Whether Eric Gordan makes the final 12 man roster for Team USA (and it's looking more and more like he will), it's a great experience and accomplishment for him to be among the final 13 players competing this year. He's getting a chance to play with great players, he's building his confidence, and he's presumably getting top level coaching from the likes of Mike Krzyzewski and Nate McMillan and the rest of the national team staff.
According to Chris Sheridan who is covering the team in Madrid as they prepare for this weekend's games, Gordon is now off the bubble, and in fact is the player whose stock has risen the most. Of course, Sheridan is the same guy who put EJ on the bubble in the first place, and as recently as last weekend he had Gordon and Jeff Green as the two obvious cuts the team would make (a little embarrassing when they cut Green and JaVale McGee the day after he wrote that). In fact, Sheridan had Gordon as one of the initial cuts after the Las Vegas camp, so he's been wrong from the beginning on EJ. At least this time he's got some glowing quotes from Coach K backing up his position that Gordon's star is on the rise:
He's really had a terrific practice every single day, and every day he's produced, he's just been steady. And he's a guy that doesn't need the ball long. On our Olympic team, Carmelo Anthony didn't need the ball long, and that helps. He's been very good. Very good. I won't say anybody's made the team until we're down to 12, but he's been very good. I'll leave it at that.
So that's about as close as you can get to saying he's on the final roster without saying he's on the final roster. Interesting to be compared to Carmelo, though I'm not sure I see that.
I'm at once surprised and not surprised that it has shaken out this way. All along I've been writing that Team USA needed Gordon for his combination of shooting and defense, and in particular for his size and strength in a quick but lean backcourt. But I was worried that he would not be flashy enough to get people's attention, and that when it came down to it, more exciting players like Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook would be kept over EJ. But to his credit, Coach K is valuing some steady play.
I thought it was interesting in the game last weekend versus France that EJ was defending guys like Nicolas Batum and Mickael Gelabale - guys that are 6'-7" or so. Gordon even got some fourth quarter minutes at small forward, when Coach K was trying to get some extra minutes for both Westbrook and Curry. The US team is going to run into plenty of 6'7" guards in Turkey next week, and it just seems like EJ has a better chance of defending them than any other guard on the team right now.
It will be interesting to see the minutes distribution in this weekend's games, but I felt like Team USA tipped their hand a little versus France. When Russell Westbrook didn't get off the bench until midway through the fourth quarter after the game was long decided it couldn't have been a good sign for him. After all, when Green and McGee were DNPs in the scrimmage against China, they were off the team the next day. Westbrook has found himself the third point guard behind Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose - and that's counting Chauncey Billups as a shooting guard. We've been saying for weeks in this space that Westbrook and Rondo were redundant, so when Rondo emerged as the Team USA starter (hard to argue with that move, given Rondo's talent plus his experience in big games), Westbrook looked like the odd man out.
However Westbrook may make the team after all, after Curry twisted his ankle in practice earlier this week. Curry is back on the court and is expected to play in the Madrid friendlies, but we'll see how much the injury has affected him. Either way, it now seems that Gordon is firmly ahead of both of them and either Westbrook or Curry will be the final cut. Of course, with three games to play before that cut has to be announced, it's easy to imagine someone playing there way on to or off of the team.
The side debate here at Clips Nation - does this prove once and for all that he is above average? - is a red herring. I happen to believe that EJ is solidly above average as an NBA two guard, but reasonable people are certainly free to feel otherwise. After all, John Hollinger's PER metric sets the 'average' NBA player at a 15 by definition, and last season EJ had a PER of 14.1, so Hollinger thinks he's below average. And Kelly Dwyer just ranked the shooting guards going into the season, and he ranked EJ number 21, so he thinks he's below average (at least among starters).
Obviously the people that chose to put him on the Team USA roster (even the wider, 30+ person roster) must think he's pretty good. To me, it comes down to this: after the very top tier of shooting guards (I'm talking Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Brandon Roy, Joe Johnson and Manu Ginobili), Gordon is in the discussion. He may not be sixth in the NBA (though I'd argue that he has the potential to be). He's probably not 21st (he did beat out O.J. Mayo for Team USA, after all). But he's in the discussion after that group at the top. And with Bryant, Wade and Roy all out of action this summer, Johnson having retired from international play and Ginobili not being American, Gordon was a solid pick for the team, especially considering the fact that he's still only 21.
He hasn't made the team yet, but he's already had a great showing. I'm looking forward to seeing him this weekend in Madrid, and next weekend in Turkey. Lithuania shouldn't be too much of a challenge Saturday, but we'll find out a little about where the team stands on Sunday versus Spain.