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Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Since Eric Gordon's arrival in New Orleans, he has largely disappointed fans year after year. In his first season, he played a grand total of 9 games. Despite that, he was signed to a maximum offer by the organization, even though it was reported his heart wished to be elsewhere. In 2012-13, he played in 42 games, but his efficiency (FG%, 3FG%, TOV) fell well below his career norm. Last season, he made it through 64 games before sitting out the rest of schedule. Although most of the numbers improved from the previous season, many chose to ignore them.

For the first time, the constant Gordon bashing began to bother me as it came across a little unfair. So, I asked the question, "Has Eric Gordon Lost Too Much Respect?" Essentially, that piece postulated Gordon took a back seat to the rest of his teammates, but once they started falling by the wayside due to injury, his results picked up. Would he have had a more central role from the start, the improvements would have been more discernible. At least prior to his next inevitable injury.

Molasses to Marvel

Last May, I posited that we would see Gordon take another step this season. After all, he was entering 2014-15 without any restrictions for the first time as a member of the New Orleans organization. According to Twitter and Instagram, he had worked extremely hard in the off-season, and he boasted making the next All-Star game was a legitimate goal.

If wishes were horses? After an 0-6 performance in the second game of the season against the Mavericks, he tweeted this:

He did have that bounce back game against the Spurs, but in the very next game, he posted another 0-6 performance. Fans quickly began to call for a demotion in favor of Austin Rivers; however, that opportunity never materialized as he went down with a shoulder injury on November 22nd against the Jazz.

In those first 12 games before he tore his labrum, he averaged 9.5 points, 1.2 three's, 2.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists. The shooting percentages were abysmal: 39.8 FG% / 34.1 3FG% / 70.0 FT%. Not surprising, he ranked 36th on HoopsStats in terms of efficiency recap among shooting guards.

**The individual offensive numbers were bleak, but interestingly, the two starting lineups he was associated with in October and November proved very successful.

And the four games in which Alexis Ajinca took Omer Asik's starting role (back spasms):

Those pair of Net Ratings (11.9 & 8.2) from NBA Stats are rather impressive, and they'll be explained a bit later considering Gordon's seeming lack of production.

As if a light switch were turned on, Gordon has been averaging 15.3 points, 1.9 three's, 3.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists since returning earlier this month. How about a none-too-shabby shooting line of 46.3FG% / 40.4 3FG% / 87.0 FT% to boot? According to Hoopsstats, he is currently the 9th best shooting guard for the month, ahead of players like Monta Ellis, Bradley Beal and Danny Green.

More Than Just Splits

Based on the two sample sizes above, many surmise Eric Gordon was lousy at the start but he's been above average during this recent stretch. Thanks to the wonderful world of Synergy Sports, he's actually been a lot better overall than anyone was expecting to give him credit for.

Player Overall Percentile PnR Ball Handler Percentile Spot-Up Percentile Isolation Percentile
Eric Gordon 50% 59% 78% 76%
Tyreke Evans 31% 56% 28% 47%
Jrue Holiday 43% 73% 40% 50%

In terms of PER, Hoopstats efficiency recap or some other statistic that measures box scores in their totality, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans come out ahead. However, when only considering points per possession, Eric Gordon reigns offensively superior among the Pelicans starting backcourt.

Gordon's best weapon? His jumpshot. Through the first 43 games, has has taken 112 jumpers with which he's converted into 124 points. This figure of 1.107 PPP puts him in the 91st percentile among all NBA players, or 15th overall among players who have finished a possession with a jumpshot at least 100 times in 2014-15. He sits one spot behind Klay Thompson, the player who set an NBA league record for most points in a quarter (37) this past Friday, but he's ahead of notables like Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki and James Harden.

His specific bread and butter? The no-dribble jumper as he's netting 1.455 PPP (94th percentile). He's been as automatic as the Green's (Danny and Gerald) as he's wedged right in between them in the rankings.

In case you're wondering, he's never shot the ball with this type of accuracy on his jumpshots before, not even in his final year as a Clipper. Thus, some regression should be expected, but in classifying his work to date, I think it's been more of a testament to his dedication and work rather than some lucky sample size, especially when you consider his vast improvement on the other side of the ball.

Defensive Wunderkind

Remember when I mentioned the starting lineups sparkling performance despite during the time of Eric Gordon's early season offensive woes? His defensive contributions have been huge -- sitting in the 89th percentile of all NBA players. In replacing him after that fateful game against the Jazz, the Pelicans were forced to start two very subpar defenders on the wing together: Tyreke Evans (18th percentile) and Luke Babbitt (28th percentile). It showed.

Let's have a look some defensive numbers from Synergy Sports.

Player Overall Percentile PnR Ball Handler Percentile Spot-Up Percentile Isolation Percentile
Eric Gordon 89% 85% 62% 66%
Tyreke Evans 18% 21% 9% 94%
Jrue Holiday 48% 32% 77% 53%

Once again, Gordon comes out on top. This time though, it's a much more impressive body of work as he's easily been the team's best defender when looking through the lens of opponent points per possessions. As shockingly frightening as Evans has been, Gordon has equally made for a pleasant revelation.

In particular, Gordon's effort in pick and rolls has been a welcome sight. In watching video, he moves his feet well, anticipates the screens and will either recover back to his man or switch and cover the roll man quickly the vast majority of the time. The key is his activity never wanes.

Conversely, Evans doesn't fight through screens nearly as well and is generally hindered by a slower reaction time. When he gets up close on an opponent, many times they lose him around a pick and make their way to the rim. Yet, when he gives space, they create more space and pull up for an open jumper. (Considering all of Evan's disappointing numbers in this piece, we'll have a look at him individually in due time.)

Some might be quick to point out Eric Gordon's woeful DRPM, but I'm not concerned. First, ESPN's RPM takes into account prior box score results. Since Gordon has never been a box score freak (ie. big steals guy, large rebounder or an above average assists guy), RPM is predisposed to frown on him. Second, this statistic uses data from previous years. Well, Gordon rated very poorly in overall defense on Synergy in 2013-14 (21st percentile).

I suspect RPM is dismissing a lot of Gordon's contributions this season as an outlier. In backing up my rationale, 82games has his opponent's shooting guard PER at 11.8 this season with an eFG% in the neighborhood of 42.5%. Contrarily in 2013-14, opponent SG PER's had a 15.6 mark and an eFG% of 53.9.

Conclusion

Who is the real Gordon? We've had years of evidence defiantly stating he's not the same player fans saw in Los Angeles. However, there is noticeably something different about him this season. His shooting stroke looks smoother, and since returning from his shoulder injury, his jumper looks locked in. He's moving better, more quickly and displaying some explosion again on the court. (Repeatedly, Joel Meyers and David Wesley have made mention of this fact.)

If Gordon's regained half or or maybe 3/4's of the step he lost shortly after arriving in New Orleans, it's time he start getting his due. His numbers have certainly been supporting this cause. Sadly, as recently as just over a week ago, I was still seeing derogatory comments aimed at him -- either still bemoaning his contract or not giving any credit to his body of work this season.

It's time these generalized opinions be cast aside. Knock on wood, but for the time being, Eric Gordon is playing at a level we're unaccustomed to seeing. Now, we just have to pray it continues.