking bad shots, but making them?  Was the defense doing something specific that allowed him to succeed?

These questions are important with respect to sustainability: I want to see Gordon succeed over the long haul, not in meaningless games in a lost season.  We have gone over Gordon’s strengths and weaknesses ad-nauseam: he’s at his best when he’s taking it to the basket, and he’s at his worst when he’s settling for jumpers or simply not taking shots at all.  Have Gordon’s high volume scoring affairs this season been a product of him doing what he does well, or are they results of poor basketball decisions that act as fool’s gold for fan optimism?

Highest Scoring 5 games

Opp MP   PTS   FG    FGA    FG%   3P   3PA  FTA   AST   TOV
  ATL     30:29    27     10      19      52.6     1       2    6      1     1
  LAL     31:57    25     7      12      58.3     6       8    5      2     1
  LAC     34:29    24     9      18      50.0     0       4    7      3     2
  BRK     32:34    24     8      17      47.1     3       8    5      3     1
  SAS     32:33    24     9      22      40.9     0       3    6      2     2


Atlanta (2/8/2013)
How they defended him: Kyle Korver spent a lot of time on Eric Gordon, and John Jenkins drew him on a few plays as well.  They gave little respect to his jumper, instead deciding to give him space to restrict his ability to drive.

What worked: His jumper.  The Hawks were giving him mid-range jumpers, which is what teams should do versus Gordon, and they had the misfortune of facing Gordon on one of the nights where it was working.  He took too many, but it was one of those nights where they were falling.

Los Angeles Lakers (1/29/2013)
How they defended him: they didn’t.  Gordon obliterated the Lakers in transition by spotting up from the 3-point line numerous times, and despite the fact that he was hot from 3, they failed to match up properly and got exposed.

What worked: Again, his jumper.  He wasn’t aggressive enough with the ball, but he was drilling his outside shots.  The difference between this game and Atlanta is that Gordon wasn’t taking dribble pull-ups, but was instead shooting off of passes from other people.  This is a more desirable shot than one taken off of the dribble, but I’d still like to see him attack more.

Los Angeles Clippers (3/27/2013)
How they defended him:  Gordon drew a variety of defenders last night, as Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul, and Willie Green each had a crack at him.  On the pick and rolls, the Clippers bigs were sliding out to cut off right-handed drives, but weren’t doing so effectively, as I’ll mention below.

What worked: His attack game.  I absolutely loved Gordon’s performance last night.  He was attacking in transition, taking decent jumpers (minus a couple of ill-advised ones), and his work in the pick and roll was great.  He was attacking the bodies of the Clippers’ bigs in the paint, and when they slid out too far on pick and rolls, he split the defenders and got the rim.  This was a great performance, and I wish he would be this aggressive every night, even if the results don’t turn out as well.

Brooklyn Nets (3/12/2013)
How they defended him:  Gerald Wallace was assigned to Gordon again after he stifled him in the first matchup of the season.  Wallace chased Gordon around everywhere.  The Nets feature some slow-footed bigs, and they tend not to hedge hard on pick and rolls, instead sagging to limit ball penetration.

What worked: a mix of things.  Gordon was more aggressive than he had been in the games leading up to Brooklyn, driving to the basket on a regular basis.  Some of his points were coming at the rim, and some came on some tough outside jumpers.  Gordon split the defenders on some pick and rolls in which the bigs actually did come out to hedge.  He caught Gerald Wallace napping a couple of times and slid backdoor for some layup attempts.  He had some absolute bricks on jumpers that night, but also delivered a vicious jam on Brook Lopez.

San Antonio Spurs (1/7/2013)
How they defended him: Danny Green spent a lot of time glued to Gordon, chasing him around screens and preventing him from getting good penetration.  Tim Duncan is not as spry as he once was, and like the Nets’ bigs, he did not show hard on pick and rolls.  Manu Ginobili and Matt Bonner also had situations where their assignment set Gordon’s pick, and each quickly reminded us that they are not paid for their pick and roll defense.  Gordon took advantage of both of those guys and drove right to the rim.

