It's been awhile since I wrote a thousand words or so in praise of Eric Gordon. You guys must think I don't love him anymore.
Of course, EJ missed a few games in there, so there wasn't as much to talk about for some of that time. But it's definitely overdue.
For those of you who would like to review, here are the previous semi-monthly installments of "Eric Gordon's Really Great":
- 1/29 - Rookie Ranking Ranting
- 2/14 - Gordon Still not Getting Much Recognition
- 3/2 - Russell Westbrook Named February West Rookie of the Month
In the ongoing quest for recognition for the Clippers rookie, I think we can declare a truce. He's pretty consistently in the top five on most everybody's list at this point, and that's fine. Let's face it - there are some incredibly productive rookies out there, as has been pointed out by many others (most people think it's better, top to bottom, than LeBron's rookie class), so being considered in the top group is nothing to sneeze at.
There's also the question of the positional debate. Comparing Chris Paul to Dwight Howard is comparing apples to hand grenades - and the same is true for rookies. So obviously Brook Lopez gets more rebounds, shoots a higher percentage, and blocks more shots - he's a center, he's supposed to do those things. Likewise Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook get more assists - they're point guards, they have the ball more. But it's worth noting that as O.J. Mayo has faded in the second half of the season, Gordon has passed his fellow rookie shooting guard on David Thorpe's list among others. In other words, picking seventh, in desperate need of a shooting guard, the Clippers may well have gotten the best one in the draft. So there's that.
The story of ClipperBlogger/ESPN contributor Kevin Arnovitz lobbying Thorpe on the virtues of Eric Gordon Jr, in the thin air of TD Banknorth Garden during a recent Celtics-Magic game is fascinating. Thorpe originally had Gordon as the 22nd best rookie during the off-season (strange indeed, given that he was the seventh pick and no one viewed that as a reach). He had to record back-to-back 30 point games in January to make it to 15th on the list, but his climb has been steady since: 15 on 1/7, 12 on 1/14, 11 on 1/28, 9 on 2/11, 5 on 3/4 and finally into the top 4 last week following KA's conversation with Thorpe.
John Hollinger's recent PER Diem column touting the bigs (in particular Marc Gasol and Brook Lopez) as the real stars of this rookie class was also timely. As Citizen Zhiv pointed out, Hollinger completely ignored Gordon's numbers in his rush to make the point he set out to make - which is fine, we all do it. Following Hollinger's reasoning is not difficult - he's the father of PER, he believes in the metric, so if the raison d'etre of that particular column was to show that neither Derrick Rose nor O.J. Mayo nor even Russell Westbrook should be the Rookie of the Year this season, he certainly wasn't going to argue for a guy whose PER is lower than Rose's.
But in a roundabout way that column helps EJ. Hollinger's job is essentially to use PER to point out the non-intuitive. "Brook Lopez for ROY" (or "Marc Gasol is better than O.J. Mayo" for that matter) is tailor made for him. Hey guys, he's saying, don't just look at points per game - there are lots of other things to consider. And he's right of course. But the simple fact is, a lot of people do notice points, and there's just no way that the sixth leading scorer among rookies (Lopez) or the eighth leading scorer among rookies (Gasol) is going to win Rookie of the Year - it simply will not happen. So Hollinger points out the chinks in the ROY armor of Mayo and Rose, while making a case for two guys who have no chance of winning the award, and ignores Gordon - who ends up benefiting indirectly.
Because the more everyone is cognizant of a stat like True Shooting Percentage, the better Eric Gordon looks. I've been pointing out for awhile the fact that Gordon is, without a doubt, the most efficient perimeter scorer in this rookie class - it's not even close. It actually was closer between Gordon and Mayo when we first went through this exercise, but looking at their month-by-month splits Gordon has gotten better and better, while Mayo has gotten worse and worse. So when Hollinger says that scoring efficiency matters and that Rose is a less efficient scorer than Lopez, sure, I wish he would finish the thought and point out that Gordon is quite a bit more efficient than Lopez, but maybe some of the ROY voters out there are clever enough to connect those dots by themselves.
