Last Word On Basketball

Eric Gordon is the Houston Rockets’ X-Factor

LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES - MARCH 2: Eric Gordon of Houston Rockets is seen during the NBA match between Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets at Staples Center in Los Angeles, United States on March 2, 2017. (Photo by Mintaha Neslihan Eroglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Standing 6’3” and weighing 215 lbs., Eric Gordon is a powerfully built guard. His stocky frame allows him to play a physical brand of basketball even though his stature may be less than ideal for his position, the shooting guard. Sure, if he were a true point guard his height would be great. His size and strength would allow him to move smaller point guards around the way Tim Hardaway used to over twenty years ago. However, it’s because he’s matched up against players two to four inches taller on a nightly basis that his former Clippers’ teammate, Marcus Camby, gave him the nickname “The Hobbit.” Just like the Hobbit, Gordon is undersized yet powerful; if the Houston Rockets are going to win the title, Eric Gordon must come up big when it matters most.

Houston Rockets’ X-Factor Eric Gordon

Another Solid Season for Eric Gordon

In his twelfth season, Gordon is putting up great numbers and contributing to a Houston team that nobody wants to face in the playoffs. Though his points per game might be down a little from last season, it is important to note that he underwent a knee procedure in November that caused him to miss a significant portion of the season.  Gordon has bounced back nicely. A 50 point outburst against the Utah Jazz, in the absence of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, serves as evidence.

After the game he told reporters:

“I feel like I’m getting back to being myself.”

It’s a sentiment shared by coach Mike D’Antoni, who told the Associated Press:

“There will be ups and downs like all the others, but Eric is going to be good. As long as he’s not hurting, he’s going to be good.”

Eric Gordon’s Role on the Team

The role D’Antoni wants Gordon to fill is one played by key players on championship teams of years past. In 1983, the Philadelphia 76ers became the first team in NBA history to only lose one game in the postseason. Most people remember Moses Malone and Julius Erving, however, there was a third player whose scoring prowess and clutch shooting ability earned him an All-Star nod that season and the nickname “The Boston Strangler,” Andrew Toney. Like that Sixers team, the Rockets expect their two superstars to carry the bulk of the load. However, they’re banking on their third option being the difference in close games. An X-factor who’s not afraid to take big shots has proven to be a key component to winning an NBA title. It’s a role the Rockets believe Eric Gordon is ready to play for them this season.

Why This Year is Different

Fans may be asking “Didn’t Houston have a superstar back-court not long ago? Didn’t they pair Chris Paul and James Harden together and end up with the best regular-season record in the league?” The answer is yes. However, there are a few key differences in this version of the Rockets that makes Gordon’s role as the third scoring option easier to facilitate then back when Harden’s backcourt mate was Paul as opposed to Westbrook. First, Harden and Westbrook fit together better than Harden and Paul because Westbrook moves without the ball better than Paul. Chris Paul is a true point guard and Russell Westbrook is a hybrid point guard-shooting guard. Westbrook is fine if he can attack the paint once he gets his hands on the ball. Paul, on the other hand, needed the ball in his hands to be most effective; alongside the ball-dominant Harden that wasn’t always possible.

“How does this affect Gordon?” one may ask. Well, the role of a spot-up shooter is one that Gordon is comfortable playing. While he can put the ball on the floor, he’s also comfortable being a catch and shoot player. With D’Antoni going all-in on the “small ball” philosophy, he now has the option to play a three-guard lineup at different stretches of the game if he so chooses. His two starting guards will attack the defense off the dribble. His third option, Gordon, knows how to find the open spaces and be ready to catch and shoot the ball.

How a Houston Title Would Affect Other Teams

Back in 2015, when discussing the Golden State Warriors, TNT Analyst Charles Barkley famously said that a jump-shooting team would never win the NBA championship. The Warriors famously made “Chuck” eat those words as they won their first title since 1975 that season. Soon, the rest of the NBA began hoisting threes at an unprecedented rate; the three-point shot is a bigger part of the game now than ever before in the history of basketball. Seeing how teams often engage in “copycat basketball” and follow the models of teams that beat them to a championship begs the question, “If Eric Gordon and the Rockets win this year’s title, will other teams embrace small ball?” If Houston wins this year’s championship, will other teams start games with no one over 6’6” in the lineup? Only time will tell.

“The Hobbit” has already shown he’s not afraid of big playoff moments that can decide a game’s outcome. Back in the 2018 Western Conference Finals, with the series tied at two games apiece, Gordon came up big, scoring 24 points and making a key stop on the defensive side of the ball against Draymond Green. And, after being fouled with under three seconds left, he calmly stepped to the charity stripe and knocked down two free-throws to give Houston a four-point lead, making it a two-possession game. Helping Houston secure wins by making big plays down the stretch in the playoffs is something he’s going to have to do if the team is going to win the title this year. The good news for the Rockets is Gordon has already shown he’s up for the challenge.

The Clock is Ticking on this Group

“Why is it so important for Houston to win the title this year?” some may ask. The fact is, Houston’s core is not young by NBA standards; they’re all at least thirty years old, with Gordon being thirty-one. Everyone could return if they don’t win the title, though history has shown that’s not always true. Back in the late aughts, the Boston Celtics were the best team in the league. They won the 2008 championship in the first season of the Big Three era. However, Kevin Garnett suffered a season-ending injury before the 2009 postseason; Kendrick Perkins suffered an injury that kept him out of Game 7 of the 2010 Finals. This turn of events stopped that team from being able to truly defend their title. Gordon and the Rockets must learn a lesson from history. Anything can happen. They must enter this postseason with the mindset that it’s now or never.

Before the start of this season, Eric Gordon signed a three-year extension with Houston, with a team option for the fourth year. He has stated he wants to retire a Rocket; the question is what will his legacy be when he finally hangs it up for good? If he’s able to help the team win a championship this season, he will join the likes of Kenny Smith, Sam Cassell, Robert Horry, and Mario Elie, rotation players who played key roles in helping the team reach the promised land. These role players are all a part of Rockets’ lore. Although not considered stars, they weren’t afraid to step up in big moments when it was their turn to make an impact. If history is any indication, Eric Gordon has the same mindset and he’ll be ready when his number is called.

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