It’s yet to be seen whether Eric Gordon will survive the final roster trimming from 13 players down to 12 before the world championships begin on Aug. 28th in Turkey, but even if the experience were to end here, there’s a lot to take from Gordon’s play this Summer.
Watching Gordon develop as a player up to the this point has been an interesting exercise. While some of his fellow draft classmates, like Russell Westbrook, have made leaps and bounds since they entered the league, Gordon has improved gradually, not looking terribly different from the guy the Clippers drafted two years ago. Part of the appeal behind selecting Gordon was how NBA-ready he was, and throughout his short career in Los Angeles he’s proven to be one of the steadiest choices the draft had to offer.
I’m hesitant to proclaim Gordon hit a plateau last season, but the numbers do show that Gordon’s shooting percentages declined while everything else was identical to his rookie campaign. It’s definitely difficult to judge Gordon’s development when you consider the context — about 75 percent of the games he’s played in his career have been meaningless with the season already in the tubes. How can you judge a player defensively when some of the other players that share the court with him have already packed it in for the year? Can you really fault Gordon for not being more aggressive when just about everyone was gunning for a new contract late last year by taking whatever shots came their way? While the environment has been tough for Gordon to grow in, it’s been equally hard to get an accurate read on just how good Gordon really is, and just how good he may become.
In a lot of ways this is where Team USA steps in. We all know what Gordon can bring to the national team — accurate outside shooting and physical on-ball defense being the primary attributes — but what can Team USA do for him?
The most important thing about Gordon’s time playing for Team USA this Summer is the confidence he can gain from the experience. Gordon has largely been a hidden commodity in his first two seasons, but regardless of that he’s been tabbed by some of the best coaches and basketball minds in the world as one of the finest players the entire league had to offer. Take a look at what Coach K had to say to ESPN’s Chris Sheridan about him:
The coaches have been raving lately about Eric Gordon, who was on the cut bubble when the team held a minicamp in Las Vegas last month, “because we didn’t know him as well,” Krzyzewski said.
“He’s really had a terrific practice every single day, and every day he’s produced, he’s just been steady. And he’s a guy that doesn’t need the ball long. On our Olympic team, Carmelo Anthony didn’t need the ball long, and that helps. He’s been very good. Very good. I won’t say anybody’s made the team until we’re down to 12, but he’s been very good. I’ll leave it at that.”
It’s important for Gordon to hear new and prominent voices praising him, just as it’s important for him to share the court with superstars like Kevin Durant and savvy veterans like Chauncey Billups. Gordon has some deficiencies on the court, mainly his rebounding and ball-handling abilities, but a lot of what’s holding him back is being waged in Gordon’s own head. Often times he struggles with asserting himself into the offense, lacking an aggressive nature despite almost always being the best offensive option on the floor. It appears this Summer is helping Gordon realize that his play is reflective of his mental state, especially when you look at what he told ProjectSpurs.com:
“It’s definitely a great experience and I’m learning a lot about myself. I’m learning that I’m competitive and that I am one of the better ones out there. This is a good experience and it’s great to be a part of,” said Gordon to Project Spurs.
So what happens when Gordon eventually makes his way back to the Clippers? If you can step up and take shots when you’re playing with some of the best the NBA and the world has to offer, you can surely do it when you’re back with your own team. No offense to Ryan Gomes, who has certainly taken enough of a beating lately, but he’s not exactly Kevin Durant, know what I mean? If you can hang with the best, you should dominate the rest.
It’s going to take a lot of confidence for Gordon to evolve into a more aggressive scorer, but this Summer is helping in that regard even if Gordon is playing a complimentary role. While Gordon is about as stoic as it gets and is not a verbal leader by any means, his words do carry a little more weight because he speaks so infrequesntly. With that said, ask yourself this: Does Eric Gordon have the confidence to say this as a rookie?
…though Gordon’s tone changed a bit when I (ProjectSpurs.com) asked him about playing with Baron Davis, “It’s good. We just need to get him motivated to really play. We all know he can play. As long as he stays motivated we know what he can do to help us.”
Gordon may never blossom into a big time playmaker or an unstoppable scoring machine, but it’s important to remember that he is still developing. It may not be tangible quite yet, but this experience and the confidence gained from it should translate into something you’ll see on the court in the near future.