After embracing a role change entering the 2016-17 NBA season, Eric Gordon has thrived as a super sixth man for the Houston Rockets
The NBA is a league of opportunity. If you’re lucky enough you might get a chance to showcase your skillset, but if not, you’ll probably end up playing in China or elsewhere. That’s just the nature of the beast.
Some guys will get a chance to shine, while others might have to wait their whole career only to still not get one. James Johnson is a perfect example of how an opportunity can allow you to show showcase your full array of skills.
In Toronto, Dwane Casey used him as a versatile defender off the bench, but besides that, he really didn’t allow him to do much else. But now in Miami, Eric Spoelstra is just letting him be himself. So now with the Heat he’s looked like a completely different player, despite the fact that he could always play like this, it was just about finding a coach that would allow him to do so.
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And Eric Gordon is another prime example that. In New Orleans, with all the coaching changes, losing seasons and an insane amount of bad luck (key players seemed to get injured year after year) it just wasn’t a good fit for him. But don’t just take my word for it, he even said so himself.
"[via NOLA.com]“There was a little bit of dysfunction,” Gordon said. “My role changed a lot. If I would have had the same freedom that I had (in Houston), it would have been a different result. It’s always been a little dysfunctional, not just for me… everybody.”"
There was just way too many things going on in New Orleans at that time, and overall it just wasn’t a good fit for him. Evidence of that has been his play this season. Besides winning the three-point competition, his best accolades on the year have actually come on the hardwood.
On the season, Eric Gordon is averaging 17.2 points per game, 2.7 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 30 minutes of play. He’s also tied (with James Harden) for second in the league in three-point makes, hitting 192 triples through 54 games on the season. Of course, Stephen Curry is first. With 231.
However, it probably also helps some that he get’s to play off of James Harden. While all the defensive attention gets focused on him, Gordon does a great job finding openings in the defense in order to get off great looks at the basket.
But it might also help that he has the perfect head coach. Mike D’Antoni is an offensive minded genius that does a fantastic job putting his players in a position to succeed. If you don’t believe me, just look at his old Phoenix Suns teams, and now the Houston Rockets as well.
With both rosters, he’s done a great job putting the “others” (non star players) in successful positions. Whether we’re talking about Raja Bell and Shawn Marion on the Phoenix Suns, or Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley now on the Rockets, D’Antoni is just a savant on the offensive end of the floor.
He understands players’ strengths and weaknesses, and then for there he figures out which ways to best utilize their skills. This year Eric Gordon has probably been the biggest recipient of his coaches’ new offensive schemes. Instead of just standing around out on the perimeter and waiting for the ball, Gordon is being better utilized by Mike D’Antoni, who’s allowing him be a shot creator instead of just a spot up jump shooter.
That has really been a key catalyst in allowing Eric Gordon’s play to skyrocket this year, because he’s no longer thinking, and instead he’s just going out there and playing basketball. And if you ask him, it also seems to be the happiest he’s been in sometime.
"[via NOLA.com]“It was my decision to go to Houston,” Gordon said. “I just think Houston is a great fit for me. They turned me into a major playmaker for this team and give me the leeway to do whatever I want on the court.”"
In Houston he’s really started to play like the guy New Orleans thought they were signing to a maximum contract. Whether that’s because he’s finally injury free, in a new environment or taking on a bigger role. Whatever the case may be Eric Gordon has finally started live up to the expectations that were thrust upon him earlier on in his career.
But can he continue to play like this?
When looking at his overall talent, the answers obvious. But Eric Gordon doesn’t always tend to play like this. Sometimes he can revert back to his old ways. A prime example of that was in Houston’s last matchup with the Golden State Warriors. Gordon went 2-14 from the field and 0-7 from deep. That’s a field goal percentage of just 14.3%, that isn’t going to earn you many wins, especially against an elite team like Golden State.
Now that was just one example, but come playoff time the Rockets can’t have that from him. Besides James Harden the team really doesn’t have another reliable second option. It’s either Eric Gordon or Ryan Anderson on most nights, but with Anderson being as streaky as they come, Gordon is going to need to be that reliable second option.
If he can be that, the Houston Rockets might have a chance at making some noise come playoff time, but if he doesn’t, it looks like it might be another early exit for Houston.