Eric Gordon: Crunchy?

Published: March 14, 2013

Eric Gordon, will you please score?
You’ve made a few baskets,
But we need many more
You aren’t the same this season
You don’t play like before
So pick it up, man
We want buckets galore

In my first post, I took a look at Eric Gordon and formulated some expectations based on the production of players with similar contracts.  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece measuring Eric Gordon’s progress since the All-Star Break.  All of this was done in an effort to measure Gordon’s production: where he was, is, and will wind up in the near future.

Recovery is a progression.  There is no “on” switch that magically brings a player back to his peak form, and Gordon is hardly the first player to come back at less than 100% following a knee injury.  CP3, the god of point guards, wasn’t the same in the season he came back from a blown knee.   This process is elongated when a player’s success is predicated upon explosiveness.  Such is the case with Gordon, as it is with many of the new hybrid guards who get into the paint and attack the rim.

That said, let’s throw away everything else, and focus on the one thing that we know Gordon was born to do, and that’s score.  Gordon’s ability to get to the rim is the reason he gets paid. He can do other things, of course, but this is what he’s known for.

On a per minute basis, Gordon’s scoring numbers are fairly reflective of what we’ve come to expect. However, his efficiency has taken a hit, and his struggles in the second half of games are frustrating.  For a guy that’s being paid like a #1 option, he isn’t carrying his share of the burden in crunch time.  He is not the first Gordon to crumble under great expectations in the final moments of games.

In the last edition of “Hornets Beat,” the writers took a stab at what they believe is going wrong.  Every single writer hit on a common theme: conditioning.  It is hard to refute this notion, as Eric Gordon is visibly gassed at several points in each game.  The statistics back this up, as Gordon’s scoring percentages take a considerable dip after both the 1st and 2nd quarters.

 FGM   FGA    FG%     eFG%
1st quarter     60    125    48%     54%
2nd quarter     37     90    41%     49%
3rd quarter     30     95    32%     35%
4th quarter     23     67    34%     39%


Can this possibly be explained by Gordon’s shot selection?  Here is a shot breakdown explaining where Gordon is finding his shots in each quarter.

Quarter    Rim     3 to 10    10 to 16    16 to 3pt       3 pt
1st quarter     31%        13%         8%        20%        28%
2nd quarter     18%        19%         4%        21%        38%
3rd quarter     33%        24%         3%        13%        27%
4th quarter     18%        19%         7%        22%        33%


It should be noted that some of the sample sizes (particularly for the 4th quarter) used to make this table are small due to Gordon’s shortened season, but this helps illustrate what is visible to fans: Gordon is not getting to the rim in the 4th quarter as much as he is the rest of the game.  He is closing the 2nd and 4th quarters with a substantial amount of jump shots.  The sample size for the 4th quarter is small, as I mentioned above, but that’s part of the problem.  If Gordon is to be our “closer,” he should be receiving more opportunities as the game closes.

Finally, I wanted to take a look at how Gordon’s success rate (eFG%) varied by quarter at specific locations.  Conventional basketball wisdom says that players with tired legs tend to be less effective on their jump shots.  So what do Gordon’s statistics say?

 Rim   3 to 10    10 to 16    16 to 3pt      3 pt
 1st quarter     64%       56%          30%          36%       60%
 2nd quarter     63%       29%          25%          37%       62%
 3rd quarter     42%       30%          33%          17%       40%
 4th quarter     58%       15%          20%          47%       41%


There is an obvious drop off that occurs after the 2nd quarter from 3 point land, where Gordon’s success rate plummets from roughly 60% eFG% to approximately 40%.  This is a substantial drop.  His shooting percentage also takes a dip in nearly every category when he transitions from the 2nd quarter to the 3rd.

Data Synopsis
1. Lack of aggression in the 4th quarter- Gordon is taking considerably fewer shots in the 4th quarter than he is the rest of the game.  Roughly 17% of his shots occur in the 4th.

2. Poor shot selection to close halves- Gordon is taking far too many deep jumpers in the 2nd and 4th quarters.  This could possibly be explained by fatigue, but Gordon’s minute rotations are very regular.  He consistently gets to rest at the end of the 1st and 3rd quarters, and he also almost always gets the first 5 or 6 minutes off to begin the 2nd and 4th quarters.

3. Decreased 3 point efficiency in the second half- Gordon is much less effective shooting the 3 pointer in the second half, which is somewhat understandable.  However, when his decrease in efficiency is coupled with an increased share of 3 pointers (in the 4th quarter), it becomes pretty distressing.  When something isn’t working, more isn’t better.  Sorry, AT&T.

Tony Allen (of the Memphis Grizzlies) should give Eric Gordon a Christmas card for making his life easy in his two appearances against the Hornets.  Eric Gordon has combined to take 12 shots in his two appearances against him.  This is inexcusable.  Allen is an excellent perimeter defender, but Gordon is the #1 option on this squad, and he needs to be assertive in both demanding the ball and doing something with it when he gets it.  He’s got 58 million reasons to whine, yell, or do whatever it takes to get the rock.

A Light Shines
Gordon’s game against Brooklyn was a bright spot, as he delivered one of his best performances of the year.  He became more aggressive as the game progressed and caught Gerald Wallace napping on two backdoor cuts to the basket.  Even when he wasn’t finishing, teammates were grabbing offensive rebounds after their defenders left them to help on Gordon.  Most notably, he delivered a vicious slam on Brook Lopez, which served as retribution for the behemoth center’s activity in stifling Gordon during their first meeting.  He also should have received a few more foul shots, but the refs were saving their whistles for Deron Williams.

By no means was Gordon’s performance perfect, but the two moments (without any thought) where he caught the ball on the perimeter and blitzed his way to the rim reminded me of the old Eric Gordon.  He also had some other strong drives to the basket.  The explosion is coming back, and good things tend to follow when he chooses to use it.

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