The Chicago Bulls Are Better Off Without Ben Gordon, Without a Doubt
Believe me, I know what incredulous stares are greeting the title of this article.
I guarantee you a vast majority of those disbelieving glances are from non-Bulls fans.
I have never witnessed a player that was so over-valued by non-fans of the team that that player played for, and it's a fact I need to call attention to.
There is a reason the Bulls let Ben Gordon walk to an inter-division rival without so much as a counter-offer. Gordon's selfish, monopolizing style of basketball no longer gels with the new direction Vinny Del Negro is taking this team under the leadership of Derrick Rose.
Ben Gordon is what I like to call a "SportsCenter Hero," a player who is capable of putting up 50 on any given night, and does so on an often enough basis to make SportsCenter one or two nights a week.
I am not denying that Ben Gordon is an incandescent scorer who hit some big shots for the Bulls in his time there. How could I, because that's all most were exposed to on SportsCenter every night.
However, it was the nights Ben Gordon wasn't on fire that most didn't see on SportsCenter that really killed the Bulls last year. Only the diehard Bulls fans got to witness those "gems."
The fact that Ben Gordon can score can't be disputed.
Ben Gordon stands listed at a generous 6'1" (there are some reports out there that he actually might be below 6'.)
Now, obviously a lack of height doeesn't preclude NBA guards from having successful and prolific careers.
However, smaller scoring guards like Chris Paul and Allen Iverson have the ability to score both inside and outside because they make up for their lack of height with blazing quickness, ridiculous ball-handling, and an uncanny ability to control their bodies and finish at the rim with contact.
Ben Gordon can shoot threes.
However, he doesn't possess the quickness of other smaller scoring guards. Also, he is an average ball handler at best, and even if he is able to beat his defender to the rim (which happens rarely), he is nowhere near as solid an at-the-rim finisher as other prolific small scoring guards. (Steve Nash fits in this group too.)
These limitations severely inhibit Gordon's ability to create his own shot, as evidenced by the fact that there are a defender's fingers a nanometer away from the ball on eight out of every 10 jump shots Ben Gordon takes.
This isn't an issue during the games he is on fire, as the shots he is barely able to get off all go in. And they look that much more amazing because there are always hands in his face due to his inability to create more space to get his jumper off.
It's during the games that he is in less than "everything-I-throw-up-goes-in" mode in which Ben Gordon truly becomes a team killer.
Guards that can score at the rim have a distinct advantage over players that can't because it gives them a second viable scoring option for when their jumper isn't falling.
Driving to the hoop also can shake a player out of their slump by drawing contact during the shot, allowing the slumping player to go to the line and try to re-find his touch with a pair of low-risk, high-reward free throws.
Ben Gordon doesn't have the ball handling skills, quickness, or desire (not sure which exactly) to drive to the rim on a consistent basis.
Therefore, when he goes into a slump, Gordon is forced to shoot himself out of his slump from the perimeter.
This often entails dribbling in the same five-square-foot area with his head down for 15 seconds, then launching a fadeaway three pointer with 73 hands in his face with two seconds left on the shot clock.
He does this 10-15 times in one game.
If Gordon was the only offensive option on a bad team, this might be acceptable.
However, Gordon played in a drive-and-kick Vinny Del Negro offense predicated on Derrick Rose getting into the paint and creating opportunities for others with ball movement.
With a series of young bigs like Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah that can't necessarily create scoring opportunities for themselves, Rose's ability to drive and move the ball around is essential because it gives those players chances to score that they might not have ordinarily.
Rose's drive-and-kick threat also gets Brad Miller far more involved in the game by giving him opportunities to utilize his reliable mid-range jump shot in both pick-and-pop and drive-and-kick-out situations.
When Ben Gordon would go into black hole mode, it would completely disrupt the entire flow of the game and kill the team by killing the ball movement that was so essential to getting so many other cogs on the team involved.
Did that matter to Gordon? Absolutely not, as long as he was getting his highly-contested 30-footers off, he was happy as a clam.
These games were just as common, if not more so, than his SportsCenter-worthy offensive explosions.
And that's all not even looking at his defense, which is hard to physically look at because it is non-existent.
There is a reason Ray Allen averaged 872 points per game in the first round of the playoffs last year.
Watching Ben Gordon anemically "fight" through picks while Ray Allen would rain down wide open threes was more infuriating than most things I've experienced in the last 25 years of life.
To summarize, when Gordon is at his best, you have an electrifying scorer raining long-but-covered jumpers down for 40 to 50 points, which may or may not be offset by the 40 to 50 points the person he is guarding will score.
When Gordon is anything other than that, you get a player who will feel compelled to derail the rhythm of any offense he is playing in so he can monopolize the basketball and attempt to shoot himself out of a slump.
With Gordon gone, the Bulls now have the option to either go small and start Kirk Hinrich, one of the best perimeter defenders in the game (and quite the scorer himself), or go bigger and start either Luol Deng or John Salmons (whichever doesn't start at small forward), both much better defensive options than Gordon.
On the surface one could argue that the Bulls will struggle to replace the offensive outputs in the games Gordon was lights out.
I would argue that Gordon's absence will allow other players like Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah, and rookie James Johnson far more scoring opportunities because the ball will swing around the court more freely. This will create those scoring opportunities that the young bigs can't necessarily create for themselves yet.
To re-cap, with the departure of Gordon, the perimeter defense has gotten remarkably better, and the offense, spearheaded by one of the most exciting young point guards to come through the NBA, will finally be allowed to flow freely.
Seems like a positive move to me, and it's not often you can say that after losing a top three draft pick to a division rival with absolutely no compensation.
It was fun while it lasted, Ben.
Have fun in Detroit, and we'll see you soon.
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