Citizen ASoMS posted a FanShot from HoopsWorld in which Luke Byrnes profiled potential 'Break Out' players in the Western Conference next season. Eric Gordon topped his list, which was gratifying considering that so many NBA pundits seem to inexplicably rank him consistently below some of his classmates from the 2008 draft like O.J. Mayo and Russell Westbrook.
Byrnes argues that an improved and hopefully healthy Clippers team will put more weapons on the floor, meaning that defenses will not be able to focus as much attention on EJ. That may be true, but it also likely implies that there will be fewer shots for him than there were January through April, when he averaged 19.9 points per game. Nonetheless, assuming a normal development and maturation process for a kid who won't be able to drink until Christmas, not to mention the brand spanking new post up game he displayed at Summer League in Las Vegas, and he figures to be somewhere between 'improved' and 'much improved', which is saying quite a bit, since he was already pretty damn good.
The other item that made me think about Gordon was Kevin Arnovitz' post in TrueHoop about Kevin Martin today. Now, I'm only a little ashamed to admit that I don't really follow baseball closely enough to know that much about sabermetrics. And frankly, I've never heard of Adam Dunn. But to me, True Shooting Percentage is not rocket science. Points per game is still the way the NBA crowns it's leading scorer, but obviously the more you shoot, the more chances you have to score, so it's equally obvious that the efficiency with which you score is a factor. But the traditional shooting percentage, which ignores three pointers and free throws, is just as obviously inadequate. True Shooting Percentage, which factors in the extra tally on made three pointers, AND also counts both the points scored from the line and the equivalent extra shots represented by those free throws, is the most complete measure of a players efficiency while scoring. There are of course myriad other factors in a player's overall efficiency on the court - turnovers take away chances to score, offensive rebounds and steals create extra opportunities, bu there's no clear way for how to measure these things. The possessions used by a player in direct attempts to score, whether inside the arc, outside the arc or from the line, factored into the total number of points the player produces may not be perfect, but it's clearly better than field goal percentage as a measure of scoring efficiency.
True Shooting Percentage is of course what truly set the rookie Eric Gordon apart from the rest of what was without question a stellar rookie class. Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo, Russell Westbrook, Michael Beasley - these young players all carried heavy loads for their respective teams, and performed better than rookies have any right to, distinguishing the class as one of the best of all time. But most of these guys used a LOT of shots to get their points. Look at the TSP's of the rookies. Gordon led all rookies in the stat. Moreover, compared to his more publicized perimeter rivals like Mayo and Westbrook and Rose, it wasn't even close. Of the 13 rookies who averaged double digits in scoring, Gordon was of course first in TSP - Mayo was 9th, Rose 12th and Westbrook 13th.
But how does he compare to a player like Kevin Martin, on whom Arnovitz and John Krolik of SLAM Magazine heap so much praise specifically because of his gaudy TSP? What they say about Martin is of course true - high volume scorers, guys who average 20+, almost never approach 60% TSP. You have to pick your shots wisely and have a conscience to keep your efficiency high, while those traits are anathema to leading your team in scoring. But Gordon is less than one percentage points behind Kevin Martin in TSP (.601 versus .593). Among players averaging more than 15 points per game, Martin was 8th in the league, Gordon was 12th.
But it goes beyond that. Look at the names on the list again. Of the top 15 players in TSP who averaged over 15 points per game last season, 13 of them have made an all star team (only Martin and Gordon have not). And it almost goes without saying that Gordon is the only rookie, and the only 20 year old, on the list.
It's tantalizing to think about what this means for the Clippers. Eric Gordon didn't get his chance until the 14th game of last season. He wasn't a focal point of the offense until almost 2009. And all he did was average 19.9 points in his final 48 games, while maintaining a level of effiiency unimaginable for a 20 year old rookie. That's in part due to the fact that he never ever looked like a gunner last season. Even when the Clippers had $40M in salary in street clothes and EJ was the ONLY viable option on the floor, he just never took a bad shot. He can afford to take a lot more good shots (and yes, a couple of bad ones) and still be a high percentage scorer. If he does that, where does his scoring average go?