It's gotten to the point where it's simply amusing to me.
David Thorpe's latest edition of his Rookie Watch came out today, five days after the Clippers Eric Gordon destroyed O.J. Mayo in their head-to-head matchup in Memphis. Did a new contender in the rookie of the year race emerge? Indeed. Joining the pre-approved triumvirate of Mayo, Rose and Westbrook, a fourth rookie is now firmly established in Thorpe's 'expert' analysis - Brook Lopez. Eric Gordon did not rate an update paragraph (although he does make a cameo appearance in Thorpe's latest analysis of Westbrook - nice).
As for Mayo, Thorpe focuses his update on a game he played 7 days ago - conveniently before he disappeared against the Clippers. Sure, Mayo's back-to-back 30+ games were impressive and it would be impossible to ignore them - except it's not impossible, since that's exactly what Thorpe did when Gordon went for back-to-back 30+ games in early January. Since those 30+ games, Mayo has scored 48 points on 45 shots, while EJ has scored 51 points on 33 shots. Still, it is a weekly update, and Mayo's last big game did come within the last week, so let's include that. In the time since the last update, OJ has scored 80 points on 67 shots (1.19 points per shot). EJ - 65 points on 43 shots (1.51 points per shot). If EJ took 67 shots, he'd score over 100 points at that rate.
Tracing various Clips Nation posts on the subject to the beginning of the season, Thorpe's strange bias against Gordon is pretty clear. He was number 22 on the list in July, before anyone had played a pro game - though it was quite obvious that there was no way he would have been drafted anywhere near that low. He rose all the way to 15 after those consecutive 30+ games in January (he was 5th on the NBA.com list at that time). And after badly outplaying Westbrook head-to-head, he was completely ignored much as has happened this week; he remains at 9 after outscoring Mayo 23 to 11 in their showdown. It's interesting that the editors at ESPN.com agreed that EJ was conspicuous by his absence in Thorpe's weekly offering - they put him the sidebar, presumably to imply that at least someone at the world wide leader has an inkling as to which rookies matter.
The reference to Gordon in the Westbrook analysis is particularly interesting. Thorpe compares Westbrook to no less than rookie Dwyane Wade, praising each's ability to get to the line. Westbrook is very good at that, especially as compared to other rookies, but one other rookie jumps out as being almost as capable:
The amount of contact they both created as rookies is similar too, with Wade getting to the free throw-line on 14.6 percent of his overall field goal attempts, and Westbrook a bit better at 15.4 percent. That's an incredible stat, especially when compared to other rookies. Eric Gordon is at a strong 13.5 percent. But Mayo's free-throw rate is 6.9 percent, and Rose is at 8.1 percent.
So Gordon's performance here is so solid that even Thorpe can't ignore it. But let's look a little more closely at that number, shall we. Westbrook has taken 655 field goal attempts, of which only 81 are three pointers. RW0 is not a great shooter, so his primary option is to take the ball to the rack. Gordon, on the other hand, has taken 550 field goal attempts this season, and 212 of them have been three pointers. He's a deadly from beyond the arc which adds an extra dimension to his offensive game. Given the fact that players are rarely fouled while shooting a three (I can remember one such trip to the line for EJ this season), it seems reasonable that free thows per two point field goal attempt is a better measure of a player's ability to draw fouls driving to the basket. Westbrook gets to the line on 17.6% of his two point field goal attempts - Gordon on 21% of his.
In fact, the ability to get to the rim and get to the line is indeed what sets Gordon's offensive game apart from those of the other top perimeter rookies. Mayo and Rose shoot a higher overall percentage. Mayo even shoots a slighty higher percentage from deep. Westbrook can get to the line. But Gordon's combination of solid shooting percentages plus his ability to get to the line makes him easily the most efficient scorer, as the following table illustrates.
Gordon's effective field goal percentage (taking into account his threes) is better than Mayo's, much better than Rose's and much, much better than Westbrook's. His True Shooting Percentage (a slightly more sophisticated metric that attempts to account for free throws as essentially representing shot attempts as well) is much better than the others. His points per shot of 1.36 ranks him third among rookies behind two seven footers, and far ahead of his perimeter rivals.
The bottom line is, this guy can score the ball. He can shoot with unlimited range, he can drive to the basket, and he can get to the line. Everyone raves about Mayo's ability to make shots - but Gordon is just as good. Everyone raves about Westbrook's athleticism - but Gordon jumps higher and is much stronger. And certainly he's no Derrick Rose as a playmaker, but he's much better than anyone gives him credit for there as well. He's got the entire package, and he just happens to be younger than the others as well.
So, yes, it seems strange to me when Thorpe concludes that there are up to six players in this draft class with a shot at Rookie of the Year (Mayo, Rose, Westbrook, Lopez, Love and Oden) but none of them are named Eric Gordon.
Having said that, it's clear that EJ has work to do. I feel like there's a pretty convincing argument that he's the most efficient (if not the outright best) scorer in this rookie class. He's averaged over 20 points per game since January 1, while the other rookie averages have been dropping. And he's a terrific perimeter defender, which unfortunately doesn't show up well in box scores or even in PER. (To be fair, Westbrook and Mayo are also good defenders, something that sets this rookie class apart from others.) But he's been a below average rebounder and although he's shown the ability to create for others, the Clippers aren't giving him a lot of chances to do so right now. His average of 2.8 assists per 36 minutes is actually higher than Mayo's, and he averaged 4.1 assists per game in January when he handled the ball more, but his assists are back down now that Baron Davis is back and Gordon has the ball less. Those missing rebounds and assists are the things that are keeping his PER below the all important 15 threshold. Still, I take great comfort in knowing that he absolutely can do those things, and will as his game continues to mature.
It's hard to imagine EJ putting on the push necessary to overcome the head start his rivals have in the Rookie of the Year race. If the team is healthy, he's often the Clippers fourth option on offense, while the other guys are first or second for their respective teams. (Gordon probably should be the second option for the Clippers, if not now then soon, but that's a different story.) But I'll settle for the best rookie over the Rookie of the Year.