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Eric Gordon may be enticed to be a contract year phenomenon

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When the Pelicans roster has been healthy, Gordon's usage has been well below career norms, but can we expect that to continue as he enters a contract season?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This past Wednesday, I took a look at how well Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday performed in uptempo settings from previous seasons. In general, Gordon floundered, especially once Holiday and Evans joined the team. In addition, he distinctly took a back seat to the duo in terms of usage, so it seemed natural to assume he would continue to follow the trend despite the fact the Pelicans are about to be retrofitted with afterburners.

However, I completely ignored what makes the world go round...$$$.

Gordon will be entering the final year of a contract that every single New Orleanian has spit on at least once. He will earn over 15 million dollars and is on pace to earn close to 4 times that since Dell Demps matched the Phoenix Suns' offer back in 2012. Not at any one time has anybody ever said he's been worth that sum of money, but that doesn't mean he won't be seeking plenty more once this well runs dry.

At the start of the 2014-15 campaign, Gordon got off to the slowest start of his career.

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.

However, he rebounded rather unexpectedly after rehabbing his injury. Upon his return, Gordon averaged 14.4 points, 4.2 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 2.6 threes for the rest of the 2014-15 campaign. He made an astonishing 46.4% of his three-point attempts, a figure markedly higher than any of his prior seasonal averages. From either a scoring or minutes standpoint, he was the team's third most valuable player.

There is absolutely no doubt that Eric Gordon became one of the most integral members of the roster and it's success, yet what are the chances that will continue? Specifically, what role will he take provided both Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson are 100% healthy and in great shape come this October?

When the major components of the squad (Davis, Evans, Holiday and Anderson) have been been on the floor together the last two seasons, Gordon has always taken a back seat. When he has shared the court with these four players, he posted the lowest usage percentage of the group at 16.6%. Despite an astounding 68.5 TS%, he attempted a mere 54 field goal attempts in 198 minutes. For all the non-math majors, that's close to one shot every 4 minutes. Conversely, the rest of these teammates averaged a shot every 2 to 3 minutes.

Was that a fault of Monty's system whereby there was a specific pecking order in place, or was that more of Gordon's fault where he willingly deferred too much to his teammates?

As mentioned earlier, Gordon got off to an awful start in 2014-15. Essentially, he claimed it was because there was so little of the pie left on the table.

''Yes, the only way you can score a lot of points is shoot the ball,'' Gordon said Sunday. ''Like I said, it’s a different role and I’ve got to find a way to try and get shots.

''Overall, I don’t get a chance to do some of the things that I do best as far as coming off a lot of pick and rolls, catching and shooting. It’s just different for me. But at the same time, I just can’t have a game like yesterday.''

It appears that Gordon was pointing the finger at Monty's offense, that by design his role was limited because the offense was arranged as such. Once he returned from injury, however, this was no longer the case because Holiday and Anderson would go on to miss a lot of playing time.

Under Alvin Gentry, the expectation is there will be more ball movement and more three-point attempts. Gordon should in theory benefit the most. Last season, he averaged 11.4 shots a game, but if the roster had remained largely healthy, that number might have been closer to 8-9 attempts per contest. Worse, he might have never found his brilliant rhythm.

The Golden State Warriors, the quickest pace team in the league, had only two players average more than 10 shots a game. Even though the current championship offense was predicated on movement, both man and ball, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson still always managed to get theirs.

We know Anthony Davis is going to be the first option and will hopefully challenge league leaders for field goal attempts, but who will be the second and so forth? Analyzing previous seasons, uptempo statistics and transition opportunities, the player next in line would appear to be Evans. Following him, logic dictates the next man on the food chain will probably be either Anderson or Holiday. They both have a lot to prove after injury-riddled campaigns, plus it can't be dismissed that Anderson will also be in a contract season.

Could Gordon handle being a 4th or even 5th option for significant stretches again?

If Rob Pelinka is a smart agent, he'll tell Gordon this would be completely unacceptable. The contracts of guards with comparable production will mandate this. Below is a list of recent shooting guards in their contract seasons who have averaged between 8 and 14 shot attempts per game and at least 4 three-point shot attempts per game.

Player Points/Game Field Goal Attempts/Game Three Point Attemps/Game New yearly salary average
2011-12 Jamal Crawford 14.0 12.3 4.3 $5,337,500
2012-13 Kyle Korver 10.9 8.1 5.6 $6,000,000
2012-13 Kevin Martin 14.0 10.1 4.8 $6,938,750
2012-13 J.J. Redick 14.1 11.3 5.8 $6,725,250
2013-14 Nick Young 17.9 13.9 5.5 $5,375,000
2014-15 JR Smith 12.1 10.8 6.1 $5,000,000
2014-15 Lou Williams 15.5 11.6 5.6 $7,000,000
2014-15 Wesley Matthews 15.9 12.5 7.4 $17,515,007

There sits one anomaly, Wesley Matthews, but this can be at least be partially explained. First, he is the only player on the list that can be considered a legitimate two-way player. Second, he was highly sought after by more than one team while on the eve of a salary cap jump. Lastly, the Mavericks had to pay an additional 13 million dollars over 4 years once DeAndre Jordan skipped town.

When factoring in defensive ability, shot attempts and assists per 36 minutes, Gordon compares most favorably with J.R. Smith, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford. That's not good company for the pocketbook. Although the salary cap is set to jump and will undoubtedly raise the base salaries of all groups of players, Eric Gordon should not reasonably expect to eclipse even 10 million dollars per season at his current pace of production.

To change his fate, he will either have to be gifted a much greater role within the offense by the coaching staff or seize the bull by the horns and look to be much more aggressive with his possessions. If the later route comes to fruition, it could potentially come at a cost of team harmony and performance.

Let's hope it doesn't.