Is New Orleans' Eric Gordon Headed for a Career Year?
Eric Gordon's NBA career hasn't gone exactly as anybody had planned.
After being taken seventh overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2008 NBA Draft, Gordon returned a pretty solid rookie campaign, one that saw him earn Rookie of the Month honors in January and a Second Team All-Rookie nod.
Gordon posted 16.8 points per 36 minutes as well as 2.9 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.5 blocks. In terms of overall efficiency as measured by our nERD metric, which indicates how many wins above or below .500 a player would make an average team over a full season, Gordon was pretty solid for a rookie. He hauled in a nERD of -1.8.
For some context, of the top 10 draft picks from the 2014 class -- Andrew Wiggins (-8.0 nERD), Jabari Parker (-0.4), Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon (-1.3), Dante Exum (-7.4), Marcus Smart (-1.5), Julius Randle (-0.2), Nik Stauskas (-3.7), Noah Vonleh (-0.2), and Elfrid Payton (-6.4) -- none returned positive nERDs, though not all of them played a workload similar to Gordon's rookie minute total (2,677 minutes).
Still, Gordon has only two positive nERD campaigns in his NBA career. His 2010-11 season in Los Angeles (2,112 minutes) yielded a 2.1 nERD. The other? A 310-minute stint with New Orleans in 2011-12 that earned him a 0.1 nERD.
Now, Gordon has never been worse than -3.8 in terms of nERD -- not that that's a good score by any means -- but he's never flirted with league-worst material like Wiggins, Exum, and Payton did as rookies.
So while wondering if he can have a career year in 2015-16 doesn't mean he'll flirt with All-Star territory, it could help a hopeful Pelicans team sneak into the playoffs. Can he do it?
A big reason why Gordon can do it is potential -- not of the talent variety but of the opportunity variety. The Pelicans are on a Gordian Knot level with their approach to the Jrue Holiday minutes restriction. The point guard was speculated to be on a 15-minute cap until January, but he's feeling great, and the medical staff is comfortable stretching it to 17 minutes before the season begins, suggesting that he could be playing bigger minutes sooner than expected.
Tyreke Evans seemed primed to embrace the uptick in usage as a result, but he's out for four weeks or so -- though some sources think it's closer to eight weeks. That actually could have opened up a point guard role for Norris Cole, but he's been dealing with a high ankle sprain since mid-October.
The point here is that somebody other than Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson will need to score. It could be Nate Robinson, too, who is having scoring success in the preseason, but Gordon is expected to have a big role in Alvin Gentry's fast-paced offense.
What can he do with it?
Though Gordon is expected to have plenty of possessions in general, one specific aspect that Gentry wants to utilize is his catch-and-shoot abilities.
Last season, Gordon made 2.0 three-pointers per game off the catch-and-shoot, according to NBA.com. That ranked seventh among all players. He did so on 4.1 catch-and-shoot attempts, good for a three-point percentage of 48.4 percent. Among 147 players with at least 2.0 spot-up three-point attempts per game last year, that ranked behind only Kyle Korver (50.1 percent on 5.2 attempts per game) and Paul George (50.0 percent on 2.3 attempts per game over just 6 contests).
Gordon's overall catch-and-shoot Effective Field Goal Percentage of 70.0 percent ranked behind only Korver (72.0 percent). Gentry seems keen on utilizing this in the offense.
He also wants to push the pace.
Last season, New Orleans ranked 27th in the NBA in pace with just 91.4 possessions per 48 minutes. With more possessions, Gordon is expected to see more drives to the basket when he isn't playing off-the-ball as a catch-and-shoot threat.
Gordon was one of just 57 players to see at least 5.0 drives per game last year (though he did see just 5.1 per contest). Of course, Evans played that role last year for the Pelicans, averaging 11.8 drives per game -- second in the league behind only Ty Lawson (11.9).
Now, his efficiency on drives last year (a 40.1 percent field goal rate) ranked outside the top 50 of those guys (remember, there were only 57), but the volume should be there for Gordon. Also -- not to go off-topic, but -- Jimmy Butler was marginally worse (39.6 percent) on the same number of drives per game, and he had a "breakout" offensive season, thanks to a 37.8 percent campaign from beyond the arc and a 50.2 percent Effective Field Goal Percentage. His Usage Rate? A modest 21.6 percent.
Gordon maintained a three-point percentage of 44.8 last year and a 51.2 percent Effective Field Goal Percentage with a 19.8 percent Usage Rate.
He won't need to lead the league in scoring or three-point percentage to boast a career-best, but there's plenty of reason to think that Gordon can step into a big-time role while his backcourt mates heal up, and that alone (well, in addition to what Anthony Davis brings to the table) could be enough to keep the Pelicans afloat in the Western Conference in the early going.