Report Card Grades for Eric Gordon's Return from Knee Injury

Maxwell OgdenCorrespondent IIIDecember 29, 2012

Report Card Grades for Eric Gordon's Return from Knee Injury

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    For the first time since April 22, 2012, Eric Gordon played in an NBA regular-season game.

    In his first appearance of the 2012-13 season, the New Orleans Hornets won a 98-95 thriller over the Charlotte Bobcats. Gordon finished with 24 points, seven assists and two steals.

    In other words, his highly anticipated return lived up to the billing.

    Gordon played just 25 minutes but found a way to contribute on both ends of the floor. The question is, how did he perform in every facet of the game?

    Was he able to shake off the rust, and were his numbers a reflection of just how well he played?

    You're about to find out.

Mobility

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    Grade: A-

    During his first game in over eight months, Eric Gordon displayed excellent mobility.

    Gordon appeared comfortable moving laterally and was able to get up and down at the same pace as his teammates. This enabled Gordon to capitalize on openings he found in the opposing defense and maintain balance on D.

    Gordon was active on defense, bouncing around the top of the key to close off passing lanes. Matched up against the quick Ramon Sessions, he also displayed excellent footwork and mobility.

    Sessions was flustered throughout due to Gordon's ability to keep up and make plays on the ball.

    At times, Gordon displayed a sense of hesitation. Whether this was a lack of trust in his knee or not has yet to be seen, but Gordon had moments in which he held back. For instance, the final 11.0 seconds when he failed to chase down a long pass.

    Even still, Gordon earns himself an A-. It's a reputable performance from a mobility standpoint.

Explosiveness

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    Grade: B

    The most important aspect of evaluating Gordon's return to the NBA is grading his explosiveness.

    Having come off of multiple knee injuries, one could speculate that Gordon would lose a step. Saturday night was a promising sign that he hasn't.

    Gordon was not quite what we expected him to be, but he'd also been out since Feb. 22. This is why the occasional burst was such an encouraging sight.

    Coming off the dribble, Gordon displayed staggering quickness as he attacked the basket. Although he relied more heavily on his upper-body strength, Gordon found a way to get by quick defenders. That includes Ramon Sessions and Kemba Walker.

    The rise on his layup and jump shots show signs of rust, but this was significant progress. 

Decision-Making

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    Grade: A

    Eric Gordon has a tendency to become trigger-happy with his jump shot. Even still, he's one of the better decision-makers at the two-spot.

    Such was on display during the first quarter, as Gordon picked Hakim Warrick's pocket and broke out into transition.

    Instead of taking it to the hole for a contested finish, Gordon kicked it out to Jason Smith for an 18-footer. Great veteran move.

    Throughout the fourth quarter, Gordon displayed more of this. From finding Ryan Anderson for three-pointers or hitting Roger Mason Jr. for the same, Gordon displayed beautiful court vision.

    The fact that he knew when to pass and when to drive was equally praise-worthy. This is why he made it to the line for 14 free-throw attempts.

    As for his field-goal attempts, going 5-of-13 from the floor is simply a result of expected rust.

Ball-Handling

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    Grade: A-

    If you had questions about Gordon's handles, the second quarter put an end to all of that.

    Gordon crossed up an opponent along the perimeter, burst off the edge and played the base line to draw the foul. Now, if that's not what you want from E.G., what is it that you're exactly looking for?

    He appeared comfortable with the ball in his hands and took on a heavy scoring and facilitating role. This allowed Greivis Vasquez to roam freely and open up the offense.

    The Hornets utilized Gordon as a flex guard in order to to play the hot-handed Roger Mason Jr. They also utilized Gordon off-ball, thus keeping the Charlotte D on its toes.

    Gordon's most significant ball-handling mistake came with 11 seconds remaining, as he misplayed a long pass and failed to control the ball. The turnover allowed Charlotte to get two looks at tying the game, but it failed to convert either.

    The three turnovers hurt, but they don't outweigh the strength of his performance.

Shooting

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    Grade: B

    Two minutes into his season debut, Gordon sunk a 14-foot jump shot.

    He would miss his next two jumpers and one of two free throws, then make a driving layup and a pair of free throws during the second quarter. Overall, it was that type of evening for Gordon.

    Gordon was well off on a three-point attempt during the second, hardly hitting the side of the rim from straight away. One quarter later, he'd hit a three-pointer with nothing but net.

    This could only be expected for a player out of action for eight months—welcomed inconsistency, if you will. Gordon would finish with 5-of-13 shooting from the floor and 12-of-14 from the free-throw line. He also shot just 2-of-6 from beyond the arc.

    Gordon converted from close, made a key three-pointer during a fourth-quarter comeback and hit his free throws.

    His jump shooting was inconsistent, but his free throws were falling. We can't fault him too much for that.

Defense

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    Grade: A-

    In terms of defensive fundamentals, Eric Gordon has yet to reach the upside that his talent suggests.

    With that being said, Gordon has long been one of the game's top ball hawks. Saturday night displayed that ability.

    Gordon would pick Hakim Warrick's pocket and instantly look for a scoring lane. Gordon would turn the steal into transition points by finding Jason Smith for an 18-foot jump shot.

    Gordon would do it again during the second quarter, poking the ball loose from Ramon Sessions on the drive. It was an incredible display of timing, patience and defensive focus.

    He displayed that veteran approach again in the fourth quarter. With the Hornets up six with 1:07 remaining, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist took the ball from Gordon and attacked the lane. Gordon stayed with him, threw his arms up and maintained stability.

    This forced MKG to dig himself a hole along the baseline and eventually travel—all a result of Gordon's defensive pressure and intelligence.

    Allowing Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions to work the ball early hurts. Picking up two steals solidifies a strong defensive performance.

Passing

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    Grade: A+

    Eric Gordon was absolutely phenomenal from a passing standpoint, dishing out three assists during the fourth quarter. That includes a feed on a Ryan Anderson three with 1:31 remaining that made it 92-86 Hornets.

    Another came to Roger Mason with less than a minute left on the clock, thus extending the lead to nine.

    For the game, Gordon finished with seven assists, all of which came as a result of his veteran decision-making.

    Whether he was driving-and-dishing or working off screens, Gordon made the proper feeds. Most of his passes were from the chest, but he also had excellent bounce-pass feeds to the post.

    There is no way around how well Gordon moved the ball in the win.

Overall

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    Grade: A

    In his 2012-13 NBA regular-season debut, Eric Gordon finished with 24 points, seven assists and two steals in 25 minutes. What more could you ask for?

    Gordon may not have shot the ball very well, but his effort and team-wide influence was undeniable. A plus/minus of plus-nine provides the statistical evidence.

    Although there were signs of rust, Gordon proved why he's one of the most promising young stars in the NBA. From his scoring touch to his passing savvy, Gordon was an offensive dynamo.

    With an excellent defensive performance and late-game influence, Gordon has earned himself a very good grade.

    Three victory-clinching free throws improve Gordon from an A- to an A.

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