It's essentially taken for granted around Clips Nation that Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Gordon is underrated. During his rookie season, I spent more time writing about how he compared favorably with the more publicized guards in his draft class than any other single subject, I am quite certain of that. Then when he won a Gold Medal playing for Team USA in Turkey last summer as a key reserve (fourth on the team in scoring) and stormed through a truly break out NBA campaign last year, I figured he'd finally be getting the recognition he deserves.
And yes, it is starting to happen, but he still manages to slip through the cracks in the collective consciousness. It didn't help that injuries sidelined him for much of the second half of the season, and hampered his productivity when he returned. But he played through several injuries and still managed to average over 22 points per game, the 13th best scoring average in the league. And he's not a one-dimensional player by any means - he scores efficiently, and he happens to be far and away the Clippers' best perimeter defender. This is not Monta Ellis we're talking about. You might think the fortitude he showed to play hurt would have increased his visibility - he played with a broken bone in his wrist for FSM's sake! - but no, he seems to have faded into the background again. Part of that is of course just his demeanor - he's a polite, soft-spoken kid who's easy to ignore.
SBNation's hoops heads, Tom Ziller, Andrew Sharp and Mike Prada, have just completed an interesting if a tad strange project, ranking the top 100 players of 2015. Obviously there's more than a bit of guess work projecting four years into the future, but given the progress he's shown and the fact that he's still only 22 years old, it's obvious that EJ would be a shining star on this sort of list. So where did he wind up? Top 10? Top 20? Try number 30.
Are you freakin' kidding me?
You know, it's interesting... Sports Illustrated's Zach Harper did a similar list earlier in the summer, ranking players in the here and now. Do you know where Gordon ranked on that list? 29th. (I guess I have to acknowledge that EJ isn't under everyone's radar.) So he's currently 22, he's already a top 30 player at least according to one very knowledgeable observer, and four years from now as he's entering his prime, my friends and colleague's at SBNation have him ranked 30th.
I am so going to post Sharp's ass up the next time we play ball.
There was some back and forth in the comments section of the post where Gordon was chosen between myself and the authors (and citizen NBAFAN8, our biggest Gordon fan here, makes a cameo as well). Strangely, the authors seem to agree that Gordon is ranked too low - if that's the case, then why is he ranked there? If there is a rationale, it seems to be this: yes, Gordon is a low to mid 30s player in the NBA already, and that's about where he'll be in 2015. He'll pass some people, but some people will pass him as well.
I counted seven players on Harper's full list ahead of Gordon who are currently in their 30s. Guys like Steve Nash and Manu Ginobili and Kevin Garnett will be retired by 2015, and even if they're not they certainly won't be better than Eric Gordon. So it's a given that Gordon will be leapfrogging at least a few names. Then there are about ten more who are in their mid to late 20s - guys who we can reasonably assume have plateaued by now, since that's about when NBA players reach their peak.
Gordon? He's 22 - in four years when he's 26, he'll be better than he is now. At least he will be if his career follows a normal trajectory. If he works on his game, he will no doubt be empirically better at some things - he'll add dimensions like a post game, he'll improve his ball-handling and rebounding, etc. Moreover there are intangibles that should help his game - things that come with experience. The game will continue to slow down for him, he'll gain more confidence, the refs will start giving him the veteran treatment, etc. However good he is at the age of 22, the reasonable expectation is that he'll be better at 26.
It's all in good fun of course and the great thing about this type of project is in getting the conversation going. It's a little like sports radio - take a seemingly outlandish position and then try to defend it. I get it. That's fine.
Part of that then is going to be looking into the crystal ball, looking at the players that will be entering the NBA in 2012 and even 2013. So inevitably there are players on the list ahead of Gordon who have yet to play a minute in the NBA - hell, some of them have yet to play a minute in college. I don't know enough really to argue these guys - picking any one player who is currently in college to be a top 30 NBA player in four years is a crap shoot, and probably all the choices on this list are wrong - but that likely means there are just other guys not on the list that should be there. But no, I don't expect Austin Rivers to be better than Eric Gordon in 2015.
Having Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki ranked higher than Gordon on a list for the 2015 season seems more than a a bit dubious though, doesn't it? I mean, those are two great players - who will each be 37 in 2015. Six players in the history of the NBA have posted a PER better than 20 at the age of 37 or older. Kobe and Dirk could certainly be the type of player that continues at the highest level into their late 30s - but odds are they won't.
In the final analysis, there are lots of individual names ahead of Gordon on this 2015 list that I certainly wouldn't trade for Gordon if I were Neil Olshey - Stephen Curry, Rudy Gay, Greg Monroe, DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Carmelo Anthony, Bryant and Nowitzki - not in 2015, that's for sure.
But here's the good news: Blake Griffin is ranked 4th on the 2015 list (behind Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Dwight Howard, no quarrels there). AND with the Clippers holding Minnesota's 2012 unprotected draft pick, one of those future top 20 players supposedly ahead of Gordon could be his teammate in 2015 (if the Clippers draft well and the Wolves play poorly - though I know which is more likely). If Gordon is indeed underrated on this list as I believe, the Clippers could have three top 20 players in the league at that time. And that's fun to speculate about.