In his third NBA season, Austin Rivers has started a grand total of 30 games, but none this season. New Orleans Pelicans starting shooting guard Eric Gordon, whom Rivers often replaces on the floor, has started 301 games — including all seven this season. Clearly, there’s something of an experiential gap between the two.
At his best, Gordon dazzled as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers: splitting double teams, netting jump shots on 45 percent clips and occasionally splashing three-pointers. He dropped 41 points on the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2009 and the tape from that night tells everything you need to know about how dynamic he was. But injuries have sapped his athleticism in the years following and at his worst, which is right now, he’s hurting the Pelicans in more ways than one.
Put lightly, Gordon has had a remarkably underwhelming season thus far. So underwhelming, in fact, that Bill Simmons’s B.S. Report focused on it for a number of minutes in its latest installment.
Bleacher Report called his contract the worst in the league last week. And it wasn’t an entirely unfounded claim. As the article mentions, since his new deal was inked at the start of the 2012-13 season, just three players are shooting between 40 and 42 percent and scoring between 15 and 16 points per contest (Gordon is averaging 15.7 points) during that same time. Gordon has the fewest Win Shares of them all. He’s shooting 19 percent on jump shots this season and his Win Shares Per 48 Minutes figure has dropped to -0.066.
The 19-for-66 floor figure this season, 4-for-24 from beyond the arc, career-low 15.9 percent usage rate and 21 fouls are pretty harrowing. He has as many turnovers (12) as he does assists. It would be easier to digest if he wasn’t signed to a four-year, $58 million contract — a higher net earning than Tim Duncan, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and literally everyone on the Pelican roster. Anthony Davis, who, granted, is still signed to his rookie deal, isn’t even making half of Gordon’s contract. Rivers is earning one-seventh what Gordon is making, for good measure.
Gordon is also playing the 41st-most minutes per game of anyone in the NBA (33.7), which might not seem like much, but it’s more than Tony Parker, Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry and a host of guards who have brought much more to their teams than Gordon has. He’s the only player in the NBA who has played more than 200 minutes and is shooting less than 30 percent from the floor, for context.
On the flipside, Rivers has the fewest turnovers of anyone in the league who has played more than 140 minutes, doled out more than 15 assists and is shooting better than 48 percent from the field. He’s shooting a career-high 50 percent from the floor, a digestible 36.4 percent from beyond the arc and is poised to set career highs in field goal percentage, assists, blocks, turnover rate, VORP, Player Efficiency Rating, offensive rating and defensive rating per 100 possessions.
With Gordon on the court, the Pelicans shoot a lower effective field goal percentage and post a lower offensive rating. The opposite can be said of Rivers, as the chart below indicates.
For Pelican lineups that have played together for more than 14 minutes, the most effective shooting and scoring five-man combination is when Rivers is plugged into the starting lineup sans Omer Asik. Gordon needs to find his stroke, that much is clear, but it’s not preposterous to ask whether or not he could find more of a rhythm if he were to be given the autonomy of captaining the team’s second unit, rather than being force-fed into a starting rotation that evidently operates better without him.
Here’s how Rivers stacks up with Gordon through seven games:
Josh Planos has had his work featured at the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Rivals, Denver Post, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. He currently writes for Wall Street Journal Sports, the ESPN TrueHoop Network and The Cauldron. He loves interacting with readers via Twitter (@JPlanos).