If Blake Griffin is the main story, then Eric Gordon is the running subplot, George Costanza to Blake’s Jerry Seinfield. Had Blake Griffin not burst onto the Clipper scene this year, Gordon would have been the main story. However, Eric Gordon was never meant to be the main plot, but the strong subplot upon which the main narrative rests.
Ask a random basketball fan how good EJ is and they’ll probably tell you that he moderates Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith lovably well. It’s not from a lack of exposure, Eric plays on the same team as Blake Griffin who has forced many basketball fans into watching the Clippers, despite their meager record.
Despite his straightforward insights, he’s too mild mannered to be a team leader. Remember when he critiqued Baron over the summer? He said “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.” Even in his critique he pulls himself away from the spotlight by using “we” instead of directly addressing Baron. He’s constantly pulling his presence from the spotlight.
And yet, Gordon has become a complete lynchpin for this team. Between his tap-dancing probes to the paint, reclining floaters, and bomb threes, he’s found a way to take over the team in the moments where a team needs a leader. According to 82games.com, Eric Gordon is the 13th most prolific scorer in the clutch (their definition is “4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points”). But that doesn’t even compare to how good his efficiency is. In that same “clutch” time frame, Gordon shot 55.6 percent from the field and 53.3 percent from beyond the arc making him only one of three players to shoot over 50 percent from the field and the three point line with at least 10 field goal attempts per 48 minutes of crunch time (Paul Millsap and Corey Maggette are the other two).
But ask those same “random basketball fans” about the most clutch player and they’ll probably give the answer of Kobe Bryant (or if they’re more stat savvy, they may say Carmelo, Dirk or Durant). Kobe has hit a ton of huge shots, but at a startlingly less efficient rate(40.2 percent from the field, 35.1 percent from behind the three point line), only scoring more because he took more shots.
Jodie Meeks of the Sixers, Carlos Delfino of the Bucks, and Eric Gordon all shot a healthy bump above 50 percent from three and score more than 26 points in “clutch” time, but gutty makes aren’t in any way stylistically comparable to the sharpshooting exploits of. Eric Gordon is often the focal point and the initiator of the offense as the game winds down. Remember this:
That said, Gordon’s season left me wanting more, and it wasn’t just because of his cautious play after the wrist injury (3.5 FTA per game). EJ had been on the steady decline in attacking ever since he lost the reins as the lead guard in November. Baron came back and Gordon not only stumbled offensively but he showed some signs of reverting back to his pre-2010-2011 game. The 10.3 free throw attempts that Gordon averaged as the lead guard in November quickly diminished into 6.0 attempts in December with Baron’s return and 5.7 FTAs in January as a shooting guard, before he even hurt his wrist and missed all of February and came back averaging 4.3 free throw attempts in March and 2.6 in April.
Clearly, Gordon was able to maximize his potential more when he was running the point, but the quandary only brings back an even older question that doesn’t even address whether Eric Gordon can make “the jump,” because clearly he can. Instead it asks where Gordon should make that jump.
The first two seasons in the league seemed to have solved that proposition. Even with his height disadvantage, Gordon has the strength and the quickness to guard other two guards and his game seemed tailor made for a shooting guard. He averaged over 38 percent from three and only drove to the rim when necessary. He wasn’t a natural distributor and often (even this year to a lesser extent), would drive into the lanes and find himself out of options. He only averaged around 5 shots per game within 10 feet and approximately 4.5 free throw attempts per game, characteristic of a player that liked to stick out on the perimeter.
But this year, Gordon shined when he was in attack mode and suddenly dug up the whole question about whether he should be, or could be, the ball handling guard. He will never be a Chris Paul, but is the dream of Gordon’s full realization too crazy if he turns into a Russell Westbrook type scoring point guard?
That’s what next year is for.