In advance of tonight's Rookie Challenge (6 PM, TNT) game it seems appropriate to focus some more on Eric Gordon. I should probably be posting something about Al Thornton also, but let's face it, it's more fun to talk about Gordon. In fact, Citizen Zhiv was disappointed that the last paean to EJ was pushed so far down the page, given that he wanted to discuss him some more after the monster 30 point game against the Knicks.
So here we go. How about a simple math exercise?
You'll recall that I went over the efficiency stats for the four top rookie guards on Wednesday, showing that Gordon was the most efficient scorer among them by any measure. All four of these guys are in Phoenix of course, and I assure you that they are the top four candidates for Rookie of the Year right now, regardless of what David Thorpe says.
That's not to say that Kevin Love or Brook Lopez can't get into the conversation. But the folks who vote for these awards have proven, time and time again, that scoring is the first consideration, and it tends to be the second, third and fourth consideration as well. So if you want to know who has a shot at ROY, look at the rookie scoring leaders. Lopez is seventh among rookies, and Love is twelfth. I'm not saying it's right, but it is reality. By the way, as Zhiv pointed out in a FanPost, the injury to Al Jefferson opens the door for Love in Minny, so we'll see what he can do with that opportunity.
So we know that Gordon is a more efficient scorer than his rivals, and we also know that he has a higher per game average than the others since Jan. 1. That's significant for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it's a more level playing field. Gordon started the season as the third string shooting guard in LA. He played 27 minutes total in the Clippers first five games. Mayo and Rose were starters from day one, and Westbrook was playing about half of each game from the start of the season. They're all starters now, and Gordon is the leading scorer among them. But beyond leveling the playing field, the simple fact is that games in January and February are more telling than games in November. Teams have been through the league at least once, defenses know what to do against the new guys to take them out of their comfort zones, etc. In this sense, Gordon has a bit of an advantage over Mayo and Rose - those guys were on the radar sooner, so defenses began keying on them sooner, and you see it in the way their numbers have tapered off. At any rate, if January is more telling than November, March will be more telling than January, so stay tuned.
But here's the math exercise. Gordon has risen to fourth in scoring among all rookies, passing guys like Michael Beasley and Lopez along the way. He's now at 14.7 points per game and climbing, while Westbrook is at 15. It's clear that EJ is going to catch Westbrook if they continue scoring at their 2009 rates. So I decided to do a quick regression and figure out when.
For the top four rookie scorers, I looked at their overall scoring average, their average since Jan. 1 2009, and the number of games left. I assumed they would continue to score the rest of the season the way they have in 2009, a sample size of least 20 games, which seems to be reasonable.
Here are the results of the analysis:
If Gordon continues to average nearly 21 points per game for the remaining 29 games (a pretty big if with the other Clipper scorers getting healthy, but still he did score 30 on Wednesday), he'll raise his average to 16.9 points per game by the end of the season. At his current scoring average as compared to Westbrook's current average, he'll pass Westbrook and become the third highest scoring rookie in 5 more games.
Catching up to Rose will be tougher - it will take 26 more games, but if their current averages hold, Eric will be the second leading rookie scorer in the final week of the season and end up scoring 12 more points than Rose across the 82 games (remarkably, not one of these rookies has missed a single game so far).
Catching Mayo is not going to happen, barring a major drop off in OJ's production. He continues to score well, only slightly off his season average. It would take EJ most of next season to catch OJ in career scoring if their current averages held.
So as things stand now, it's almost certain that Gordon will be the third leading scorer among rookies by season's end, and a good possibility that he will be second. This is for a guy who started the season buried on the bench, in one of the strongest rookie classes in years. Not bad.
Of course, even though Rookie of the Year voting will be heavily influenced by scoring averages, it is not in fact the only consideration. Team performance will be a factor, as will other statistics.
As Citizen Zhiv pointed out, team performance is a key variable here. If the Clippers play well down the stretch, and if Gordon is a major part of that improvement, it will help him with voters. Westbrook probably has the strongest case on team performance at this point, since the Thunder have to some degree exceeded expectations, especially lately. But all four teams are at or near the bottom of the league, so if one can close hotter than the others, it will make a difference.
Rose will get additional consideration for being a 'true' point guard. The implication being that he is a pass first player, and that his scoring is to some degree sacrificed for the good of the team. His supporters will point to his assists and assist to turnover ratio to support his cause for ROY.
And his point guard numbers are solid, but hardly spectacular. Anyone put into the position of point guard, given the role of distributor, is going to get a certain number of assists. Rose's 6.4 assists per game rank him 15th in the league, basically in the middle of the pack for starting point guards. His assists per 48 minutes rank him 22nd, or lower third among the starters. And his assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.52 is 24th in the league. Sure, he's first among rookies in all these categories, but the raw numbers are not in and of themselves awe-inspiring.
To help put this is some perspective, realize that Derrick Rose , the number 1 overall draft pick, is averaging 8.2 assists per 48 minutes, with an assist-to-tunover ratio of 2.52. Fred Jones, who was out of the league at the beginning of the season and who has never played point guard before this season, is averaging 8.1 assists per 48 minutes with an assist to turnover ratio of 2.68.
I don't think that the Rookie Challenge itself is going to make a difference in the Rookie of the Year race. It certainly shouldn't. All of these guys are well-suited to this environment - they can all make the spectacular play. Westbrook may be the most explosive. Mayo and Gordon are the preternatural scorers. Rose will have the ball in his hands. So they all have a chance to show their stuff. I assume they'll get roughly equivalent minutes, at least until the end when they may go with whoever has the hot hand. It may help to raise Gordon's profile on the national level, but hopefully no one is going to put to much stock in one exhibition. I think Gordon's performance in the real games is enough to get him noticed.