Gordon and the Anatomy of a Few Wins

Published: January 10, 2013
Eric Gordon

Eric Gordon is back, but he’s certainly not scoring well.  Why are the Hornets winning?

Seriously.  Why are the Hornets winning?  Eric Gordon came back, and he’s shooting 32.5% from the field.  15% from deep!  Add in his nice free throw numbers and his True Shooting Percentage still only clocks in at 43.0%.  An average shooting guard in the NBA has a TS% of 53.7%.  He’s been a wreck as he works his way back into the game.

I dug into the numbers.  Caution, this piece contains nerd-like content.


First, I just wanted to see how the Hornets played with Gordon on the court his year – compared to when he’s not on the court.  Small sample size, I know, but here’s the results:

 Hornets Offensive Numbers of note per 48 minutes

  • Despite Eric’s Iso predilections, the number of assisted Hornets shots rises by 2.2.
  • The Hornets predictably shoot 2.1 more free throws.
  • The Hornets true shooting and effective field goal percentages rise by 1.5%.
  • The Hornets defensive rebound rate jumps by 6.3% to a staggering 80%.  (Yeah, that would lead the league by a lot)
  • The Hornets turnover rate drops by 1%, accounting for more than a turnover less per 48 minutes.
  • Negatives?  None.  Every category improves.  Yes, every category.  Both types of rebounding, assists, blocks, steals, assist to turnover ratio, assist rate, shooting.  Even pace increases by a few possessions per 48 minutes.

So despite Eric Gordon’s poor personal shooting numbers and allergy to rebounds, just having him play makes this Hornets squad much better offensively.  The overall efficiency numbers bear that out as well.  In Gordon’s 144 minutes this season, the Hornets offense scores 103.4 points per 100 posessions.  Without him, the Hornets have averaged 100.6 points per 100 possessions.

Opponent Offensive Numbers of note per 48 minutes

(and remember, this is happening with the Hornets playing a faster pace than normal)

  • Opponents have been grabbing 3.8 fewer offensive rebounds.
  • Opponents have fouled Hornets players 1.5 more times.
  • Opponents have been fouled 4.4 fewer times.
  • Opponents commit 4 more turnovers.
  • Opponents get 3.9 fewer shots.
  • Opponents have earned 3.5 fewer free throws.
  • Opponents take 2 fewer threes.
  • Opponents block 1 less shot.
  • Negatives?  Opponents shoot 1.4% better on threes and .6% better on twos.

Clearly the first four bullets have a lot to do with the fewer shots, free throws and threes.  Still, this is a major swing, and it’s enabled the Hornets to allow only 97.7 points per 100 possessions when Gordon was on the floor.  Normally, they allow 106.  97.7, by the way, would be third in the league.

Does all of this make sense?  In some interconnected way, of course.  The Hornets have improved their athleticism and speed on the perimeter.  That, in turn, cuts down on easy penetration, increases deflections, and helps on closeouts.  Opposing teams have shot 9% worse from deep since Eric Gordon returned to the line-up.  Is part of that fluky?  Probably.  But it’s also partly an indicator of what happens when you upgrade your team’s athleticism on the wing.  (Remember, Aminu also started playing again at this time.  Of course turnovers are down and shooting up, and the team is playing Aminu.  Weird how that works.)

The rebounding improvement is perhaps the hardest to tie to Gordon.  As noted above, the team is playing Aminu once more, and that always helps on the boards.  And again, better perimeter defense will enable the Hornets’ big men to concentrate more on rebounding position and less on help defense.  Still, if anything, this may be the most flukish of the improved stats.

The shooting is partly self-explanatory.  Gordon generates open looks – and improves the number of assists the team gets per game.  This compensates for his own poor shooting.  However, there is the interesting side effect.  Michael and I wondered on the podcast for a month leading up to Gordon’s return if he would help Vasquez mask his deficiencies and play to his strengths.

So far, it’s an unequivocal yes.

Vasquez next to Gordon

In the games since Gordon’s return, Vasquez has had his assist rate rise by 5%, his eFG% increase by 9.8%, his TS% increase by 6.8% and most importantly, his turnover rate has dropped 50% from his 12.78 average to 8.4.  His usage rate has also declined by about 4%, a clear indicator that he’s being forced to be the primary guy less often, allowing him to pick his spots more often.


It’ll be interesting to see how much of this carries forward as the sample size grows larger, but so far, these returns are exciting – and a little sad when you consider what might have been.


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