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NBA Saturday: Eric Gordon Finding His Stride in New Orleans

After years of fighting through nagging injuries, Eric Gordon seems to be hitting his stride in New Orleans … Just like they do every year, the San Antonio Spurs are playing their best ball when it matters most

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Eric Gordon Finding His Stride in New Orleans

In his first three seasons in the NBA, Eric Gordon established himself as one of the best up and coming shooting guards in the league. Drafted seventh overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2008, Gordon was considered a young building block and a key member of a young core that would eventually include Eric Bledsoe, DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Al-Farouq Aminu.

Gordon’s best season with the Clippers came in 2010-11 when he averaged 22.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game, while shooting 36.4 percent from three-point range. The Clippers went 32-50 that season, missing the playoffs for the fifth season in a row. However, the future was bright for a team that had a roster composed of up-and-coming young players, effective veterans like Chris Kaman and Mo Williams and a valuable 2012 first-round draft pick from the Minnesota Timberwolves (that was expected to land in the top-10 that year).

Things changed quickly for that Clippers team, however, when Chris Paul suddenly demanded that the then-New Orleans Hornets (renamed the Pelicans after the 2012-13 season) trade him. Of course, everyone remembers that situation because of former NBA Commissioner David Stern’s decision to invalidate the Los Angeles Lakers’ trade for Paul, citing “basketball reasons” as the justification. The Clippers benefited from the invalidated trade and landed Paul in a deal that has led to three straight playoff appearances for Los Angeles (and almost certainly a fourth straight appearance this year).

What is less remembered about that trade is the intense negotiations between the Clippers and Hornets over Eric Gordon. Coming off his best season, Gordon was the key piece to landing Paul. Former Clippers general manager Neil Olshey, after initially resisting, finally gave in and included Gordon in the deal, opting to hold onto Eric Bledsoe.

Gordon was the major acquisition for New Orleans and it looked early on like he would be a difference maker for the Hornets. In his first game with the Hornets, Gordon contributed 20 points, four rebounds and three assists and hit the game-winning shot against the Phoenix Suns with 4.2 second left on the game-clock. However, it was shortly thereafter revealed that Gordon has aggravated a pre-existing knee injury, which would eventually require surgery. Dealing with the knee surgery and a recurring wrist injury, Gordon managed to play in only nine games in his first season with the Hornets.

Following the 2011-12 season, Gordon (as a restricted free agent) signed a max-offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns for four-years, $58 million. Gordon made it clear that he did not want the Hornets to match the offer, stating at the time that “Phoenix is just where my heart is now.”

The Hornets’ front office was not deterred and matched Phoenix’s offer, looking to pair Gordon with recently drafted rookies Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers (Rivers was selected with the Timberwolves’ first-round pick, which was traded to the Hornets in the Paul deal). Unfortunately, Gordon has continued to struggle with multiple injuries since signing the offer sheet three years ago, missing a total of 79 games, including 21 this season. Gordon has seen his per game averages decline in each season since 2010-11.

Gordon had up until very recently been written off as ever becoming a top shooting guard moving forward. Most people would agree that when healthy, Gordon could be one of the best shooting guards in the league, but he was seemingly never healthy, so it was a moot argument.

Well, Gordon is now healthier than he has been in some time and his recent play is reminding fans and analysts why he was so highly coveted just a few seasons ago. On the season, Gordon is connecting on a scorching 46.1 percent of his three-point attempts, second only to Kyle Korver, who is having a historically great season shooting the ball (50.4 percent from beyond-the-arc).

“It’s his health,” Pelicans assistant coach Fred Vinson said recently. “Just being healthy, it means that his body is in balance. His shooting mechanics are on balance. He’s able to move fluidly, get to a spot, get his feet set and get his balance. Then, having the strength and the power from his legs. That’s a huge part of shooting, particularly from long range. With how deep the three-point line is in the NBA, there is less room for error. You’ve really got to be on-balance, and have the leg strength to get the ball there, so that you’re not shooting the ball just with your upper body.

“What helps is he’s getting the reps up, because he’s healthy now,” Vinson added. “He’s more apt to be in the gym getting up extra shots, as opposed to being in the training room, trying to protect his body and prepare himself to be able to play. Now that he’s healthy, he can get out on the court early before shootaround, or get extra shots in after practice. He’s able to say, ‘OK, I feel good, I can get those extra shots up.’ His health has been huge.”

The improved health is paying off for Gordon and the Pelicans. Over his last 14 games, Gordon is averaging 15.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and one steal per game while shooting 51.1 percent from three-point range. Over that same 14-game period, the Pelicans have won nine games. The Pelicans have scored 106.4 points per 100 possessions (fourth) and held opponents to 103.5 points per 100 possessions (22nd). While the defense has not been great, keep in mind that over this same stretch, Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson have each missed all, or several of these fourteen games.

The numerous injuries to key players is exactly why Gordon’s contributions are so important. The Pelicans are in a tight race with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the eighth and final playoff spot in the stacked Western Conference. Winners of eight of their last 10 games, the Pelicans are currently tied with the Thunder for the eighth seed.

For whatever reason, it never seemed like Gordon was fully invested with the Pelicans. Between signing an offer sheet with the Suns, missing significant time with recurring injuries and clogging up significant cap room with his contract, Gordon didn’t seem like a good fit with the team. However, Gordon is finally healthy, more engaged and appreciates the amount of talent surrounding him.

”Now we got the talent and the guys who are buying into everything that we do and it’s fun to play that way,” Gordon said according to NOLA.com.

It’s been a long road to get to this point for Gordon. Hopefully he maintains his health moving forward and continues to look like the emerging shooting guard from just a few seasons ago.

San Antonio Spurs Rounding Into Form for Postseason

Every year it seems like a large number of people are convinced that the San Antonio Spurs’ championship window has closed. Perhaps there was less doubt surrounding the Spurs this season after they dismantled the Miami HEAT in last year’s NBA Finals. However, injuries to key players and a slow start to the season brought all of the same doubts about this team from previous seasons back.

In what has become an annual event, the Spurs are rounding into postseason form and causing skeptics to question their doubts about this team once again.

The Spurs have won six of their last seven games and are now just a game back of the fifth place Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference standings. Their sole loss came at the hands of the streaking Cleveland Cavaliers and in particular Kyrie Irving, who dropped 57 points in the overtime victory.

Over those seven games, the Spurs have scored a league-leading 113.9 points per 100 possessions and have held opponents to just 99.3 points per 100 possessions (sixth). This is a significant improvement over the Spurs’ season marks of 104.7 points scored per 100 possessions and 100.3 points for opponents.

Arguably the most promising change for the Spurs has come from point guard Tony Parker. Parker has struggled with nagging injuries all season, but seems to have recaptured the burst in his step recently, allowing him to score more at the rim and from midrange. Over his last five games, Parker is averaging 25.8 points and 5.4 assists per game while shooting the ball extremely efficiently from the field. Against the Cavaliers, Parker scored 31 points and, as you can see from the shot chart below, most of his damage came at the rim and right outside the painted area.

Tony Parker Shot Chart

Courtesy of NBA.com/stats

The Spurs still face a lot of competition in the Western Conference and there is no guarantee that they will be able to keep up their recent high-level of play. However, as ESPN analyst Mark Jackson said recently, “I am done counting out the Spurs.” It is probably a good idea that everyone adopt that same approach for this team, which always seems to play its best ball when the postseason comes up.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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