While much of the blame for the Rockets’ struggles earlier this season fell on Daryl Morey for his budgeted roster construction, perhaps the biggest reason for the Rockets’ discouraging start was the underwhelming play of Eric Gordon.
Sure, more than half the roster began the season a little flat, but Gordon looked like a shell of himself. As everyone else’s poor percentages came back to earth around Christmas, Gordon continued to score at his lowest rate in years on career-worst splits of 30 percent from the field and 38 percent from three. It didn’t take a trained eye to see the 30-year old’s inevitable decline was setting in.
However, while the Rockets’ season changed in early December when James Harden morphed into a one-man army, Gordon’s turned in late December when a right knee contusion caused him to sit seven straight games leading into 2019. To that point, Gordon had accrued numerous minor injuries and fought through them, even telling Fox 26’s Mark Berman “I know if I’m able to run, I don’t care how much pain I have, I’m gonna play”, so the extended rest likely benefited various areas besides his right knee.
Since that absence, Gordon has looked revitalized, averaging 18 points per game on 44 percent from the field and 39 percent from three. His shooting during the recent nine-game winning streak was arguably the best of his Houston tenure, peaking in the last five games where he shot 51 percent from three on over five makes per game. If the Rockets want to reach their ceiling, this is the Eric Gordon they need.
So other than the much-needed time off, what’s behind Gordon’s resurgence?
Well, Gordon recently told the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen “more shots and more touches” are behind his improvement, however, while the team is running some clever actions for him, Gordon’s shots have actually been reduced slightly in 2019.
In actuality, Gordon is just making the game easier for himself lately by making quicker decisions, allowing others to create for him more, and taking better shots.
Since the turn of the calendar, the percentage of field goal attempts where Gordon had possession for longer than 2 seconds has dropped 12 percent, while the percentage of his field goal attempts coming from catch and shoot situations has risen 10 percent (each of those improvements doubled during the nine-game win streak). That simplification of the game has coincided with a noticeable drop in shots from floater range (3-10 feet) and a drastic increase in three-point rate, creating a far more efficient shot profile for Gordon.
All in all, regardless of the cause, Gordon is settling into quite the groove at the perfect time.
In other news, Eric Gordon just hit 35 corner threes in a row.— Kelly Iko (@KellyIkoNBA) March 7, 2019
When Gordon is on his game, effortlessly making 26 footers and decisively attacking closeouts, he is the multiplier that takes the Rockets from one of the best offenses in the league to one of the best offenses in NBA history.
“When he plays like that, we’re on another level,” Harden told Jonathan Feigen recently.
If this Gordon is the one the Rockets get for the stretch run, the vacant seat opposite Golden State in any projected Western Conference final just became reserved.