Finding the Right Role for Eric Gordon

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Published: November 2, 2014

There are good and bad things to evaluate from last night’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks; Michael McNamara and James Grayson chronicled many of those takeaways. Undoubtedly one of the biggest concerns was Eric Gordon’s 0 point, 4 turnover performance in 34 minutes of action. While Gordon may not be part of the the team’s long-term plans, if New Orleans wants to have a shot at the playoffs THIS season, they’ll need more out of him than they got last night. Don’t let last night’s line blind you to the fact that Eric is still a valuable NBA player; to that point, is there a way that the Pelicans can facilitate his production? I think there is, and the solution would also remedy another potential issue with the team’s minutes distribution last night.

My fix: bring Eric Gordon off of the bench. Gordon wants the ball in his hands, and that fact is redundant with Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, the team’s other two starting perimeter players. Jrue and Tyreke are both far better at creating offensive production in this role, both for themselves and for teammates. By moving Gordon to the bench, Monty can bring him in with Ryan Anderson, and those two alone would give the Pelicans a far more formidable second unit than the team deploys at present. Doing so should not result in much of a playing time reduction for Gordon (Anderson only played 5 fewer minutes than Gordon last night), so while concerns over him pouting about the role change are understandable, it shouldn’t be an issue as long as he gets his minutes (if necessary, just tell him that he would be the Pelicans’ version of Manu Ginobili). Finally, replacing Gordon in the starting lineup with a current bench player would also help Monty manage his top players’ minutes better than we saw last night, as the Pelicans pretty much used only seven players against the Mavs, an unsustainable practice over the course of an 82 game season.

So who replaces Gordon in the starting lineup? Depending on the opponent and how the Pelicans match up, either Jimmer Fredette or Luke Babbitt. If chemistry is a bigger concern than match-ups, then Monty should start Jimmer and roll with him regardless of opponent. Ideally, if New Orleans faces an opponent like the Grizzlies with a glaring hole at the 3, then Babbitt should get the start at SF with Jrue and Tyreke filling the guard spots. If they face a team more similar to the (healthy) Spurs or Thunder, then slide Evans down to the 3 to match up with the likes of Kawhi Leonard or Kevin Durant and start Jimmer at SG.

The main takeaway here is that Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Anthony Davis, and Omer Asik are in the starting lineup regardless, to go along with Floor Spacer X. Babbitt and Fredette are clearly sub-par defenders at best, but the defensive drop-off from Gordon to either of them has not proven to be significant enough to negate how this change could help both the starting offense as well as bench production. If the team wants a more defensive-minded presence in the starting lineup instead, there is a perfectly valid case for going with Austin Rivers to replace Gordon in the starting lineup; my personal preference is to see to see a more proven perimeter shooter in that role, but Rivers could make sense as well.

Give Gordon the keys to the offense with the second unit, and deploy him with the starters when the situation calls for it, just like the Pelicans do with Anderson. The result should be a more efficient starting offense, a negligible difference to the starting defense, and less of a drop-off when Monty goes to his bench. There is no reason for Austin Rivers, Fredette, and John Salmons to see one more minute of action together outside of garbage time. The Pelicans simply have too much talent among their top three guards to let that happen.

 

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