Yesterday, with all the rumors spreading like a brushfire, and the Clippers in the thick of it, Clipper fans were suddenly challenged with the reality of the "Chris Paul Situation". A lot of teams would like Chris Paul, but there are probably only a few teams who have the assets and the cap room to make it happen: One of them is the Los Angeles Clippers.
Though it's now become apparent that Chris Paul might have no real intention of signing an extension with any team located outside New York, there came a very challenging and divisive question for the Clipper fan: Would you trade Eric Gordon for Chris Paul?
A lot of smart guys voted in. Most of the brightest, most cool-headed members of Clips Nation made their feelings known. The answer was "Yes." You have to put your emotions in your pocket, if you have a chance to acquire the best point guard in the league you might have to give back something of almost equal value. Something you cherish. And yes, it might be the most valuable piece on the Clippers roster other than Blake Griffin. The consensus became, Eric, we love you, but... this is business.
I was swept up in the logic. Value is value, you gotta give to get back, etc. Chris Paul is one of the five best players in the league, he makes his teammates better, he solves the Clippers point guard problem with a hammer to the head.
But, like most Clipper fans, I LOVE Eric Gordon. Love his picture-perfect three point shot. Love his first step, his ability to get to the rim almost at will. I love that he's a great defender, on a team of bad defenders. I love his long reach, and his fullback body. I love his improvement every year, and his all-star numbers last year. I love his quiet but aggressive demeanor. But it's more than that... way more.
Eric Gordon's arrival in Clipperland three years ago was stunning. He hadn't played much in his one year of college ball and we didn't really know him. But then we saw him play. That shot, that footwork, the reach, the athleticism. Eric Gordon immediately brought hope to a Clipper dream that had been badly damaged by the devastating injury to Shaun Livingston and the cruel defection of Elton Brand. Eric Gordon made the pain go away... and gave us all a reason to hope.
But despite the emotional attachment, if the price of Chris Paul is Eric Gordon, you have to do it don't you? You have to swallow the bitter pill so you can build a team that might not just make the playoffs... and might even... go further...
Then, yesterday, in the middle of the fury of trade talk, in the middle of a rumor that the Clippers had put Eric Gordon on the bargaining table, came a cold and mind-clearing whisper... it came in the form of a fragment of an unlikely tweet from Eric Pincus (!) quoting Ric Bucher(!!) and it completely shook my inner Clipper world: "...I'd argue Clippers view Gordon as the next (healthy) Brandon Roy..."
Whoa. Stop the presses. Are we undervaluing Eric Gordon? Is that possible? Is Eric Gordon headed for that level of stardom? Can the new Eric Gordon be the old Brandon Roy?
Let's look at the two players. We'll throw out Roy's last year and simply look at his first four years. Here are Roy's stats. And here are Gordon's. Hmm... that's interesting. Brandon Roy played four years of college ball, and was drafted into the NBA as a senior. Gordon was of course, one and done, leaving Indiana after a single season. So Gordon came into the NBA as a 19 year old, while Roy played his first NBA game at twenty-two.
I suppose one could make the argument that we should compare each player at 22. But Gordon wasn't 22 until last Christmas and if we compare Gordon's third year with Roy's first, we'd be ignoring the fact that Gordon played with the advantage of two seasons of NBA experience, while Roy, at that point, had none. A better comparison might be to look at Roy's third year with Gordon's. Not entirely fair to Eric, but okay, let's do that.
Eric's third year in the league, was last year... his best year. Though he played only fifty six games and was hampered with a wrist injury for much of the second half of the season his numbers were great: 22.3 ppg, 4.4 apg, 2.9 rpg, a PER of 18.5, his 3P% was .364 and TS% was .566. A little flat in rebounds and with a disappointing 2.7 turnovers per game. But solid numbers, really.
But Roy's numbers were better in his third year. Actually 2008-2009, was his best year. At the age of 24 he played 78 games with 22.6 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.7 rpg, 2 turnovers. He shot 220 three pointers with a .377 average. His TS% was .573 and his PER is a whopping 24! He made the all star team and was all NBA.
We didn't know it then, but this was probably Brandon Roy at his peak, the next year, 2009-10 he played fewer games, 65 and all his numbers dipped. His 3pt average dropped back to .330, his PER went down to 21.3.
But, does anyone really think that we've seen the best of Eric Gordon? He's gotten better every year. He's improved his scoring, points, PER, actually he's improved in every offensive statistic across the board... (except for turnovers). Are you willing to bet against Gordon's ability to keep improving?
I'm not. He's 23 this year and his numbers are much better now than Roy's at 23. I think, should he stay healthy, he can easily improve his handle and get that TO number down. Along the way, his assists, already pretty good, will almost certainly improve, his scoring will improve. As he settles into a comfortable offensive system, his rebounds will probably get better... and all his one-number stats, like PER, will follow the other stats upward.
Could Eric Gordon become the next Brandon Roy? I don't think it's farfetched. This much I know: If the Chris Paul-to-the-Clippers scenario fails, I will feel vaguely disappointed, but I will also feel relieved because it means Eric Gordon will stay a Clipper. I'm thrilled at the possibility. Flat-out thrilled.