HOUSTON — The definition of "NBA All-Star" can sometimes be a moving target.
But for the other roster spots, especially the reserves, it can be tricky trying to figure out who is deserving of a nod.
Stat lines, overall production and team records are all great arbiters in the selection process, but sometimes, it helps to have the support of a perennial All-Star.
After Eric Gordon finished with a season-high 31 points in the Houston Rockets' 101-91 win over the Washington Wizards on Monday night at the Toyota Center, he got a strong recommendation from Harden, the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week.
As the saying goes, it takes one to know one.
"All-Star for sure," Harden said, who racked up his third straight triple-double. "...Especially with the record that we have right now. I mean, he sacrificed for the team. Obviously, he can start, but he sacrifices, comes off the bench, and he plays extremely well. He's definitely an All-Star-caliber player troubled by injuries in his previous years, but he's healthy, he feels great, he's playing great."
After five years of ups and downs and injuries that forced him to sit out 173 of 394 possible games with the New Orleans Pelicans and L.A. Clippers (before that), Gordon is playing great. Through 36 games, he’s averaging 17.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.
"Eric's been playing great," head coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He's having an unbelievable year as a sixth man. You can say sixth man, but sometimes that doesn't do him justice. He's been playing at an All-Star level the whole year. He's been unbelievable."
Gordon's most impressive stat, though, stems from his improved three-point shooting. After nailing six of 12 triples against Washington, he leads the league in made threes with 136 while making an impressive 42.8 percent from deep.
Gordon also has hit four-plus long balls a league-high 21 times this season. Reigning two-time MVP Steph Curry, who has 129 made threes this year, comes in second, doing it 17 times.
"I'm playing at a real high level, I will say that," Gordon said. "I'm making threes at a high clip, and I'm scoring pretty well even though I'm coming off the bench. It's always tough to see a guy coming off the bench be an All-Star, but we're winning a lot of games. We're going to continue being one of the best teams in the league, so as long as we maintain that, I'm fine with everything. I just let everything play its course."
Letting everything play its course is the final frontier for Gordon. Once considered the heir to the throne at shooting guard when he was a burgeoning star averaging 22.3 points with the Clippers, his career stalled and he was all but forgotten in New Orleans.
But then the Rockets came calling with D'Antoni's high-powered offense promising ball movement, pace-and-space and wide-open shots. It was the perfect fit and the best chance to write his own comeback story.
|Gordon's Progress Report (2014-17)|
"I've had a lot of good seasons," Gordon said. "I think this year is about revitalizing myself, getting back to what I should be doing. And I expect to keep doing more and getting better."
"When my shot isn't falling, I'm not shooting the ball well, I got other guys around me that can make up for it," Harden said after the Washington game. "Tonight, Eric and those other guys stepped up and made big plays for us."
"James had a little bit of an off night, but when he has an off night, I got to step up," Gordon added.
And he has stepped up all season for the Rockets: On a team that puts up the second-most points per game in the league (114.6), leads the league in made three-pointers (540) and has the third-highest offensive rating (112.3), Gordon is its second-leading scorer.
While he does play in a loaded Western Conference with shoe-ins like Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and Chris Paul, the rules for voting have changed.
Fans now only account for 50 percent of the vote, with current players and basketball media each accounting for 25 percent. With that change, undeserving but popular players likely won't get voted into the game. That means that outside of the starters, there will be room for the coaches to choose those who are actually earning their All-Star stripes—putting up numbers that matter instead of stat-stuffers on bad teams.
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are having huge years, for instance, but with the Portland Trail Blazers currently on the outside looking in for playoff contention, they might not warrant consideration. Same goes for Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins and Harrison Barnes.
And there is a precedent for Gordon to make the team.
Commissioner Adam Silver selected Kyle Korver as an injury replacement in 2015 to join teammates Paul Millsap, Al Horford and Jeff Teague because of the Atlanta Hawks' record. While Korver only averaged 12.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 33.2 minutes of play per outing, he was a vital player on a team with the best record in the Eastern Conference at the time.
The Rockets are 27-9, good for the third-best record in the West. If they continue to win games and Gordon continues to impress, he may have a legitimate shot at getting the nod, whether it be from the coaches or as Silver's choice for an injury replacement.
"I would love to be an All-Star, that's for sure, but I know there's a lot of other guys out there," Gordon said. "I'm only playing like 29-30 minutes a game. Most starters play more, but I don't think of myself as coming off the bench.
"I want to try to make a major effect on the game every time I'm out there. With me, I just got to continue to shoot the ball very well and continue to be unselfish and play at a high level. I want to continue to do this for the rest of my career, and this offense fits me pretty well."