How Houston Can Adjust Without Gordon


In the wake of Eric Gordon’s best game of the season so far (which, frankly, isn’t saying much), Shams Charania reported that he needs knee surgery. Gordon will undergo the procedure tomorrow morning.

The Rockets will drift into the difficult part of their schedule without their sixth man.

An Ugly Start to the Year

It is unclear how much the knee injury specifically has been affecting Gordon, but apparently it’s been bugging him for awhile:

For our sake, let’s hope that the knee was the only issue.

Gordon has had an absolutely disastrous start to the year. He is shooting a paltry 28.4% from three-point range and a career-worst 30.9% from the field. He has looked simultaneously lost and out of control on offense, and has been, statistically, one of the least effective defenders in the league. On this graph charting every single player’s TPA, you’ll find Gordon in the bottom left hand corner. On the bright side, he’s been a better defender than acclaimed Warriors all-star guard Jordan Poole.

Coming into the season, Coach D’Antoni’s strategy was to rotate his guard lineup regularly. Ideally, a combination of at least two of James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Eric Gordon would be on the floor at all times. This way, defenses would have to constantly combat against multiple ball handlers. While D’Antoni has stuck to this strategy, Gordon’s ineffectiveness has caused major issues. The Rockets’ starting unit has a net rating of 21.8; when they replace Westbrook with Gordon in that same lineup, though, the rating drops down to -22.8.

The Rockets may stand tied for third in the West at 7-3, but they have had a relatively easy schedule thus far. It only gets tougher from here.

The Road Ahead

Despite Gordon’s recent struggles, he has played a key role for the Rockets for the last four seasons. He’s typically one of the best three point shooters in the league, and a capable defender. The Rockets are ultimately far better off with him if they want to remain legitimate contenders. While the knee surgery will hopefully help him in the long run, the Rockets would’ve likely preferred to have given him more early-season reps to get his confidence back up. Moving forward, then, they will have to rely on others to step up in his stead. The Rockets’ starting unit is pretty firmly set, but they are already playing far too many minutes. With Gordon gone, D’Antoni will be forced to open up his rotation and give some role players a chance.

Rotational Changes

The most likely candidates for extended minutes are Ben McLemore and Austin Rivers. Both have received sporadic minutes thus far, but should get a boost in playing time to fill the void on the wing. Rivers specifically brings added ball handling value. I’d expect to see him as the first man off the bench to play alongside Harden. D’Antoni may also choose to go with rookie Chris Clemons. Clemons plays with high energy, and can be a good spark off the bench. He hasn’t played much this season, but showed out in Summer League and had a 16-point outing against the Heat last week.

Above all else, though, Harden and Westbrook will likely pick up most of the slack. Harden is already averaging a shocking 14.1 three-point attempts per game, and that number will now only increase. He’s shown in the past that he’s capable of picking up the load during the regular season, but the Rockets must be careful not to over work him.

Coming up, the Rockets have a schedule that includes two games against the Clippers and trips to Minnesota and Denver. There will not be much let up for them. They will lean more heavily on Harden and Westbrook, yes, but they will also need a greater collective output with Gordon gone. Even though he hasn’t added much for them this season on a statistical level, he still draws defenders to the perimeter. With less-established shooters on the court now, defenses may be able to stay back and clog up driving lanes more. His absence will certainly be felt.

In the meantime, though, let’s hope for a healthy recovery and a return to the court soon!

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About Zach Zola

Zach Zola is a student at Brown University studying English. He grew up in New York, but has been a die-hard Rockets fan since the days of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. He believes that James Harden is the only King James in the NBA.

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