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.”
Anthony Davis Breaks All-Star Scoring Record, Wins MVP
Pelicans star Anthony Davis openly proclaimed ahead of Sunday’s All-Star Game that he was going after the MVP award, and he didn’t make his master plan on how to do so much of a secret.
“Coach [Alvin] Gentry already told me every time I catch it to put it up,” said Davis upon being selected to his fourth straight spot on the Western Conference team. Davis took an All-Star record 39 shots and scored 52 points to lead the West over the East at the 66th All-Star Game, 192-182 — the highest-scoring game in league history. The 23-year-old’s point total smashed the previous record of 42, set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1962.
Source: Justin Verrier of ESPN
2017 NBA All-Star Sunday Recap
A breakdown of the final day of 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend.
Coming in to the 2017 NBA All-Star game, the biggest storyline was Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as teammates again for one night. But it was hometown hero Anthony Davis who stole the show.
The Pelicans star scored a game-high 52 points, breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star record of 42 points, as the Western Conference pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 192-182 win. A four time All-Star, Davis shot 26-for-39 from the field and grabbed 10 rebounds as he took home his first All-Star MVP award.
It was also the third consecutive win for the West, who have now won six of the last seven matchups, as well as the highest scoring All-Star game in NBA history.
Westbrook and Durant did end up having a moment together in the first quarter, when Westbrook passed the ball ahead to Durant in the post, and Durant threw it right back to him for an alley-oop dunk. The play got their Western Conference teammates up off the bench, and they broke into a round of applause during a timeout.
After a back and forth affair for much of the night, the West was able to create separation in the fourth quarter as Davis and Westbrook took over. Davis threw down several thunderous dunks and Westbrook, who scored 41 points of his own, added a few deep threes. He shot 16-for-26 from the field, pulled down five rebounds, and dished out seven assists.
Durant had only the fourth triple double in All-Star history with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists.
The East was led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 30 points on 14-for-17 shooting in his All-Star debut. He dazzled the crowd throughout the game with athletic, high flying dunks. Cavalier teammates Lebron James and Kyrie Irving added 23 and 22 points, respectively. Irving also dished out 14 assists.
Other players making All-Star appearances for the first time were Gordon Hayward and DeAndre Jordan for the West, and Kemba Walker for the East. Hayward finished with eight points, two assists, and tied John Wall with a game high four steals. Jordan had six points, two assists, and three rebounds. Walker had seven points and six assists.
In all, it was a very entertaining game and made up for the somewhat lackluster Saturday night.
All-Star Weekend 2018 will be held in Los Angeles.
2017 NBA All-Star Saturday Recap
Basketball Insiders recaps All-Star Saturday night from New Orleans
Another year, another great All-Star Saturday night. Packed with excitement throughout, it was a great time for the players, spectators and those watching at home.
Taco Bell Skills Challenge
The Skills Challenge started off with the two guard matchups, pitting Gordon Hayward and Isaiah Thomas against John Wall and Devin Booker, respectively. Hayward ultimately came out on top against Wall, while Thomas cruised by Devin Booker into the semifinals.
On the big man side of the bracket, DeMarcus Cousins matched up with Kristaps Porzingis while Nikola Jokić went up against New Orleans’ own Anthony Davis. Cousins lost out to Porzingis when he was unable to hit the three-point jumper to end the round, while Jokić came from behind to beat Davis.
In the semifinals, Hayward squeaked by Thomas while Porzingis, who flew out to an early lead, barely managed to beat Jokić to the three-pointer.
Hayward and Porzingis matched up in the best round of the event. Both men hustled up and down the floor, making their first pass and layup at the exact same time. Porzingis emerged victorious, though, after knocking down his first three-pointer. The event ended with him being rushed on the court by Cousins, Davis and Jokić and taking home the Taco Bell Skills Challenge trophy for the big men—for the second straight year.
JBL Three-Point Contest
The three-point contest kicked off with Kemba Walker—who started off cold but salvaged the round by hitting four of five money balls in his final rack—finishing with 19 points. Kyrie Irving followed, upping Walker’s score by 1. Wesley Matthews looked like a deer in the headlights, making eight of 25 shots and scoring only 11 points en route to a first round exit.