Look at the rookies by TS% again. Or click on the Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG) heading and sort it that way. The other rookies scoring more than 15 points a game (an arbitrary number to be sure), all perimeter players, are among the LEAST efficient when it comes to scoring. Westbrook is dead last (by an Oklahoma mile in eFG), and Rose and Mayo are among his closest competition. That's not particularly unusual - high volume shooters who play on the perimeter don't tend to be highly efficient. What is unusual is the one exception among the rookies. Because of his general accuracy, his three point accuracy, his excellent free throw shooting, and his knack for getting to the line, Gordon is a quite rare combination: an astoundingly efficient scorer who happens to be a high scoring perimeter player.
Let's broaden our perspective on this a bit. Eric Gordon is not simply the most efficient perimeter player among the rookies - he's top 5 in the entire league. He's fourth in the NBA in True Shooting Percentage among players 6'6" or smaller on pace to score 1000 points - behind Ray Allen, Steve Nash and Chris Paul. That's pretty good company.
The other factor in Gordon's favor, though it remains to be seen how much the ROY voters will take this into consideration, is that he has gotten better all season. And frankly, shouldn't it be more important how the rookie is playing in March and April than how he played in November? Mayo and Rose were starters from day one for their respective teams and got minutes and put up numbers straight out of the gate. Gordon began the season as the Clippers third string shooting guard. As a starter, which he has been for 50 games now, he's averaged over 18 points a game, second only to Mayo. In 32 games since Jan. 1, he's over 20 per game, leading all rookies by a safe margin in 2009 scoring. The fact that he's actually gotten more efficient as his role in the offense has increased is perhaps the most amazing thing about him.
Certainly he's no secret any more. He won the Western Conference Rookie of the Month Award in January. And he's leading all rookie scorers so far in March, so it would seem that he's got an inside track on this month's award as well. His March competition does not appear to be the other WC ROM winners and top ROY candidates, Mayo and Westbrook. Mayo is having by far his worst month as a pro averaging just 15.4 points and shooting just 41%. Westbrook likewise has seen his March production drop, his first monthly decline this season, averaging 15.8 points on his typically bad 40% shooting so far this month. No, the competition for March WC ROM will come from the bigs - Marc Gasol and Kevin Love are both averaging season highs in scoring and rebounding, both in the 15/10 neighborhood. The NBA tends to like to spread the wealth for these monthly awards, so don't be surprised to see either Gasol or Love come away with it if they keep up their impressive play.
For his part, all EJ is doing in March is averaging 19.8 points while shooting monthly season highs of 50% from the field and 42% from the arc, pushing his already crazy good efficiency numbers ever higher. Even more impressive for those of us who watch him consistently is his resiliency. He suffered his first injury of the season in late February after playing the equivalent of two college seasons already. He missed four games, and all he did in his first game back was score 35. Then, after suffering through the worst game of his pro career so far shooting 1 for 8 in Oakland, followed by a first half struggle where he shot 1 for 7 last night, he bounced back to finish 8 for 10 with 4 key triples while leading the Clippers second half comeback. He saw the rookie wall and ran straight through it.
Is Eric Gordon a future All Star? The short answer is yes. Rookies who play this well, especially at this young an age, almost always are. In the past 10 NBA seasons, 14 players have averaged over 15 points per game as a rookie. 10 of those 14 have been All Stars - many are current or future MVP candidates. Even the four who have not made an all star team are all pretty good: Kevin Durant (only a matter of time), Lamar Odom, Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon. I suppose if you want to look for the cautonary tale on that list, you can focus on his fellow Clipper rookie or his namesake. Bearing in mind that Lamar Odom and Ben Gordon are both really good basketball players, I humbly submit that Eric Gordon is destined to be significantly better. Don't forget that he's actually an 18 a game scorer as a starter (an entirely different stratosphere of rookie performance) and he's proven to be grounded kid as well. He just turned 20 and he's going to get better - based on past history, he'll be an All Star soon enough.
And although he still has a legitimate shot at Rookie of the Year, we'll take future All Star over ROY any day.