Very few people watched Eric Gordon more closely than Breene Murphy did this Summer. Here’s his take on what Gordon’s performance means going forward:
When the Trailblazers travel to Los Angeles to play the Clippers’ season opener on October 27th, it will be televised on ESPN, but the national storylines will be slightly different than just the meeting of Blake Griffin and Greg Oden, two young, recovering big men. That will remain a focal point, but then, Mike Tirico will break from Hubie Brown’s anecdote and talk about the surprisingly large contribution Eric Gordon made in this summer’s FIBA Championships. They will talk about how it was shocking to see him take such a large role on the gold-winning team and how that will build his confidence. But it’s more than that; it’ll be about how his credibility with the team has grown.
Before camp, pundits following Team USA made it clear that Gordon was fortunate to be invited to camp, with the underlying assumption that he would be left off the team. They mused that he may be able to sneak past Stephen Curry and get a final spot, but that was an outside shot at best.
Even locally, it was a surprise. I was writing for the Clippers Organization over the summer and people within were pleased that the Clippers had two players under 22 years old invited to camp (Blake being the other). They were cautiously confident that he would make it and they celebrated every step, announcing every cut: the final 15, the impromptu cut to 13 and then, finally, when he made the team.
At each stage, we were asked to write about his accomplishments: his high shooting percentage; his tough defense; and most notably, the glowing compliments from Mike Krzyzewski.
“The more comfortable he [Gordon] became, the better. In the open court, he’s so strong going to the basket. In the half court, he’s an outstanding shooter in addition to being a driver. Defensively, he can guard a bigger perimeter player.”
Gordon’s confidence had to be ballooning after every practice, game, and Coach K quote. His performance spiked when he scored 21 points on 7 of 10 shooting (4-7 from 3), 3 for 3 from the free throw line and 3 steals against Tunisia. Those following the events would have noted how Gordon relished the challenges and performed impressively. And even with his lackluster final three games, his credibility burgeoned.
Many more people following basketball, following Team USA, recognized his talents. Which doesn’t seem like much until you think that players, Clippers players, follow the Championships as well. They have seen Eric Gordon take home a Gold Medal not for his team, but for his country. And he was a huge help. As of now, he is the most accomplished Clipper as the fourth leading scorer on a Gold Medal winning national team. Sure, Kaman and Baron have earned All-Star nods, but this is a team game. It’s about winning. This is what earns respect and credibility.
Gordon’s words now carry more weight. He’s seen what it takes to win, experienced it, contributed to it, and because of that, each action will mean slightly more. The funny thing is that he probably hasn’t learned any new philosophy around winning. He has seen the execution. Which means he more fully understands when he needs to dole out those worn but true aphorisms to his teammates. Because that’s the difference, having enough clout to make those words mean something again.
Realistically, what professional player hasn’t heard that you need to play sound defense, communicate with your team, play unselfishly, take care of the basketball, not let your emotions take control of you, etc.?
The Clippers have heard all these things before, but the problem with the team isn’t that they don’t know what to do, it’s that they’ve forgotten how to go about doing it. They’ve forgotten how to be more than just an agglomeration of talent. And I’d guarantee that coaches and team leaders are still telling them these same truths, but it needs to sound real, to regain meaning in order to motivate them.
And this is what credibility does. It won’t just be for the younger players, it will apply to all. Even Baron will be more likely to listen.
By no means is this any sort of guarantee, this is more of a correlation than a causality, because anyone that has played or followed sports knows that there are so many variables that can sidetrack a team. Even the very best of teams lose 10-30 times a year. There are pitfalls and road blocks. What it does mean, though, is that when there are the low points (that I’ll guarantee), there will be someone on the team with not only the confidence to persevere individually but more importantly, he’ll have the credibility to help translate it to his teammates.