What worked: Gordon was not particularly efficient against the Spurs, and at least half of his field goals came from step-back jumpers on Danny Green.  Needless to say, this is likely not sustainable success, as a step-back jumper is historically a very inefficient shot for almost all players.  In his career, Gordon has shown this to be true.

What all of this means
I would consider two of the performances (versus Brooklyn and the Clippers) as indicators of sustainable production.  He attacked the rim, which proved to be very successful against the Clippers and moderately successful versus Brooklyn.  The Clippers game stands out as his best game of the season, especially considering how much he has struggled in the second half of games this year.  Brooklyn too gave signs for optimism, as he was decisive in what he wanted to do.  He took some bad jumpers, but largely, he was doing the right things.

The other games really don’t point towards long-term success, so it’s hard to get excited about them, even though he was scoring a lot of points.  He isn’t going to make the majority of his step-back jumpers in most games, and even if he is, I detailed in my last column how much better the Hornets are in keeping possession when he misses going to the basket.  He was incredibly efficient versus the Lakers, but no one is going to average 6 of 8 from 3 point land over a full season.

There is another area that I’d like to address.  Eric Gordon, according to mySynergySports, was one of the best pick and roll players in the league in his final season with the Los Angeles Clippers. Last year, he was absurdly efficient in this area, ranking 1st in scoring efficiency in this set.  However, this statistic is likely skewed by the small sample size of games that he played in. Historically, he has been very good, and from this sample of games, it became clear when he is and isn’t succeeding in this area, and it relates to how he makes his initial attack.  When he explodes past his pick at quick pace, he is exerting a lot of pressure on the big, because Gordon’s defender is not getting through the screen quickly enough to recover.  This allows him to get to the rim, or if the big sags too far, to get an open floater.  When Gordon is moving at a slow to moderate pace, he is wasting the pick, because it allows the defender to recover.  Most of these possessions wind up with Gordon taking a bad jumper or other defenders having extra time to react and snuffing out his scoring attempts.

This is just another example of a small tweak to Gordon’s game that would help boost his efficiency and the success of the Hornets offense.  His initial explosion is often enough to create a good look for himself or someone else, but when he doesn’t attack immediately, he starts taking bad shots and gets too cute with the ball, resulting in lost possessions.

Next week, I will continue my research on the retained possession rate that I used in last week’s column by using a couple of other Hornets guards for comparison.  Stay tuned!


  1. xman20002000

    March 28, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    Not sure if its fair to consider Gordon’s production this season in any type of model… Looking at his Illinois counterpart since before AAU, Derrick Rose, is supposed to be ready to go and produces in practice.. but for some reason doesn’t think he is ready for games…. So there is a psychological aspect to recovery……. so will Rose sacrifice his body as in pre-injury…. Looks like EG is recovering….

    • Michael Pellissier

      March 28, 2013 at 7:06 pm

      There is definitely a psychological aspect to recovery. With a knee, a lot of it is confidence that planting/exploding won’t result in another injury.. but to say that’s the sole reason, in my opinion, would be incomplete analysis.

      Gordon’s injury history with the Hornets started when he missed the second game of the season last year. When he came back to close the season, he was very productive, and that’s a big reason why some fans (including myself) had optimistic expectations this year.

      It’s easy to get motivated to play the Clippers after the unprofessional manner in which they let him go.. but the way he attacked last night showed me that he is capable of what he used to do, and I believe part of the problem is laziness. His game is based primarily on explosion, not craft, and the way he ho-hum runs off of picks prevents him from having the success that he could.

      Not one of these articles is meant to damn Gordon, nor are any of them meant to shower him with praise. He’s having a down season. He knows it, we know it. They are explorations into why things are happening so we can better understand how he ticks and how he can improve his game.

  2. loudlikepat

    March 28, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    One of the most confusing dudes in the NBA. I’m hoping it’s just knee problems that will be ironed out physically and mentally by next year. As a pelican. We’ll see how that goes.

    • Michael Pellissier

      March 28, 2013 at 8:17 pm

      Definitely. Signs w/ Phoenix because he wants to be the cornerstone of the franchise, and then isn’t aggressive enough on a team that desperately needs someone who can penetrate.

