Eric Gordon: The Perfect Sixth Man

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On July 2nd, 2016, Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news of a four-year, $53 million contract signed between Eric Gordon and the Houston Rockets.  As with most deals over the offseason, the contract was met with criticism from an NBA fan base unaccustomed to the rising salaries under a spiking cap. However, Eric Gordon has fit seamlessly into his role as the Rockets sixth-man. With almost five months to adjust to the new cap climate, how does the contract look now?

Coming off the bench for the first time in his career, Eric Gordon is igniting the Rockets second unit and torching opposition benches by burying threes at an elite rate. Averaging 17.7 points per game, Gordon is knocking down an astounding 3.8 threes, while shooting at a ridiculous 44.5% clip.

The 27-year-old sharp shooter is also proving more than capable of putting the ball on the floor and creating as a secondary playmaker, executing the occasional foray to the rim and finishing with great strength, excellent body control, and soft touch. With his combination of efficient inside-out shooting, Gordon is scoring at an unbelievable 60.3% effective field goal percentage, which would be good for 15th in the league. However, one aspect of Gordons game that’s been undersold is his defense.

Coming across to the Rockets, Gordon had a national reputation as a defensive sieve. Fortunately, prior to the season, we started to hear word from those in the know that he may not be as bad as his reputation suggested. Not only has Gordon been better than advertised on defense, but per D’Antoni, he has been “great” on that end of the floor.

“What you kind of miss is when he comes to us, he’s a great defender. He’s not a good defender – he’s a great defender,” said D’Antoni.

While this may seem like the coach looking to give his player undeserved praise, the evidence suggests that D’Antoni may be onto something; The Rockets defense is 5.2 points per 100 possessions better with Gordon on the floor, and as of yesterday, he is in the 93rd percentile guarding pick and roll ball handlers.

Gordon is extremely strong and has active hands, which allows him pressure the ball and shut down penetration. With his strength, he’s also capable of switching onto bigger opponents and holding his own on the block. Pair that with his success guarding pick and rolls – a staple of most NBA offenses – and you’ve got yourself a handy defensive player.

While Gordon's individual numbers certainly deserve to lauded, his contributions to the team’s success cannot be understated. Since the return of Patrick Beverley, the two have helped lead a struggling bench unit to the sixth best mark in the NBA. In fact, in the last ten games, the Rockets bench has a +9.4 net rating – the fourth best in the league over that stretch!

Gordon's fit alongside Harden has also worked exceptionally well, with the starters plus Gordon recording a +10.9 net rating for the season. Gordons ability to thrive as the shooting guard alongside James Harden has made him a viable long-term option for a Rockets team looking to build around Harden and jump into title contention.

Through the first twenty-two games of the season, it’s almost impossible to dispute Gordons position in the upper echelon of sixth-men. So far, Gordon has played his way to second in points off the bench, and he seems firmly in contention for the sixth man of the year award, alongside Lou Williams and Wilson Chandler.

Based on current form and health permitting, the Rockets appear to have acquired a perennial six man of the year candidate on a team-friendly deal. Compared to contracts for similar (even lesser) players like Jamal Crawford (4 years, $42m), Evan Turner (4 years, $70m) and Jordan Clarkson (4 years, $50m), you could even argue that Gordon is on a below market deal.

Considering the backlash from the deal on July 2nd, it’s crazy to consider that Gordon may have been one of the best signings of the offseason. At 27-years old, his prime aligns perfectly with the Rockets franchise player and his fit alongside other core players like Beverley, Capela and Dekker make him a piece to build around.

At four years, $53 million, the Rockets have locked in a piece that all championship contenders need; a versatile sixth-man that can anchor bench units and close out games with the starters.


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