Eric Gordon: Sifting Through Fool’s Gold
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
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!