From ESPN’s Chris Sheridan:
ISTANBUL, Turkey — Eric Gordon played so well in the second half Thursday against Tunisia, he may have earned himself a spot in the starting lineup.
Emphasis on the words “may have.”
“Yeah, we’ll take a look at it. We’re always open for everything,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said after his team played sluggishly for the majority of the game before pulling away in the final 14 minutes — led by Gordon’s shooting — to defeat winless Tunisia 92-57 and finish preliminary-round play 5-0.
“I do think we’re going to make quicker subs,” Krzyzewski continued. “We’re going to get back to more of how we started and how we played the first two games of this pool. I didn’t think the confidence level of our bench was where it needed to be during the first part of the pool play, but I think it is now. And for us to win we’re going to need all 12 of those guys playing well, not just the starting unit.”
Gordon scored a team-high 21 points, including a flurry of eight points on a pair of 3-pointers and two free throws in the first 41 seconds of the fourth quarter, while playing nearly 25 minutes, the same team-high amount as Russell Westbrook. And with the Americans needing a consistent 3-point threat, it would be illogical not to consider moving Gordon into the starting lineup, perhaps in place of Chauncey Billups, who is playing out of position at shooting guard instead of his natural position of point guard.
“I just had a lot of open shots and I had to knock ’em down,” said Gordon, who is leading the Americans in 3-pointers made (11) and is second to Kevin Durant in 3-point percentage (Gordon is at 47 percent; Durant 50) among players who have attempted more than two shots from behind the arc.
Billups was 1-for-3 on 3-pointers, which actually raised his percentage for the tournament to 21.1 percent (4-for-19). Starting point guard Derrick Rose has gone only 2-for-7 from long range.
“I’m not really worried about that. I wasn’t expecting to start any games here,” Gordon said. “My role is to just come in the game and be effective shooting the ball. That’s what I came here to do.”
But what Gordon came here to do and what the team needs him to do is somewhat of an evolutionary process, and the Americans’ need to get off to quicker starts and shoot better from 3-point range are two of the things the coaching staff will be taking a close look at over the next three days before they face Angola on Monday in the single-elimination round of 16.
“Eric tonight played like he’s been playing most of the time with us, except for the last two games. For some reason, he was hesitant to shoot. I talked to him before the game and said, ‘Just shoot, and if you do make a move to the basket don’t look to pass.’ He’s a scorer, and his teammates know that,” Krzyzewski said. “Actually I’m watching tape this morning, we gave ’em some feedback, and there was a play from yesterday and Eric was wide open. So I stopped it and I said, ‘How many of you guys don’t want him to shoot?’ And nobody raised their hand.
“I said, ‘Eric, see? Everybody wants you to shoot.'”
Would Gordon get the same response from the Clippers locker room? It’s a little disheartening that the answer to that isn’t definitive, but let’s not have that distract us from what Gordon is doing in international play right now. Gordon has always been an efficient scorer, and with an absolute green light from his coaching staff and teammates, he’s flourished because he’s been allowed to.
That isn’t to say that the previous coaching regime stifled Gordon’s abilities, but the players on the court didn’t exactly provide the proper environment for him to do his best work, and a large majority of the offensive plays weren’t dialed up with Gordon exclusively in mind. The lane has always been crowded, the player on the opposite wing has never been a playmaking threat, and in his time as a Clipper, ball movement has been a theory more than a practice.
It’s still extremely difficult to get a gauge on where Gordon stands as a player. Is he an average shooting guard? Above average? Does he have the potential to be one of the best in the league? An all-star? A nice role player? No one really knows, and at 21 years of age, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
We’ll see what kind of future is in store for Gordon, but assertive performances like this one lead you to believe it will be a bright one.