      I think the knee problem factors in, and I don’t mean to exclude that. I just think there are several things that factor in, and some of them aren’t going to go away.

  3. saZam

    March 28, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    I wish we could see a lineup of Davis, Anderson, Miller, Rivers, and Gordon

    • Michael Pellissier

      March 29, 2013 at 12:22 am

      It would be interesting- two guards who can break down the D off of the dribble, two guys who can knock down 3s, and a pick/pop or pick/roll option in Davis.. the floor-spacing would be interesting, as neither Gordon nor Rivers is much of a 3 point shooter.. but perhaps they’d get enough respect to keep the paint open. I love the idea of an offense where we can spread the other team.

      There would be a glaring weakness in defensive rebounding, and probably defense as well, but I think that’d be a fun offense to watch.

      • xman20002000

        March 29, 2013 at 11:44 am

        I really don’t know if the aforementioned lineup would work considering its untested… Rivers and Gordon are unproven and untested over a season or even a quarter of a season.. Miller I really like when he doesn’t hesitate on his shot.. Then who comes off the bench assuming the same personnel.. Lopez and Smith plus Aminu.. Davis at the 5.. New School..

        The fortunate thing is the draft and free agency… Hopefully the rooks will come back ready… At PG, the incumbent has far too many turnovers, scores 20 points, and we lose the game due to a lack of leadership… And 2 guards who can break down a D off the dribble.. Chris Paul and Billups….

      • Michael Pellissier

        March 29, 2013 at 12:03 pm

        Rivers and Gordon have only played 42 minutes together, but the team is at a +21 per 100 possessions w/ their units on the court. Not trying to draw a definite conclusion from such a small sample size.. it’s just something worth noting. You’re right, it might not work, but I believe that’d be due to the defensive side of the ball, not the offensive one.

        Rivers is anything but a proven player, but he has proven to me that he can beat his man off of the dribble, and w/ a defense stretched by 3 point shooters, that is supremely valuable. In fact, it’s always valuable. He’s got a long way to go, but that’s one skill that will serve him well going forward.

        I am a Darius Miller fan as well, although I believe he’s a backup, not a starter. His passing at the SF position is something that enhances the abilities of the players around him. If he doesn’t hesitate on his 3s, as you say, he is a valuable offensive asset.

        I’m not sure SaZam meant that to be a starting lineup, and I’m not saying I want that either. It’s just a lineup combination I’d like to see. Monty went w/ a spread offense at one point versus the Clippers, and it was some fun basketball to watch.
        ^^this is the link to a site that’s great to understanding game flow. Look at the lineup that was in when the Hornets started making a run: Mason, Roberts, Miller, Anderson, Amundson. You have 4 guys out there who can shoot the 3 at a high level and a pick/roll guy in Amundson. There was so much space. Monty subbed in AD for Amundson, then Gordon for Mason, and all 3 of those lineups were effective. Obviously, the 3 point shooting would be less lethal w/ Rivers out there instead of Mason or Roberts, but we’d get better penetration.

        This team is far from a finished product, and we’ll see which guys Dell picks up this summer.. but these types of lineups are a fun offensive watch, in my opinion

      • saZam

        March 31, 2013 at 11:43 am

        Yea not as a starting lineup. Just something I’m curious about. W/ Rivers playing very well before his injury and then Miller playing well recently, and I’m not a big fan for GV and RoLo for future plans. Their weakness on defense is too big.

        Only person I see adding to that lineup would be aminu to increase D rebounding and D

  4. xman20002000

    March 30, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    I’m not saying it wouldn’t work assuming Rivers has a great off season.. and Gordon gets 100%. Rivers is perhaps the best passer on the team and Gordon is the best at creating his own shot… But generally our perimeter players are so tentative at taking a shot… AND.. we need lots of work in the paint… needing dunking lessons from Spud Webb… LOL

    In hindsight, the Pelicans get a pass considering the plan was to get young but it will also be interesting the FAs they bring in… hoping we get lucky in the draft… and I will check out the link… Thanks..

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