I have been intrigued with the possibility of Eric Gordon becoming a Clipper for a very long time. When I saw the Orlando combine results, he rocketed ahead of guys like Bayless and Westbrook in my estimation. I think there are some legitimate concerns about the guy, and we all know that there are no guarantees in the draft. But I think he's the real deal, and I think there are reasons to believe that the major concerns are unfounded.
Eric Gordon led the Big Ten in scoring last season. It wasn't a great season for the conference, and only a couple of other Big Ten players were even drafted. But still, big time players lead big time conferences in scoring. When you dig into the numbers, he starts looking a bit like a chucker. A 43% field goal percentage, 33.7% on his college threes. Yes, he's got a gorgeous stroke, but if he's supposed to be the Clippers great outside threat, shouldn't he have made more than 33.7% from 20 feet?
But look closer still. As a couple of citizens have pointed out, he was probably second only to Mayo as a pro prospect when he was a high school senior. In his first seven college games, he averaged 26.6 points per game, shot 54.5% from the field and 52.4% from the arc. In his eighth game in early December, he bruised his back in a nasty fall. He had a few off shooting games in the wake of that injury, but continued to put up solid scoring and shooting numbers through the end of January. Then he fractured his left (non-shooting) wrist. He played through that injury, but his shooting percentages suffered significantly. Meanwhile, an ongoing investigation into recruiting violations by Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson (some involving the recruitment of Gordon himself) resulted in the University buying out Sampson's contract in February with five games left in the regular season. The team was very close to Sampson. They boycotted the first couple of practices under the new coach. There was talk of boycotting the rest of the season. Gordon himself referred to Sampson as 'like a father' to him. They played their remaining games, but both Gordon and the team finished the season in dismal fashion. The Hoosiers lost 4 of their last 7, including three straight in their final regular season game, the first round Big Ten Tournament, and the first round of the NCAA's. Gordon shot 32.3% from the field and 14% from the arc over those final 7 games.
It's a fascinating situation really, with an odd symmetry to it. His first seven games, he was unbelievably good. He took 99 shots and 42 threes in those games, making 54 and 22 respectively. His last seven games, he took 99 shots and 50 threes, making 32 and 7. The 18 games in between, playing through a couple of injuries, he wasn't nearly as good as he started, but he was still a lot better than he finished. In fact, the 18 games in the middle ended up being pretty near his season averages - he was 43% from the field and 35% from the arc.
So who is this guy? Is he the one who started his college career completely on fire? Or is he the one who finished his very brief time in Bloomington wallowing in the tank during the biggest games? Or is he the one in between? Furthermore, should we be concerned with the fact that he allowed the coaching situation to affect him so profoundly? Should we be concerned that he's injury-prone? I can sit here and make excuses about how he wasn't 100% healthy or that he was distracted, but the NBA season is chock-full of nagging injuries and myriad distractions. Will he handle them better as a pro?
The simple fact is, it's rare that we will have four years of college statistics to use to analyze prospects these days. The best prospects will cash in as soon as the NBA will allow them to. Had the situation in Indiana been different, Gordon might well have decided to return for his sophomore season to try to improve his stock with an injury-free season. But given the coaching situation, it's no wonder that he entered the draft, despite the fact that he had already dropped out of the top three by the time he declared. So we're stuck with 32 games of college basketball, and the boatload of extenuating circumstances that go with them.
Can he shoot? Yeah, he can shoot. He's got a shooting stroke that should be bronzed and sent straight to Springfield, and during his workout here he certainly convinced MDsr, a pretty damn good shooter himself back in the day, that he's got NBA range. (Bear in mind, that a lot of good college three point shooters have difficulty stepping back to the NBA line. Gordon is strong as an ox and shoots the NBA three with ease.) He can also score. Even when he was struggling from the field in college, he continued to find ways to score. He averaged 8.6 trips to the free throw line per game in college, and had 15 games in which he took 10 or more free throws. Ask any stat geek the most efficient ways to score in the NBA and they'll tell you - number 1 is getting to the line, and number 2 is from behind the arc. So when Chad Ford criticizes his mid-range game, I say mid-range schmid-range. He can shoot, and he can get to the rim and draw fouls. The stuff in between is no man's land.
The other big, Chad Fordian knock on the guy is that he's undersized for an NBA two guard. I find this one to be somewhat ludicrous. He measured 6'2" in his bare feet in Orlando. Dwyane Wade, arguably the prototype for shooting guards, measured out at 6'3.75" at the combine. Meanwhile, Gordon's got a 6'9" wing span (compared to 6'6" for OJ Mayo and 6'3.5" for Jerryd Bayless), weighs 222 pounds, and has a 40 inch vertical leap. Exactly where is the problem? Is he too small to get his shot off on offense? Well, I'd say that 40 inch vert is going to help a little there. Is he too small to defend against NBA two guards? He weighs 222 pounds and pressed the 185 pound bar 15 times - there aren't a lot of NBA two guards who are going to successfully post him up. Add in his speed and lateral quickness (again as measured in combine results) and he certainly has the physical tools to stay in front of his man. He may or may not be able to play NBA defense - it's a big transition for a lot of players. And combine results aren't proof of anything. But to look at the tale of the tape in one area (height), without looking at all of the other results is disingenuous. And to suggest that he's 'undersized' because he's maybe two inches shorter than some of his opponents, while at the same time 30 pounds bigger and significantly stronger, is just silly. Ask Charles Barkley how some extra weight and strength can compensate for a lack of height in the NBA.
It may be a little counterintuitive, but I even look at his body fat score as a positive. 8.2 percent body fat is pretty high, when compared to the 3.8 percent of another Clipper draft pick, Mike Taylor. But think of the possibilities when this guy gets on an NBA weight training regimen. Look at the improvements in athleticism in Elton Brand and Chris Kaman when they got more chiseled over the last few seasons. He's 19 years old, and it is now his job to play basketball. All indications are that he's a very hard worker - he'll be in better shape in a couple of years than he is now, and he's already an athletic freak. He could be pretty scary.
He says he can play point guard in the NBA. I don't really believe him, but I don't care that much either. He can play shooting guard, and the Clippers need one of those. Yeah, he played the point in high school. Maybe he can do it. It would be great if he could handle it even for a few minutes a game. But that's all gravy. When I look at him, I see the Clippers' shooting guard for the next ten years. Bear in mind also that if Shaun Livingston is able to play, it should more than negate Gordon's height disadvantage. While the pundits are projecting Bayless and Westbrook and Mayo as point guards and assuming that they'll be able to defend the Chris Pauls and the Tony Parkers of the NBA, Gordon tested out as quicker and faster than any of those other draftees. He has the physical tools to defend against point guards in the NBA, while Livingston has the length to defend the wings. I think he'll be find defending twos - but in theory he's got the lateral quickness to defend ones as well.
Only time will tell whether this is a good pick. The great thing about drafting a 19 year old is that they have a chance to get a lot better. And the bad thing about drafting a 19 year old is that they're 19. Clearly, I'm being an apologist for his troubles in college. Maybe he's got picture perfect form, but the ball just doesn't go in the hole. It happens. Maybe he doesn't have the maturity to focus through inevitable adversity, and maybe he'll never develop that maturity. But there's no disputing that he's a major athlete - a unique athlete really, when you consider the combination of size and speed - with big time scoring ability and a big time scorer's mentality. I don't think we could ask for much more.