Last July, I argued that the Houston Rockets were right to gamble on Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson in free agency. The Rockets were coming off of a very disappointing season and were in need of an infusion of talent. Gordon and Anderson are both talented players, but each has struggled with significant injury issues over the last few years. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey was not deterred by this and signed both players to multi-year contracts.
We have reached All-Star Weekend and the NBA trade deadline is just days away, which means the playoffs are not too far away. At this point, the Rockets are 40-18 and have been one of the most surprising teams this season. They currently hold the third seed out west, trailing only the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs in the standings.
Part of the Rockets’ resurgence this season is attributable to Dwight Howard’s departure (which seemingly improved the team’s chemistry), James Harden becoming a nightly triple-double threat as the team’s de facto point guard, Mike D’Antoni coming in and encouraging his players to shoot early and often, as well as the durability and consistency of players like Anderson and Gordon.
This season, Gordon is averaging 17.2 points, 2.8 assists and 2.7 rebounds while shooting 41.8 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from beyond the arc in 52 games. He has taken on a sixth man role (something he had never been asked to do previously) for the team and has thrived within Houston’s free-flowing style of play.
“In my mind, I’ve always questioned it, but the thing is he’s a great communicator,” Gordon said when asked about Coach D’Antoni asking him to come off the bench. “You’ve got to do whatever it takes to win. Of course, I was going to try it. I just felt comfortable doing it. James [Harden] with the first unit, he does whatever he wants. With the second unit, the same with me, I do whatever I want.”
That freedom has put Gordon in a position to make a consistent impact in just 30.5 minutes per game (which is below his career average of 32.9 minutes). Gordon is putting up pretty efficient numbers, averaging 20.3 points, 3.3 assists and 3.2 rebounds per 36 minutes. These numbers are on par with his numbers from four year ago (arguably his best season in New Orleans) and close to his level of production from his third season in the NBA, when it looked like he would develop into one of the best shooting guards in the league as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Many years removed from those days, Gordon is embracing a smaller, but no less important role with the Rockets.
“As the sixth man, usually you don’t play as many minutes as most of the starters do and most of the guys who are starters, all five guys have been significant in their career and also have been stable in what they’re doing and bench guys are all about energy and doing what you can while you’re out there, so I just want to make a major impact anytime I’m on the floor,” Gordon said.
Health has always been the major issue with Gordon. Between several lower body injuries, Gordon has only played in 65 games or more in a single season four times throughout his nine-year NBA career. Gordon has missed just six games this season and seems more comfortable on the court than he has in recent years, which is a result of more than just good health.
“Change of scenery is always good,” Gordon said. “It was my decision to go to Houston. Houston is a great fit for me. They turned me into a major playmaker for this team and have given me the freedom to do what I want to on the court.
“It was a little bit dysfunctional. My role changed a lot [in New Orleans]. If I had the same freedom that I have [in Houston], it would have been a different result. It’s always been a little dysfunctional. Not just for me, for everybody. That’s something I wasn’t expecting when I first got here, got to New Orleans. Things happen, and you move on.”
Gordon has moved on, and credits D’Antoni and his new teammates for helping him be successful so far in Houston.
“I would say if anything, more freedom. I’ve been more of a playmaker for this team, I have the ball in my hands a lot more. And it’s all about the freedom and teammates looking for you at all times.”
The question moving forward is whether the Rockets, with the help of Gordon, can make a deep postseason run and give teams like the Spurs and Warriors a run for their money.
“Well yeah, [the Warriors] play the same style we do, go up and down,” Gordon said about matching up with Golden State. “Today, it’s all about how you play defense. Yeah, people kind of criticize the three-point shot, but those are the most open shots in the game, so it’s either layups of three-point shots. It’s all about who makes the most and who plays really good defense.
“I just think we match up with them well. We can play small ball like they can. We have enough size where we can play big, so I think it’ll be a great matchup.”
For now, Gordon is focused on putting together a good show at the Three-Point Contest, where he will face last year’s winner, Klay Thompson. When asked how he felt about his chances, Gordon refrained from predicting a win and simply noted that Thompson has the skill and experience to do well.
“It’ll be fun,” Gordon said about competing in the Three-Point Contest. “[Klay Thompson] has won it and he’s been in three-point contests a couple of times. He’s used to it and, of course, everyone wants to be the three-point champ.”
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