My next player I'm taking a look at in this series is a long shot for us at #11: Eric Gordon from Indiana University.
Like most players in this draft class, opinions are mixed on Eric, a local product from Indianapolis North Central High School. I've followed his career from early on in his high school days, and saw him play several times at the high school and college level, both in person and on television.
Gordon is an undersized 2 guard with exceptional scoring abilities and strengths, but his game also has a few flaws. He is competing with Bayless from Arizona and O.J. Mayo from USC for the first smaller shooting guard/wing type taken in this draft.
I like Gordon very much, much more than it seems my fellow Hoosier natives and IU fans do. So far, it seems like many of the NBA experts consider that he will be picked somewhere between 5 and 10, but I have seen a few mock drafts with him going at 11. Trading up for Gordon is a gamble that many teams in the 10-16 range in the draft are going to be discussing for a while I think.
Gordon has a great deal to offer the Pacers or any other team that drafts him, but he carries a significant risk as well. Offensively, Gordon has some awesome assets, with a few noticable flaws. I see his 2 major offensive weaknesses as being very correctable with proper coaching. If I am right about them being correctable, then Gordon can be an all star level player eventually. If they can't be corrected, he won't be in the league past his rookie contract. Before I explain his offensive advantages, let me talk about his weaknesses as I see them.
First, as a ballhandler, Gordon dribbles the ball way too casually in traffic. For whatever reason, he bounces the ball entirely too high off the ground, and too far away from his body. This enables defenders to "dig" at him too easily in the paint, which in turn makes him lose some balance and miss shots he should make some of the time. Simply by teaching Gordon to dribble the ball lower to the ground will improve him in numerous ways, including helping his court vision (Eric is not a great distributor, because he has to watch the basketball itself instead of the defense to keep control of it) and his ability to regain balance and make shots. Gordon often takes good shots that APPEAR to be bad decisions not because they are, but because he gets knocked off balance too easily. This can be largely fixed by improving his handling of the ball on the dribble and off ball screens. Gordon just needs to bend his knees more and play lower to the ground when he is handling the ball.
Secondly, and this is his biggest flaw by far, Gordon is an extremely poor cutter away from the ball. Not in effort, but in technique. For a lottery type player and potential great scorer at the NBA level, Gordon is one of the worst cutters off of screens I've ever watched. Almost any cutting flaw a player could have, Gordon has it.
Gordon stares at the ball when coming off of a cut, instead of reading his man. This problem lets his defender know where he is likely to go, and beat him to spots too often. It also means that Eric is illiterate when coming off screens.....he doesnt "read" screens well at all, because he isn't looking to!
By staring at the ball, Gordon also as a cutter faces the direction he is going to cut to. This causes him to not fake well before he cuts, and also to take off too soon before screens get to him. This is a major issue, but most likely is correctable at the next level. At least, I hope it is, or Gordon will be a bust for the team that drafts him.
My analysis and experience tells me that Gordon has always had so many advantages athletically, that he hasn't learned the nuances of how to play yet to the most of his ability. His high school coach, Doug Mitchell, had to rely on Gordon to handle the ball too much for my taste, and this year at IU was a basketball teaching disaster. By being such a superior athlete, Gordon has not had to learn the subtleties of how to get open, how to set people up before a screen comes, etc etc.
Can he learn these fundamentals with the right coaching staff and with the right type of players mentoring him? My guess is yes, but it is far from a sure thing. My experience tells me that some players can learn nuances later in their careers, while others will never grasp them. Gordon's private workouts for teams will tell alot about him. If you hear his stock is slipping in the middle of June, it will be for the reason that teams have decided he isnt likely to improve in these areas.
Now, Gordon is a superior athlete. Quick, high release, with more range than almost any guard in recent memory. Other players need to develop NBA range, Gordon already has it. Some of the reason he developed it I think is that he is such a poor cutter, that he couldnt get open easily in normal areas of the floor, so to compensate he developed a longer shot. Gordon is a sniper, an assassin, with a scorers mentality when he is on the floor.
Decision making is considered by some a flaw in his game, but I don't see that. I see a kid with correctable flaws in his mechanics, that causes him to look either selfish or taking bad guarded shots, where the real problem isnt an unwillingness to pass or a determination to be a gunner, but it's the lack of teaching that he cannot totalaly overcome yet. I actually think Gordon is a good decision maker overall, and I love his fearlessness and aggression.
I think a big part of his game that is overlooked is defense. Gordon is aggressive, and sometimes his gambling can get him into trouble. But, he has superior quickness, excellent and quick hands, and more than any other advantage a willingness to defend when asked. Gordon is a superior "on the ball" defender, who will get lost sometimes when asked to defend players coming off screens or when he is asked to help alot. Again, his superior quickness can compensate for his off the ball defense to a degree I hope. Since Gordon hasnt been asked to always guard the opponents best player in order to protect him from fouls, this is somewhat of a projection with no real facts, but I think in crucial situations, Gordon will someday be considered an elite on the ball pressure point guard defender. I think he will be inserted into games eventually just because his in your grill pressure will be able to bother opponents, even such quality players like Deron Williams and Tony Parker. Exceptional and tenacious when he puts his mind to it on the ball, and I really like that potential in his game.
However, since Eric can't play the point on offense, itll take some creativity by a staff to match him up defensively. For example, I think Gordon would likely be tortured by Rip Hamilton, but I think he'd give Chauncey Pillups huge problems. Ray Allen could run him ragged, but he could handle an Allen Iverson or Gilbert Arenas better than most in the league.
I like to compare players to other players, as has been a tradition in this series. I've seen comparisons by others about Eric Gordon, such as Chicago's Ben Gordon, or even the old Piston Vinnie Johnson. I see that to a degree but I just think Gordon is much quicker, more athletic, and has more defensive potential than that. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that if Eric's major obvious flaws don't improve, he'll end up being a guy who ends up not being able to cut it at all.
However, since I think Gordon can be taught the things I've mentioned, and because I am rooting for him as a fellow Hoosier and IU fan, I am going to give him a much higher bar to try and rise to. Due to his size limitations, superior shot making ability, and willingness to take and make big shots, and because I think his athleticism will eventually give way to him growing and adding strength and bulk, I'm going to compare Gordon to former great Tim Hardaway. Gordon has a bit more size than Hardaway, but I think they will have similar impacts and careers in the league, along with having similar strengths and weaknesses.
Because of his flaws, weaknesses, youth, and immaturity emotionally, I hope that he doesnt go to a city with a demanding fan base like New York. Since I believe he may struggle mightily until about year 3, a place like New York I think is a terrible fit for him, although I am sure with the New staff in place there he will be a strong consideration for them. If he gets past the Knicks/Bucks area of the draft, I think a team may trade up and gamble on him......could/should we do that? There are arguments to be made either way........just another tough call for Larry Bird and David Morway to make. If a team doesnt like Gordon, and a team like us decides they do, I don't think moving up a few spots will cost as much as you might think this year. The cost may be minimal, but Eric Gordon carries more risk than I think most kids in this draft do.
I will be very interested to see what the opinions are of Eric Gordon around the league, and on this board.
As always, the above is just my opinion.