Next, Eric Gordon came out scorching, sinking 18 three-pointers and scoring 25 points—the highest score in the first round. Nick Young, C.J. McCollum and Kyle Lowry joined Matthews on the sideline, scoring 18, 10 and nine points, respectively. Reigning champion Klay Thompson made a quick and surprising exit from the contest as well, as he managed to score 18 points. That score, while respectable, left him one shy of advancing, meaning that Walker, Irving and Gordon would advance to the next round.
Walker started off the final round by scoring 17 points, losing out to Irving and Gordon, who each turned in 20 points and, as a result, entered into an overtime shoot-off for the title. Ultimately, Gordon was crowned champion and handed the JBL Three-Point Contest trophy, besting Kyrie’s 18 points with 21 of his own.
Following a touching tribute video to the late Craig Sager, TNT’s Ernie Johnson announced that Gordon, Irving and Walker, along with a few surprise guests including Reggie Miller, James Harden and DeMar DeRozan, were given one minute to shoot as many three-pointers as possible. Each converted three-pointer, Johnson announced, would result in a $10,000 donation to the Sager Strong Foundation. Following some half-court attempts from Stephen Curry and a Shaquille O’Neal assisted layup from Sager’s son, Ryan, the donation amount eventually came to a total of $500,000.
Verizon Slam Dunk Contest
Other than Sager’s tribute, the Slam Dunk Contest was the most exciting event of the night. Pitting dunking aficionados DeAndre Jordan and Aaron Gordon against relatively unknown names in Derrick Jones Jr. and Glenn Robinson III, the contest was absolutely packed with energy and excitement.
To start off, Jordan managed to leap over a DJ table with DJ Khaled, who was holding the ball that Jordan grabbed and flushed. The dunk scored a 41 with the judges. Glenn Robinson III followed up Jordan’s dunk with an amazing one of his own, jumping over the equivalent of one-and-a-half men—one sat on the other’s shoulders. He performed the dunk while pumping the ball between his legs and flushing it through the hoop for a perfect score of 50. Derrick Jones Jr., who hurdled four people before throwing it down, earned 45 points.
Next was one of (if not the) craziest dunk attempts in the contest’s existence. Aaron Gordon, who tipped everyone off that one of his attempts would use modern technology, was aided by a flying drone. Gordon had the drone hold the ball about 15 feet off the ground. The plan was for the drone to release the ball and for Gordon to catch it on a bounce and dunk it. He managed to grab the bouncing ball and bring it between his legs before the dunk, but it took Gordon four attempts to successfully complete the dunk. He ended up with a low score of 38.
On his second dunk, Gordon scored a measly 34 points, giving him a total of 72. He failed at all four of his attempts and was eliminated. Next, Jordan turned 180 degrees before bringing the ball between his legs and through the hoop for a score of 43 points, giving him a total of 84. Robinson III sent Jordan packing, though, after he pulled a dunk straight out of the history books, dabbing before putting it through the hoop, à la Dee Brown in the 1991 contest. Robinson III scored 41 points on the dunk, giving him a total of 91. Jones Jr. then managed one of the best dunks of the night, taking it off a bounce off the side of the backboard and through his legs, stuffing it for a perfect score and a total of 95.
In the final round, Robinson III started off by leaping over teammate Paul George and windmilling the ball into the basket on his second attempt for a score of 44 points. Jones followed up with his worst effort of the night, failing to make any of his attempts and earning a score of 37 from the judges. However, Jones came back with a perfect score on his next dunk, taking the ball through his legs off the bounce and flushing it with authority. That gave him a total of 87 points. Robinson III matched Jones Jr.’s perfect score with one of his own, again jumping over George as well as two others, pumping it between his legs and throwing it down behind his head for a final score of 94. Robinson III walked away victorious and with the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest trophy.
The 2017 All-Star Saturday, gripping from start to finish, will go down as one of the better in recent memory.
Here’s hoping Sunday’s game is as good if not better.