Player to Watch: Eric Gordon
The 2008 draft class ended up having a collectively surprising rookie season. Four players, by my count, had legitimate claims to the Rookie of the Year award. Derrick Rose, the eventual winner, was a consensus pick, but O.J. Mayo led the race much of the year, with Nets center Brook Lopez getting late consideration.
But one other rookie, eventually only an All Rookie second-teamer, deserved dap in the big award discussion: Clippers gunner Eric Gordon. If you're looking for the next underrated, unheralded magnificently efficient scorer in the mold of Kevin Martin and Danny Granger, this is your dude.
By "in the mold of Kevin Martin and Danny Granger," I don't mean "in the style of." Because Gordon is different -- he's not as likely to draw fouls as Martin, and he's not as big as Granger. Gordon is an undersized two-guard, a factor that kept him from being selected by a couple teams who picked higher than the Clips. But he's pure two-guard. (And you thought only point guard could be pure! Ha!)
He has been compared to Mitch Richmond -- a physical slasher who can bomb from across oceans. Gordon's a surprisingly athletic player given his college reputation and deceiving physique. But, of course, while Richmond was surprisingly athletic, everyone remembers him for his jumper. His deadly, filthy jumper.
And that's Gordon. When he pulls up from 28 feet, it looks perfect. Every time.
I took a look at the stacked 2008 rookie class to find out where Gordon rated in terms of efficiency and usage, which are the two factors of scoring prowess. Converting a higher percentage of your shots is important (there's efficiency -- I use True Shooting percentage, which is just points per shot attempt halved) as is being able to create shots (I use usage rate, which is the percentage of team possessions used by a player when he's on the court, with the idea that if a team were completely egalitarian, everyone's usage rate would be 20%).
I wanted to find out which rookies scored at an efficiency level better than the league's average. I also wanted to separate out the high-usage rookies (like Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo) from the low-usage rookies. After all, if you score at a hyperefficient conversion rate, but you never take shots, you're just Erick Dampier or Fred Hoiberg.
So where does Gordon end up?
You'll find Gordon in the Double Awesome quadrant, where high usage and high efficiency combine to form Double Awesomeness. Gordon is one of only four rookies last season who scored at a rate more efficient than league average while using at least 19% of his team's possessions while on the court. The others were Greg Oden (more efficient than Gordon but barely meeting the usage threshold), Brook Lopez (less efficient and prolific than Gordon) and D.J. Augustin, who actually rivals Gordon in this study by scoring slightly more efficiently on a slightly smaller share of possessions.
Notice where the more heralded rookies fall: Mayo was less efficient than the league as a whole, despite taking up so many possessions. Ditto for Beasley. Russell Westbrook had the distinction of being rather inefficient while taking up a bunch of possessions; call it the "Modern McGrady" role (though Westbrook is an insane defender). Rose, unmarked, susses out in the high usage/less efficient pack. Donte Greene was terrible.
If Los Angeles plans on building its future on Gordon and rookie Blake Griffin (who projects as another high-usage, high-efficiency player), it will be in good offensive shape. Before that future, of course, Gordon and Griffin might not get the opportunities they deserve. Baron Davis would be Culprit No. 1 here, but don't forget for a second how truly inefficient Al Thornton has been, too. If Gordon eventually gets freed to up his usage while maintaining or improving his efficiency, he'll be a All-Star before his career ends.
Not bad for an undersized two-guard.