Good, But Not Good Enough

Published: April 25, 2014

Man was born to love
Though often he has sought,
Like Icarus, to fly too high
And far too lonely than he ought,
To kiss the sum of East and West
And hold the world at his behest,
To hold the terrible power to whom only gods are blessed,
But me . . . I am just a man

— Faith No More, Just a Man

The season is not quite over for the New Orleans Pelicans, but it is for Eric Gordon. After playing 2057 minutes across 64 games, Eric Gordon was sidelined after sitting for a few games with reported tendinitis in his left knee. Prior to this, he missed only 4 games, and none of them were associated with his right knee that game him so much trouble since his arrival in New Orleans. He is missing 14 more due to this knee issue and his planned surgery. Details are forthcoming with the surgery, but it has been deemed both minor and a clean up while rumored to be to repair a torn meniscus.

64 games is certainly more than some expected for Gordon, but I actually predicted that he would play at least 63 games this season. He started all 64 of the games he played in and averaged 32.1 minutes per game, over the 30 minutes per game I predicted as a minimum. Sticking with predictions, I noted that his 3P% was something to keep an eye on for a few reasons. Gordon had the highest 3P% of his NBA career (0.391, 101 of 258), taking around 4 per game.

This is actually a much better performance than many expected (by me and Gordon), but it was not good enough. But what is good enough in this case?

Let’s try out a few possibilities:

  • $14,898,938 good? I’m am reluctant to blame a player if his salary and his performance do not correlate in a way that favors me or my chosen team. Players do not choose their salary or their talent level. They can influence both, to be sure, but they have far less influence on the salary. Rather, it is a manager’s job to make the right call there. So, incongruity between the two falls on management or external events (e.g. injury) first in most cases. In Gordon’s case, I think this holds. While there are attitude questions, some of which I have myself (and I think I have the answers, too), I’m not blaming him for not living up to his salary. If it was a $2,000,000 off, maybe, but at this point, it’s on management. Allow me to add: I’m not saying management was wrong. They may be, but they may also have a plan . . . we need to let this contract run its course in New Orleans before we scribe a judgment in stone . . . scratch them in sand all day long.
  • Alpha-player good?: No. Eric Gordon has not demonstrated leadership or “alpha” qualities this season. He may have that in him, but he’s now showing it. His personality is such that he’s quieter than most, and he seems to perform better in a stable situation. He performed well when he knew he was the primary option when, for instance, Davis was out. This sort of situational goodness is not indicative of what I mean by leadership here. He did not show that, at any moment, he may `catch fire’ or `break through’ some team scoring drought. He has not shown he can play through adverse circumstance or dictate his terms to the other team. He is a very effective scorer, and may actually be the best scorer on many teams given the opportunity, but he has not succeeded in cultivating a warrior image. You can pay a guy for that talent, and it’s one that does not jump out in the box score, but in this case . . . no, the data just is not there.
  • Other teams want him good?: Maybe. The primary knock against Gordon seems to be a perceived frailty. Up until this surgery, he seemed to on the way to potentially leaving that reputation behind . . . not there, but perhaps on the road. Now, he’s missed (in order) 4, 20, 26, 57, 40, and 18 games. While some may take comfort in the recent upward trend, others will simply see reduced production (relative to average number of games missed) which translates into a cost inflator. I can go into more detail later, but there are teams that still may find the Gordon + Gordon’s contract pairing acceptable. Broadly speaking, teams that can’t sign, say, $8mish players (value), but feel they need one to compete at the level they have practical desire for one and either expiring contracts, are willing to add salary, or have a surplus of talent in one area. Also, a team looking to add salary that is out-of-sync with the talent that comes with it in this particular direction may also have interest.

It would be nice if his play this season ticked 2 of those 3 boxes (or more I’m not thinking of at the moment), but he just can’t. He’s a fine NBA player, and he’ll have respectable career. Even (properly) detaching his presence on the team from the Chris Paul exit, he just has not lived up to his billing here. Tomorrow is another way, winning cures all, etc., but at some point you have to look at the data and draw the line between possible and probable.

It is probably that Eric Gordon will never be the player we used to hope he could be.

And then there is this certainty: Eric Gordon is just a man. He always was, just like everyone else. There is no magic, there is no mystical quality, just practically unquantifiable levels of talent, the ability to use it, the will to do so, and the will to do the work to put it all together. It is unreasonable to levy expectations of greatness on any man. If greatness happens, so be it. Let Eric be Eric, and wish him well in his NBA career, here or elsewhere. If it works out for him, us, or the team . . . lagniappe.

New Orleans Pelicans News

In a continuing effort to look at each week of the season, we pick up in the second full week of March, a week in which the Pelicans missed an 0-3 week by the slightest of margins in an overtime win. They ended the week with a 27-39 record.

The first of the two losses was to the Grizzlies, ruining the potential sweep of the Memphis squad for the season. The 88-90 loss might not look that bad, but it does when it’s sitting next to a 88-81 LEAD for the Pelicans with 3:22 left to play. In the next minute, the lead was cut to just 2 points thanks to a missed shot, a turnover, and two shooting fouls committed by the Pelicans. Memphis made a field goal, too. The Pelicans then had a blocked shot, another turnover, and missed 3 three-pointers. I hope this three-point worshipers take some note here: personnel and situation are factors in what is best shot in certain situations . . . it’s not just “three good” . . . that’s lazy.

