Prior to the 2013-14 season, Eric Gordon was hopeful that a new year would give him a fresh start as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans. He told the Boston Globe, “As long as I get to the 100 percent point before training camp, that’s what I’m looking forward to.” Now, it's fair to wonder whether he'll ever truly be 100 percent.
Just three years ago, Gordon was the biggest returning chip in the package that shipped Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers, thought to be a budding star who would help his new team undergo an accelerated rebuild.
Several injury-filled seasons later, it's unclear how much he can contribute, and whether he has enough spring left in his legs to grow as a player.
The trade winds are blowing, and the Pelicans are reportedly pushing to unload Gordon with the Feb. 20 deadline on the horizon. Is there enough there for someone to roll the dice, or should we close the book on Gordon as an impact player?
If Gordon's decreased production was isolated to this season, pointing fingers at the increase in talent around him would be a legitimate excuse.
Unfortunately, his mediocre production this season is part of a multi-year trend that doesn't appear to be letting up.
The drop off in points per game is what most people will point to as a sign that the old Gordon is gone and never coming back. A seven-point crash is no small thing for a shooting guard, particularly one who was expected to contribute the bulk of his value by scoring.
Chad Ford, ESPN's Draft Insider, proclaimed as much in his profile of Gordon:
Do-it-all combo guard. Big-time range on his jump shot. Great shooting off the dribble. Excellent finisher at the basket. Great speed. Excellent athlete with explosive leaping ability. Good handle. NBA body. Excellent basketball IQ. Hard worker. Good, physical defender.
He's an undersized 2-guard. Indiana tried him a little at the point, but it's clear his skills are in the scoring department. His handle is a little questionable, as are his shot selection and floor vision. His poor assist-to-turnover ratio doesn't lie here.
Indeed, scoring is what Gordon used to do best. Not only was he a strong shooter entering the league, but he was an explosive athlete, which helped compensate for his diminutive size relative to his position.
Robbed of a good chunk of his athleticism after suffering injuries to the same knee in back-to-back seasons, Gordon is no longer able to get shots as easily as he once did at the rim. That's a major reason why his percentage at the rim has fallen two percent over the past four seasons.
Though it may not sound like much, the drop from 66.3 percent to 64.6 is notable for what it signifies. Last season, the NBA's league average on shots taken at the rim was exactly 64.6 percent, per HoopData.com, meaning that in his current state, Gordon is just average at what is supposed to be his greatest skill.
Overall, his ability to get good looks has taken a hit. While Gordon was accustomed to blowing by defenders in the pick-and-roll in Los Angeles...
...he has to settle for tougher shots in New Orleans.
The drop in scoring is directly linked to his inability to generate free-throw attempts, the bread and butter of scorers everywhere. Without getting into the paint and mixing it up, Gordon's margin for error from the field shrinks to almost nothing.
No Longer a Playmaker?
When the Pelicans matched Phoenix's max offer sheet for Gordon, they certainly didn't expect a player who would hover in the realm of Tobias Harris, A.J. Price and Wilson Chandler in the finishing department. Worse than that, the byproducts of his inability to score effectively really chip away at his value.
Without the same ability to get to the basket, Gordon's assist numbers appear to have only taken a small hit, but raw assists are just one piece of the puzzle.
His assist percentage, which estimates how many field goals a player assisted while on the floor, has fallen from 20.7 percent during his last season in Los Angeles to 16.4 this season. Unable to draw defenders and collapse the floor like he once did, the open looks he created for teammates just aren't there anymore.
Let's take that a step further: you'd think that having better teammates this season would mean more assist opportunities for Gordon.
After all, what player couldn't get assists throwing lobs to Anthony Davis? Gordon knows what it's like to play with a super-athletic forward, having reaped the benefits of playing with Blake Griffin during his final year in Los Angeles.
Even though the Pels have been hit with a rash of injuries, he's played next to a sweet-shooting point in Jrue Holiday and knockdown shooters like Anthony Morrow and a floor-spacing big in Ryan Anderson, all of whom theoretically space the floor and present him with safety valves.
Best Days Behind Him
The numbers match what the eyes are telling us: Gordon's game isn't what it used to be.
Should the Pelicans trade Eric Gordon?
Unlike other promising guards that have seen their bodies fail them, Gordon is still able to replicate a fair amount of the things that made him valuable. Far from the sad story that is Brandon Roy's career, EG is still a productive NBA player in many respects.
In a way, that's almost worse than if he washed out of the league. Had Gordon's injuries crippled his career and forced him out of the league, his name would be spoken with sympathy, fans remembering what could have been. But as he soldiers on as 75 percent of his former self, he becomes an easy target for vitriol.
In recent remarks to the press, Gordon has acknowledged that the expectations for his play may be out of line with his new reality:
Individually, I think I can give more, do more. People here think I should be this big-time 20-point (per game) scorer. This is more of a team game here, this system here. It's a different adjustment. For me, now it's all about playing as many games as possible and getting my body back to being used to playing an 82-game season, because I haven't had that in almost two to three years now.
Here's the problem: he's being paid like a 20-point scorer, and with a roster that is capped out for the next few seasons, the Pelicans need him to produce if they can't offload his contract.
It's too early to write his obituary, but relying on a player with a detailed injury history at age 25 is a risky endeavor. Buyers beware.