In only his second year, Eric Gordon has emerged as possibly the most dynamic guard in Clippers history, and his absence in the lineup will come at great expense. It already has.
The Clippers are now 0-6 without Gordon since he suited up on opening night in October 2008. Looking ahead at the next 10 days or so, the team will probably lose more than they’ll win while Gordon is sidelined with a strained right groin. Some of these losses are likely to be ugly, given the dropoff in production and lack of depth at the shooting guard position behind him.
It’s difficult for a basketball team to run its stuff when its most potent offensive piece is in street clothes. Both Monday and Wednesday nights, we observed how restrained the Clips are in the half-court without EJ.
So what do you do when your best player is sidelined? It’s nearly impossible to operate the team’s standard offense. It’s kind of like playing a game of chess with a couple of crucial pieces missing.
What you can do is work on some smaller goals by using the conditions of Eric’s absence to make strides. Chris Kaman is a prime candidate for this endeavor.
After earning the Western Conference Player of the Week, Chris has struggled since Eric went out. We’ve seen over the past two games that Kaman has begun to draw double-teams on a regular basis. Some of that can be attributed to advanced scouts reporting back to their respective teams that Kaman is for real. But the added attention to him by the defense is also due in large part due to the absence of Gordon.
When Gordon was healthy, he was routinely situated on the ball side of the court with Kaman. Since leaving Gordon is that situation is defensive suicide, opponents were forced to send help from elsewhere. With Kaman attacking quickly off the entry pass, defenders arriving from that distance were often late, giving Kaman a good one-on-one look from close-range. With Gordon out of the lineup, Kaman no longer has that luxury, and the double-teams have started to come early and often.
Kaman has turned the ball over four times in each of his past two games, a direct result of those aggressive double-teams. Although he’s improved his passing and reduced his turnovers overall since last season, he still appears besieged when presented with multiple defenders. Those double-teams are starting to affect his decision-making. Even when Kaman is able to act before the double-team arrives, his moves are more nervous and less measured, a consequence that’s producing poorer shot opportunities.
The difference between an elite center and one who is merely very good is the ability to handle double-teams on the block, to know instinctively the best counter if and when the defense pressures him. Without Gordon on the wing, Kaman will have at least five games to measure himself against that lofty standard.
Chris should approach this task with confidence. He’s a big man with multiple go-to moves. He’s shooting the ball exceptionally well, Wednesday night notwithstanding. With sharp concentration, but not too much thinking (Don’t think, Meat. Just pitch), Chris has the capacity to graduate to that class of center. The next couple of weeks will give us some indication if he can.