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September 9, 2011
Taking the Next Step
Eric Gordon

by Sebastian Pruiti

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Going into his third year in the NBA, Eric Gordon was a finisher who didn't really do much else. Playing off the ball and relying on spot-up jumpers, which made up 23.5 percent of his possessions two years ago, Gordon's play was dependent on others. However, this past season the Clippers made more of an effort to put the ball in his hands, and the result was a more effective player. Gordon's usage rate increased from 21.5 percent to 26.4 percent, and the result was a jump in Gordon's PER from 14.1 to 18.4. Besides the value of creating more plays, Gordon's PER improved because he got better distributing the basketball; his assist rate went from 17.6 to 19.5 while his turnover rate dropped from 13.6 to 12.1.

What He Did Well

When Gordon ran the pick-and-roll in 2009-10, something he did 14.3 percent of the time, he was very ineffective, scoring 0.693 points per possession. That placed him in the bottom 30 percent of all NBA players. With new head coach Vinny Del Negro, Gordon was given more ballhandling duties and, which translated into more pick-and-rolls. The pick-and-roll made up 27.4 percent of his possessions, nearly doubling in importance. With more opportunities, Gordon got much better in the pick-and-roll, posting a PPP of 0.944, which is in the top 10 percent among NBA players. The key to Gordon's newfound success is that he started knocking down his pull-up jumper when coming off of screens. Two years ago, Gordon shot just 28.3 percent on the pull up. This past season? Gordon shot 41.8 percent:

One of the reasons for his success is because of the person setting his screen. Blake Griffin is such a threat that nobody is ever going to hedge out on Gordon for fear of Blake Griffin catching a lob and dunking on everyone's head. However, most of the success is due to Gordon and the improvements he has made. Just look at the clip above. Gordon comes off of the ball screen, rises up under control and calmly knocks down the jumper, something that he didn't do his first two seasons. There is no reason for a shooter with Gordon's abilities to be shooting 28.3 percent. Now under control, Gordon is more of a threat coming off of ball screens. Because of that, it opens up passing lanes that Gordon isn't used to having:

If the defense doesn't want Gordon to come off the screen and knock down a pull up jumper, the defense is going to have to hedge hard at them. That forces the defense to give up something, whether it be the roll man rolling to the rim or someone spotting up behind the three-point line on the weak side.

What Needs To Change

With Gordon having the ball in his hands a lot more, he's going to have a lot more opportunities to break down his man and get into the lane. That means more shot attempts in the paint, and as Hoopdata points out, Gordon saw his shot attempts from 3-9 feet increase from 0.7 per game to 2.7 per game. However, the result of that increase was a drop in accuracy; his shooting percentage from 3-9 feet went from 43.5 percent to 33.1 percent:

At his height, the runner can be a valuable weapon for Gordon, but right now he struggles with it. It takes a certain touch to be able to float the basketball over the outstretched arm of a defender, and if Gordon can develop that touch, that's another skill that would make Gordon even more dangerous on the offensive end.

Can Eric Gordon take the next step? I think so. Will he be like Tony Parker with his runner? Probably not, but if he is enough of a threat to knock it down, it is another reason why the defense needs to focus on him. With the ball in his hands more and with the defense focusing on him more, that will only help him become a better passer as well.

Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Sebastian by clicking here or click here to see Sebastian's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
Redrafting the NBA (09/08)
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Premium Article Taking the Next Step (09/02)
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Premium Article Taking the Next Step (09/16)
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Premium Article Rating the Rankings (09/09)

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