It began with such promise.
Way back in December 26, 2011, Eric Gordon -- newly-minted, franchise superstar of the New Orleans Pelicans (then-Hornets) -- hit a game-winning shot over the out-stretched arms of Jared Dudley. And right then and there, Eric Gordon almost validated his status as an up-and-coming superstar in the league, ready to rise above the shadow of Blake Griffin in Los Angeles and be his own Batman in New Orleans.
Alas, it didn't last long. Injuries and a smaller role impacted his play throughout the years that followed.
The 2014-15 season was supposed to be different. In each season prior to this one, his season always started with an injury (mostly, concerning his knee), he'd end the season on a high and then experience a setback in the off-season.
His 2014-15 season was different. For starters, he didn't have any setback in the prior off-season. And for the first time, he was training instead of rehabbing in the off-season. But his season still started with an injury (a torn labrum on his left shoulder) that occurred in late November and he did finish the season (again) on a high after returning, becoming one of the best shooters in the league.
This season, for the first time in forever, Eric Gordon was approaching 2015-16 with a renewed sense of hope. There was finally consistency. After years of alternating between rehabs and setbacks, the past season was approached without any lingering health issues and he was finally able to play in a playoff game. His explosiveness was in full-display in the off-season. For the second straight off-season, he was again training in the off-season (instead of rehabbing, although technically, his torn labrum never fully "healed") and a new coach that he wanted to play for (Alvin Gentry) was on board. It was everything that Gordon needed to get himself back on the track to becoming the star everyone thought he'd become.
But sadly, that didn't happen. Playing on only 45 games this season. He injured his hand (a broken ring finger on his shooting hand) early this year. His surgery was successful but after only a couple of games, he injured it once more. Thus ended Eric Gordon's supposedly different 2015-16 season.
His 2015-16 season, brimmed with hope but ended on a whimper. Here is the evolution of Eric Gordon's shot chart throughout last season (via StatMuse).
And here is the same GIF only for this season.
At first glance, you might not see a whole lot of difference between the two. Both show Eric Gordon as an incredibly strong shooter. Over the past two seasons, only Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver -- three of the most well-regarded, gravity-earning shooters in the league -- have made more 3s (percentage wise) than Eric Gordon. His 2015-16 season, in terms of shooting, wasn't as good as it was last season but it still ranks among the best.
His 3-PT shooting "declined" this season, from a career-best 44.8% to a much more believable (and equals his career average) 38.4%. The biggest decline actually came from his shooting from the top of the key, where his percentages dropped from an excellent 46.7% in 2014-15 (28 of 60) to 33.9% in 2015-16 (19 of 56). That 33.9% is a lot closer to his career average (35.1%) but also to the league average (~34%). But nothing hurt our offense (and his shooting) more than Eric Gordon's uncharacteristic inability to make corner 3s. For some reason, Gordon couldn't make 3s from the corner. His corner shooting dropped by a whopping 14 percentage points (from 42.9% to 28.9%). For someone as dependent on scoring as Gordon, his 3PT shooting being reduced from "historically great" to just "seasonally good" is a big drop-off.
However, one thing that Eric Gordon clearly showed this season was his explosiveness -- something we never thought we'd see again. It was clear during the pre-season and early in the season when Eric Gordon was dunking more than usual. In fact, Eric Gordon had 10 more dunks than he had last year (where he had none) in 500 fewer minutes.
Thus despite his rather precipitous decline in 3PT shooting, his efficiency actually increased. Eric Gordon recorded his highest TS% and ORTG as a Pelican with a TS% of 56.5% and an ORTG of 108 making him a much better scorer last year. Last year, you worried about what Eric Gordon would do when teams closed out on him, well, now you're not as worried. That added another dimension that we have never quite experienced with Eric Gordon in the lineup.
Sadly, outside of his scoring, Eric Gordon remains the same ol' player we knew as a Pelican. His defense, once a part of his positives, is now a net negative. He often gets lost traversing picks -- whether they're of the single, on-the-ball kind or the stag types (staggered screens) off the ball. And too many times I've seen him get abused off-the-catch on a switch during a handoff. And he reaches too much now -- a clear sign of either his inability to keep his man in front OR his laziness.
His passing too has gone sideways. It was a big part of his development during his last season as a Clipper -- the fact that his AST% went all the way up to 20.7% (which manifested itself mostly during ball screens). Now? Although he's returned to form as a good scorer off a ball screen (ranks 7th in the league among players who've used at least 150 possessions as the ball handler), he isn't the same creator. He was more selfish this year than he's ever been. He recorded his lowest AST% for his career, only assisting on 12.7% of his team's field goals when he was on the court. He wasn't really great at the "extra pass" that makes Gentry's offense tick.
All of that -- all scoring, below average passing, below average overall defense (individual or team) -- came at a high price. Eric Gordon was in the last year of the four year max deal (with a player option on the last year) he signed with Phoenix as a restricted free agent. That's $15.5 million. That's more than what Golden State is paying Draymond Green ($14.2) or Stephen Curry ($11.4). For that price, Eric Gordon was most definitely not worth it.
Why am I doing this review of Eric Gordon's 2015-16 season like it's his last one? Because it probably will be. His tenure in New Orleans has been all sorts of weird. There was the issue of injuries, of his "my heart is in Phoenix" and his underdevelopment. I honestly would bring Eric Gordon back to the team if he was paid much much less. But Eric Gordon's pride -- long been a sticking point to everyone's appreciation of him -- won't allow him to. My guess is that he'll be one of the last free agents to be signed this summer and he'll be one of those solid one-or-two year deal players. At this point in their relationship, I think Eric Gordon and the New Orleans Pelicans just have to break up. There's too much history there and too many bad memories.