The second of the losses was to the Trail Blazers, and despite a larger difference in scores (111-103), the game was basically just as close as the loss to the Grizzlies. The game was tied at 94 until 4:17 left in the game, at which point the Blazers went up by 2. The Blazers were much more efficient than the Pelicans, making 14 three-pointers compared to just 3 for the Pelicans, but the Pelicans countered via turnovers and rebounding. The execution down the stretch was there . . . nearly. The Pelicans simply missed several close shot attempts, including some by Davis, that weren’t put back, and the lead built to one that was insurmountable. This was very much a game determined by the dice.

The win of the week was an overtime thriller, with a 112-112 regulation period giving way to a 9-8 overtime and 121-120 victory for the Pelicans over the Celtics. Davis also had his career high 40 points in this game. Though it was an overtime game, Davis actually scored all 40 in regulation, though he added 6 of his 20 rebounds in overtime. The Pelicans saw a 13 point lead wither to 3 as the clock went from 5:36 to 1:58, during which time they made no field goals and missed only long shots, including a three. They also did not add a rebound or a takeaway. Yet, through rebounding and defensive effort, the Pelicans held on to their 1-point lead. Despite the collapse, they managed to win, and on their terms.

Around Bourbon Street Shots

It was all Davis this week. On In the NO, Ryan and Michael discuss Davis’ rise to superstardom. Ryan then looked at some interesting numbers Mr. Davis has put up. Trew 2 the Game explored Anthony Davis’ 21st birthday and how to celebrate it.

`Voices’ of the People

All this and they guy really has not developed a set of post moves yet. I’m sure we’ll see that begin more next season after he has another offseason in the weight room and adds another 5-10 lbs. Say what you will, but I do believe Monty has handled the kid right in his first two years, allowing him to grow while knowing his experience just was not there yet. I dare say they way he held him back at times last year, helped the kid to blossom more confidently this year. Also nice that he has not had to play the 5 very much. Add a great SF and look out folks…

Pelican Poster

Here is my complaint about the “anti-Monty” writing I see here. Last night the Pelicans were without: Anderson, Holiday, Evans, Gordon, and Smith. That is a very strong starting 5. And they were still a basket from winning. So does Monty get credit for the attitude and effort his players showed? For keeping a game the Pelicans had no business being in based on talent 1.5 seconds from overtime. No! And why not? I say that it is a negative bias against Monty.

Then there is all the arguing about which of our three 3rd team bigs (Ajinca, Whithey, and Stiemsma) should have been on the floor. They are all we have; three 3rd team bigs who split about 48 minutes a night. They all have huge weaknesses. Whithey’s include conditioning, which I believe limit his minutes nightly. But don’t focus on Stiemsma defending Conley on a 3 pt shot (which you thankfully admit the others may not have been any better at), and not mention Stiemsma’s crucial block running the floor and his baseline steal. Omitting those plays paints an inaccurate picture of his game.

So does the “riding Stiemsma to defeat” line. In a game like this, any error was a problem: Rivers cross court ‘pick 6’ pass to Allen, Rivers turnover after the double timeout, Morrow not being closer to the basket on the last possession in the front court, etc. And again, Monty should be commended for being able to keep the game close in spite of those plays.

Finally, there is the idea that Monty should have done something about the double teaming of Davis all over the court, not just in the paint as was mentioned in the article. The entire point of double teaming one player is to make the other players beat you, and the Pelicans didn’t have the other healthy players to do that. Beside Davis, there were only 2nd and 3rd team players on the court. That isn’t Monty’s fault. So why was he faulted? Again I say negative bias against Monty.

This team continues to outperform its talent level, and the coach gets no credit. I can’t understand why.


Look, Monty has made some decisions that have us all scratching our heads. At the end of the day, he’s the head coach and we aren’t so his choices/experience will always trump ours, but it doesn’t mean we can’t question him. Getting this close in a game with a team like Memphis is an accomplishment given our injuries, but we still lost in the end.

I appreciate analysis that looks at choices made which contributed to the outcome of the game and when we look at the choices our coach made, how can we not question him if we lose? Us N.O. sports fans questioned Sean Payton’s end around on a 4th down play last season but because he won a ring and brought us to multiple playoffs NO ONE with a brain will ask for him to be fired. Monty hasn’t been able to do either of those things for a variety of reasons, but we should always want to get better from top to bottom and if there are more appealing options at coach out there, we should consider them just like we should consider any trade with our players.

I’ve become a bigger basketball fan because of this site. The analysis by the writers here has helped me to understand more about the game. If we can’t be critical about a loss or a losing season where we won’t keep our draft pick I don’t think we’re properly supporting the team. Personally, I give Monty one more year and then re-assess but his seat is definitely getting uncomfortably warm. Imagine if we had Thibs come here instead of Chicago, how do you think our team looks? It’s worth considering.