Season in Review: Eric Gordon

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Published: May 25, 2015

Fair or not, Eric Gordon’s tenure in New Orleans will always be connected to the expectations that came with the Chris Paul trade in 2011. It is easy to understand why. He was, in many ways, the centerpiece of a trade that saw New Orleans’ most decorated player leave the team. Expectations for Gordon were high. Those expectations were raised even higher when he signed a max contract the next offseason. After 4 seasons of struggling to stay healthy, most fans’ favor has turned on Mr. Gordon.

But this review isn’t about the Chris Paul trade, Gordon’s contract, unreasonable expectations, or even his entire tenure in New Orleans. No, today we are talking about his most recent season in New Orleans. For now, let’s put aside our frustrations and our hot takes. Let’s just talk about Eric Gordon the basketball player during the 2014-15 NBA season.

2014-15 Season

Gordon played in 61 and started 60 games last season. That was good enough for his second best total in New Orleans. Though he was more available last year than his first two years in NOLA, he still struggled with some injury issues. The good news is that it wasn’t an injury to one of his knees, which have been his main problem.

This year it was a fluky torn labrum in his left shoulder that resulted in him missing 21 games. It is hard to be excited about a guy missing over a quarter of the season, but then again, this seems like one of those random things. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to think that it is something systemic that will pop up again. Pels fans might have reason to be optimistic that Gordon is finally turning the corner with his health issues. Also, let’s not forget that Gordon could have shut himself down and opted for surgery. It would have probably been the safer and smarter route. He opted to rehab and play. That’s impressive and deserves to be acknowledged.

Besides just being healthy this year, 2014-15 was also big year for Gordon because he finally got his first chance to play in a NBA playoff series. Gordon is often treated by the team, media, and fans as the oldest young guy in the locker room. It’s easy to forget that despite his 7 season in the NBA, he hasn’t gotten the chance to achieve a lot or really reach his potential. He’s been a part of two rebuilding franchises and has had to rebuild himself several times. It’s not easy for me to feel sorry for a millionaire, but I was excited that Gordon finally got a chance to play under those bright playoff lights. And, he played pretty well.

Let’s move beyond the brief summaries and overviews on to the real basketball.

Oh and one more thing, Eric also did this one thing that was pretty cool.

Offense

To say Eric Gordon got off to a rough start this season would be a dramatic understatement. During his first 6 games, Gordon shot 29.3% from the field and an abysmal 19% from 3. For the amount of minutes he was playing, he was also averaging a pretty low number of assists (1.16), especially given his number of turnovers (1.6). Things weren’t great. Jake Madison did a great job of cataloging those early season struggles and suggesting how Gordon might improve here. It is worth going back and taking a look at that piece to really get a feel of how the season was going at that point.

Things actually began to turn around pretty quickly for Eric. In the next 6 games, his shooting percentages went way up, his assists went up, turnovers went down, and his points per game began approach what you’d like to see out of a starting 2 guard. Then, bam! The should injury happens, and we are reminded that, as Pelicans fans, it is really hard for us to have nice things. That started the 21 game hiatus mentioned earlier. 12 games is really not enough to make any sweeping generalizations about a player. So let’s zoom out a bit and look at his performance after he came back, and then the season as a whole.

When Gordon finally came back in early January it was hard to know what to expect. For one, he’d missed the better part of November and all of December. To make matters worse, the last image we had of Gordon on the court was him struggling to find his stride early in the season. I’m not sure anyone was expecting Gordon to light a fire on the court. We were just hoping for some type of impact, but he quickly turned it around in a big way. The rest of the season Gordon shot 41.3% from the field and 46.4% from 3, which leads me to the big thing I want to discuss about Gordon’s season on offense.

Shooting

After all the injuries and missed games the last few years, some serious questions were beginning to be raised about what type of player Gordon would eventually become. Coming out of college, many believed that he could eventually turn into the focal point of a NBA offense, not just because of his shooting ability, but also due to his knack for getting to the line in college and slashing to the lane. It is unclear if Gordon will ever become that type of slasher or creator in the NBA. Frankly, it doesn’t look likely. However, at least for the Pelicans, that might not matter. The Pelicans have needed a spot up shooter for years, and Eric Gordon has a lights out shooter.

According to NBA.com/stats, 36.7% of Gordon’s shots were catch and shoot 3’s this season. He made those shots at a 48.2% rate. That’s fantastic. Of course, he was great overall from behind the arch this season (44.8% on all 3PAs). Still, things go to a different level when he gets a little bit of space and doesn’t need to use a dribble.

Maybe Gordon could still become a ball dominate guard, but that’s not what the Pelicans need with Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday on the roster. For years, they’ve need that release valve. They’ve need that guy who could burn broken down defenses from behind the line. Contract issues aside, Eric Gordon looks like he could easily take on that role.

Defense

I love starting all of my defensive reviews with NBA tracking data. I don’t see any reason to break the trend. Take a look at the table below to see how Gordon faired, when compared to an average NBA defender, according to the NBA’s tracking data.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 4.45.45 PM

I feel like that is about what we would expect. Overall, Gordon is a bit below average as a defender. The closer his opponent gets to the basket the worse he becomes as a defender. Again, nothing too shocking. His lack of size alone will prevent him from ever contending with a lot of drives inside 6 feet.

Now, if we look at other advanced statistics like DBPM, things seem a bit worse. In that category, Gordon posted a -2.0. For guards who played in at least 41 games, that would put him at 82 of 133, according to basketball reference. That isn’t too good, but it also isn’t outright awful.

We could repeat this exercise with other advanced stats, but the verdict would be pretty much the same. He just isn’t a great defender. Still, we can’t completely turn offense and defense into discrete parts of the game. Sure, he doesn’t do much for you on defense, but is it worth the tradeoff of taking him off the floor? You’re losing a lot of shooting when Gordon is on the bench, and most of our other perimeter shooters over the years have struggled to defend much more than Gordon. He wasn’t a great defender this year, and that isn’t likely to change going into next year. But he is close to average, and that might just be good enough for the time being.

The Future

At this point, it is impossible to discuss Eric Gordon and the Pelicans without mentioning his contract. So here it is. I won’t break anything down, because other writers on this site (more intelligent than I about the NBA CBA) have done it before. Let me simply say two things. First, something will happen with Eric Gordon’s contract. Eventually, it will run out, or he will be traded. It may require a certain amount of patience, but this isn’t forever. It is temporary.

Second, we’ve all, as fans, had moments of frustration with Gordon. That’s just the simple truth. Some of those frustrations were justified. Some were not. I think it is time to move on. Gordon may never become the player we hoped he would be we he joined the team in the Chris Paul trade. But he has become a valuable player. He is an on the court asset to this team.

Final Word

Growing up is hard on parents and loved ones. Young people do dumb stuff. It is just a part of life. Young  and rebuilding basketball teams also do dumb stuff, and it frustrates their fans to see their beloved team struggle to come of age. For parents, they eventually find a scape goat. They blame your silly or dumb behavior on music, a girl or boyfriend, or a bad influence. For Pelicans fans, Eric Gordon has been the scape goat for a while. I’m not suggestion all of it was misplaced, but the disappointment and frustration eventually got out of hand. I hope this season puts an end to that. For one, the Pelicans made the playoffs. They’re growing up. Also, Gordon played well and he played often. He might not be the player we once wanted, but he is a player. The Pelicans were lucky to have him this season.

Let me say one last thing for this review, the Pelicans owe part of their success this season to Gordon. He was a significant player who filled a role well. We could add some other filler, but I think at this point it is time to just say, “Thanks for the great season EJ.”

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