Is Eric Gordon the Perfect Example of Risk vs. Reward in the NBA?

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterSeptember 25, 2012

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 26:  Eric Gordon #10 of the New Orleans Hornets during the season openning NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on December 26, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Hornets defeated the Suns 85-84. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What can you buy with $58,365,583 in today's economy?

Quite a bit, actually. How about 19,136,256 Double-Doubles from In-N-Out Burger? Or 233,471 pairs of LeBron James' newest shoe? Or two-and-a-half years in the life of Mitt Romney?

Or, if you're the New Orleans Hornets, four years of Eric Gordon?

Is that a solid investment for the future of your NBA team? Depends on how you weigh the risks and rewards associated with the soon-to-be-fifth-year guard.

On the one hand, EJ (as he was known during his days with the Los Angeles Clippers) is one of the NBA's burgeoning young talents. The kid can flat-out score, to the extent that pegging him to average 20 points per game might actually be a modest prediction. He put up 20.6 points in his debut season with the Hornets, and 22.3 the season prior, when he was all of 22 years old in LA.

More impressive than the numbers themselves are the ways in which Gordon goes about his job. He's often lauded for the limitless range on his jump shot, which is certainly well-deserved, even though his three-point percentage has declined from season to season.

But what makes Gordon such a dynamic force on the offensive end is his strength and athleticism. At 6'3 and 222 pounds, EJ is an absolute bulldog with the ball in his hands. He also sports a keen understanding of how to use his smooth shooting stroke as a threat to set up drives to the basket with pump fakes and the like.

And when the path is clear (or not), Gordon has no fear of attacking the basket with a vengeance.

With his bulk and leaping ability, Gordon attracts and often finishes through contact, landing him at the free-throw line more often than not. Among players who averaged better than 30 minutes last season, Gordon ranked sixth in the NBA in free-throw attempts per game with 7.2, just ahead of Blake Griffin and Carmelo Anthony; third in three-point-plays per game with 0.90, behind Dwight Howard and Griffin; fourth in three-point-play percentage at 6.4 percent, trailing Tyson Chandler, Howard and Al Horford; and sixth in free-throw attempts per field-goal attempt at 0.46, on par with Blake Griffin (per Hoopdata).

All of which is to say EJ can create contact at the cup, and better yet, complete the play anyway. He converted a career-best 68 percent of his attempts at the rim last season, which, according to Hoopdata, would place him fourth among shooting guards who played more than 30 minutes per game.

Throw in the fact that he won't turn 24 until Christmas, and signing Gordon for upwards of $58 million—as the Hornets did and the Phoenix Suns tried to do—seems like a no-brainer.

On the other hand, there's Gordon's medical history. In 2009-10, he missed 20 games with hamstring and groin problems. The next year, a recurring wrist injury kept him out of 26 contests. And last season, EJ was sidelined for all but nine games with a bum knee.

In Gordon's defense, these injuries don't seem to be related in any direct way, so calling him "injury-prone" may be unfair.

Still, the fact that his hamstring, groin, wrist and knee have been problematic in the past, place Gordon in the category of "damaged goods." He may not be prone to harm, but he's certainly susceptible to it.

Especially with the way he plays. One of Gordon's greatest skills—his ability to attack the basket—is also the one that puts him in harm's way most frequently. He's not as effective a player if he can't or won't plunder the paint.

However, he's completely ineffective if he's not healthy enough to play at all.

Which brings us to the question of Gordon's "value." He's a tremendous talent whose superstar potential is equaled only by the perceived frailty of his body.

In the Hornets' minds, the reward of the former outweighed the risk of the latter. They matched the max contract offered by the Suns with one of their own, even after seeing EJ suited and booted in street clothes on 57 occasions.

Apparently, they liked what they saw from him during those nine games in which he did play—or appreciated his sideline style—enough to make him filthy rich this summer.

Luckily for New Orleans, the team's fortunes next season won't be riding solely on Gordon's shoulders. The Hornets added Anthony Davis (another potential superstar) and Austin Rivers through the 2012 NBA Draft, and subsequently traded for Ryan Anderson, whom ESPN's Tom Habestroh has pegged for a 20-point, 10-rebound type of season in the Crescent City.

Chances are, though, the Hornets will stink once again in 2012-13, regardless of how many games EJ finds his way into. The folks in the front office and on the coaching staff are likely aware of as much, and probably approached Gordon's free agency well aware of the negligible risk his injury recidivism might pose to their prospects in the immediate term.

But as the years come and go and the core of the Hornets' squad gels into that of a playoff contender, the need for Gordon's contributions will grow. As will the impact of every nick, cut, bruise, break and tear on the team's ability to fulfill its ultimate potential.

It's a huge gamble, one whose risk was mitigated by the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, and one that every team must consider at one point or another. The potential reward—an NBA title at some point down the line—is priceless.

The same can't quite be said for millions of hamburgers or thousands of overpriced sneakers.