"Phoenix is just where my heart is now."
Aside from nine games in his opening season, that has been Eric Gordon's career in New Orleans summarized in a single sentence. Pelicans fans have been reluctant to remove the uncommitted, injury-feigning, and disloyal tags that are attached to Gordon's name and constantly remind him of his occupation of a large slice of the team's salary. Finally though, the time of Gordon-hating might have eclipsed this past season, and the Suns can be forgotten.
Eric Gordon is about to enter the final year of his contract, if he accepts his player option, and for the first time ever last season, he might have just earned his contract.
The stats say he didn't.
Sure, he shot it very well, but so did Anthony Morrow and he didn't get a deal like that. Gordon only shot 38% from inside the splash-zone this year. And Gordon had an enormous drop-off in scoring, a fall that is only magnified by per-36 stats. His .5 assists per game bulge doesn't really compensate for the other disappointments. Finally, his PER was only 12.7; that's below the league starting average! We pay almost $15 million for THIS?!?!
Excuse me while I have an aside word to the stats, "Please, let us dissect this as fans and not pretend that analytics has replaced concrete analysis of game-tape. You are only to be used sparingly to prove certain points."
Sorry about that, I'm back.
Gordon took tremendous strides in improving his game this season to fill the Pelicans needs. No, the end result was not deserving of $15 million dollars, but he earned his money with hard-work, sacrifice, and adjustment. Get the difference? Gordon did everything possible to help the team this year, which meant trading wins for stats.
The first year of the three-headed monster of Holiday, Gordon, and Evans in the back court was really just a monster of a problem. All of the players wanted touches, and nobody seemed willing to give up the touches. Holiday is a point guard, so of course he needed the ball to run the offense. Evans, meanwhile, has a close connection with Davis and must have some nice wheels because, man, he drove at every chance. Gordon required some on ball touches to create his own shot, like he had been doing his whole career, to score. And all of that meant that Davis got the scraps.
Well, that makes sense. Because the NBA's prodigal son should only be touching the ball on designed plays only when it was convenient. That's what Jordan, James, Bryant, and all of the all time greats did: played fourth-fiddle.
Gordon was the one to sacrifice touches, allowing Davis to capitalize on his fizzing potential. Instead of demanding the ball 30 feet from the basket, Gordon started to use cuts and screens to dislodge himself from defenders and patiently wait for the open shot to come. Instead of then clearing everyone out to try to work an iso, he would look for his open shot off of a pass and step right into it. If the shot was not there, he would dish it to another player. He would only resort to an iso-created shot if the clock was low.
All of this is corroborated by our good friend, stats. But this one is an irrefutable metric of the change in Gordon's style of play. He shot 45% of his shots from three, a 14% increase from the year before. His usage rating dropped by 5%, as well.
This allowed Tyreke Evans to up his game, increasing all of his significant averages. I'm not claiming that Tyreke didn't also improve, but he was bettered by his teammate's generosity, that same teammate who had so many times been labeled as selfish. Gordon's shooting cleared the lane and middle for both Evans and Davis to work, while providing the deadeye marksmanship that Dell Demps had been perpetually searching for. Gordon shot 45% from threes, and catapulted himself from 81st in the season before to second in three point percentage. Wow.
Pro Shooting System awarded Gordon the 'Most Improved Shooter.'
Gordon has the talent to pull off the solo act. However, it takes a great teammate to recognize the solo act doesn't always benefit the team. Gordon's acknowledgement of this allowed him to employ his talent as a scorer and transform it into set shooting, while letting others steal the spotlight with player of the game performances.
And just to stick it to stats one more time, Kyle Korver's PER is at an all-time peak this year, at 14.8, below the starter average, and only 2.1 above Gordon. That doesn't make Gordon seem so bad because who wouldn't love Korver?
Stats, you dirty liar.
So now that we've established Gordon is selfless and stats aren't always right, let's journey through his season.
Eric Gordon's Best Games
EG always has played with a chip on his shoulder when playing against his former side, the Los Angeles Clippers. Some things never change.
Despite Gordon's decreasing touches, against Los Angeles, he revved the engine and went to work. The first display came in a 108-103 win on Jan 30. Gordon went 5-7 from beyond the arc, and 10-20 in the game for a grand total of 28 points. He was 3-3 from the line.
Then, in Gordon's second showing against the Clips, he went 5-8 from deep and 7-13 from the field, racking up 23 points. Both were excellent displays of Gordon's experience as a scorer, but skill as a shooter. The Pelicans lost, but Gordon helped keep them alive.
However, Gordon's best game this season came in a four point loss to Utah. Gordon converted on 7-8 tres, 6-6 free throws, and 9-13 shots. Most impressively, in the fourth quarter, he returned to the game with 8:37 left and proceeded to score 13 points, without a miss.
Eric Gordon's Worst Game
Gordon's worst game came on November 1st, just the second day of the Pelicans' season. He shot 0-6 against the Mavs, turned the ball over four times, and only tallied one board and one assist. Sadly, he did
all of that that little in 34 minutes.
However, that game can be seen in an optimistic light. On Gordon's worst, most nightmarish night of the year, he only shot it six times. That's not something you can point to and say, "If Gordon hadn't missed all of those six shots." True, it's better to make them but even Gordon's worst game exemplifies the change he made. He didn't force it.
Compare that to his worst game of the year before, when against his beloved Clippers he had two points and went 1-13. He had a +/- of -45.
Eric Gordon has become an invaluable part of the Pelicans. No, seriously, it would be hard to replace him. A player with so much talent who is willing to take a step down from the pedestal and onto flat ground is rare. In fact, the only other active case that I can propose on the spot is Iggy, not Azalea (although we all wish she would step down as well), but Andre Iguodola. Debates could be made that everyone on the Grizzlies and Spurs do, but it's not the same as being the one guy to volunteer to step down.
And that percentage from 3-point range opens up a lot for the Pelicans. It lets Evans drive, Davis play naturally, and will let Holiday work some magic once he has fully recovered. All get touches that otherwise would have gone to Gordon.
Gordon will accept his player option for a final year in New Orleans. Not that Vegas would have this bet, but bet on it. Nobody else will offer him the same money he'll get by accepting.
However, it's time for
Monty Dell to start discussing long-term plans with Gordon. He's still only 26, and would be a great player for this franchise to have going forward. The past two years, he has shown signs of health, and if these signs are more than indications, he will have a bright future.
Gordon will never again hit the 22 points per game mark he hit with LA, but the Pelicans will never need him to. All the Pelicans need is for Gordon to do the same thing he did this year: help the team to and in the playoffs. As Gordon showed with his revolutionary year, he can.