Eric Gordon's doing what Eric Gordon's always done, just for a better team


eric_gordon_team_usa2.jpgEric Gordon has played quite well as a member of Team USA. Even though he hasn’t been all that consistent (but then again, Durant notwithstanding, who has?), Gordon has been the Americans’ most prolific three-point shooter in the World Championships thus far. He shoots the international three with ease, and with so much attention being paid to Team USA’s creators on the perimeter, Gordon’s shooting savvy has helped him feast on the weak side.

While Gordon was considered by many to be a curious selection on the Team USA roster, this is who he is. Gordon isn’t stepping up. He’s not busting out. He’s playing the same way that he plays in every game of the Los Angeles Clippers’ season, but with the benefit of better teammates.

Gordon’s points per 36 minutes are up a few ticks in the World Championships (from 16.9 in the NBA last season to 20.0 at FIBA this summer), but the discrepancy is easily accounted for. Gordon has seen his shot attempts go up on a per-minute basis, and with Team USA’s frequent opportunities in transition, it’s no wonder that Gordon has been a touch more productive and efficient from the floor.

In terms of skill and production, this isn’t some radically improved Gordon than the one we’ve seen play for the Clippers over the last two season. He’s a physical — if undersized — defender, a three-point threat, and an all-around efficient scorer.

In fact, one could even argue that Team USA hasn’t had the benefit of a fully empowered Gordon. One of the stronger aspects of his NBA game has been suppressed by his role with Team USA: drawing fouls. Gordon isn’t strictly a jump-shooter. He’s able to create contact off the dribble, and had he played a full season last year, the frequency of his free throw attempts would put him just outside the top 20 in that measure. That statistical distinction is otherwise reserved for stars, quasi-stars, and Corey Maggette, which puts Gordon in rather superb offensive company.

With Team USA though, asking Gordon to create off the dribble (even if he’s capable of drawing fouls at a decent rate) doesn’t make all that much sense. The squad is already overflowing with ball-handlers, most of which lack Gordon’s ability to spot-up on the perimeter. That makes Gordon’s role a bit clear-cut, even if he’s a more versatile offensive player than his FIBA performance suggests.

The only jump Gordon has made this summer is in exposure. The Clippers don’t traditionally get much media burn, and their NBA irrelevance over the last two seasons has cast Gordon in the background. He’s still somewhat undervalued on Team USA — even in spite of performances like his 21-point, three-steal outing against Tunisia today — but a national audience is finally learning to appreciate Gordon for all of his basketball talents. It’s about time.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.