Projecting the Return of Eric Gordon
In a two-part series by Michael McNamara and Mason Ginsberg, we take a look at how Eric Gordon’s return could impact both individually players and the team as a whole. Part One focuses on his impact on the offensive end, while Part Two will dive into the impact he could have on the defensive end.
Theory- Greivis Vasquez will thrive playing off the ball and could even play some small forward
Gordon likes having the ball in isolation and pick and roll situations. Therefore, when he is on the court with Vasquez, we can anticipate that Vasquez will spend more time off the ball, either spotting up or looking for backdoor cut opportunities. In addition, we have also seen Monty go to a three-guard lineup several times this season due to his lack of acceptable options at small forward. When Gordon returns, Monty will still have to find minutes for Rivers, and when Rivers, Gordon, and Vasquez play together, Greivis will be the one asked to play the three.
What the Numbers Say
In the nine games we got to see Eric Gordon last season, his isolation and P&R numbers were through the roof. He shot 48% on isolation plays, scoring nearly a point per possession, good for 18th in the league in those scenarios. In pick and roll situations he was elite, scoring over 1.2 points per possession, which was the best in the entire league. He shot nearly 56% when he took the shot coming off the pick and roll, shot 40% from three, only turned it over 8.5% of the time, and got ‘And 1′s’ once per seven attempts. Downright amazing.
Now let’s compare that to what we have seen from Vasquez this season. In isolation situations, Vasquez is nearly as efficient as Gordon, shooting 45% from the field (46% from three) and is scoring slightly over 0.9 points per possession. The big difference between the two comes in the pick and roll game where Vasquez is getting 44% of his shots despite only shooting 37% and scoring 0.6 points per possession- half of what Gordon scores in similar situations. Now compare that to his spot-up shooting numbers, where he is averaging over 1.1 points per possession and you can see that Vasquez is more efficient in that role. Backdoor cuts are another source of efficient offense, as he is getting 1.33 points per shot in those situations.
As for Vasquez playing more small forward, it should lead to some pretty lethal offense, but will cause Monty headaches defensively. So far this season, Vasquez has played about 10% of his minutes at the three and has posted a PER of over 17 during those minutes. His effective field goal percentage is much higher when he is on the court in a three guard lineup (50%) and his turnover percentage is at its lowest. Not surprisingly, however, the Hornets are also getting torched defensively when Vasquez is the biggest wing player on the court, giving up nearly 120 points per 100 possessions.
How it Affects the Hornets
Right now, 70% of Vasquez’s offense comes in pick and roll situations, isolations, or spot-up opportunities. He is incredibly efficient in the latter two, but because he is the only true point guard on this team, the majority of his shots come out of the pick and roll, where he is the least efficient. If we can assume that he will still get 70% of his shots in these situations, but Gordon’s presence will reduce his pick and roll’s to 20% of his offense and increase isolations, cuts, and spot-ups, then the numbers say that Vasquez’s shooting percentages and points per shot should skyrocket. Right now, he is shooting 41% overall, but in the scenario where his pick and roll offense is cut in half and he replaces it with spot-up offense, he would project as a 45% shooter. So far, two-thirds of his spot-up attempts have been three’s, while only 10% of his P&R’s have resulted in threes. Meaning, that Vasquez could take two less shots per game and still maintain that same twelve points per game scoring average.
By taking away roughly 8 pick and roll opportunities per game and giving them to Eric Gordon, the numbers say that this will result in nearly five more points per game. The biggest effect will be felt with regard to three-point plays, either the traditional way (‘And-1) or via shots behind the arc. Currently, only 3% of possessions end in a three-point play when the Hornets ballhandler is in the pick and roll, but this is the situation where Gordon actually shoots best from behind the arc (40%). On over 20% of possessions when Eric Gordon shot as the pick and roll ballhandler last season, the play produced three points.
When you put it all together- more spot-ups for Vasquez, with the P&R’s going to Gordon, the Hornets would project to score an additional 11 points per 100 possessions if the numbers carry over. That would put them at nearly 114 per 100 possessions with Gordon on the court, which would put them slightly ahead of OKC for 1st in the NBA, which sounds crazy. That is until you consider that the Hornets posted an Offensive Rating last season of 112.4 in those minutes that Eric Gordon was on the floor. Combine that with the possibility of Vasquez, and not Aminu or Ariza, playing the three and you have all the makings for one of the best offenses in the entire NBA. Even if you assume that the Hornets will play as poor with Gordon off the court as they did last year (101 pts per 100) for the twelve minutes he sits, that still puts them around 111 points per 100 possessions, which is 8.4 points better than they are averaging now and would project to them having a +.500 record even if their defense continues to be as bad as it is currently, which it won’t be.
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