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Eleven years ago, Eric Gordon signed a four-year, $58 million offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns as a restricted free agent. The organization rolled out the red carpet to make him feel like a franchise player during his visit, and Gordon even approved a PR slogan about how his “heart was in Phoenix.”
The New Orleans Pelicans didn’t fall for it, matching the Suns’ offer to keep him around. More than a decade later, Gordon is finally where his heart was back in 2012. After the LA Clippers waived him this summer to save $110 million in luxury tax payments, and despite receiving several, more lucrative offers from other teams, the 34-year-old guard signed with Phoenix for the veteran minimum.
“I think it’s clear to see what we’re building here,” coach Frank Vogel said. “Mat Ishbia has a super aggressive mindset to go out and acquire championship-level talent, and we have a chance to do something special. With Eric, Eric had a chance to come to Phoenix many years ago and it never worked out back then, but things come full-circle, and now he gets his opportunity.”
Last season, Gordon spent 47 games with a tanking Houston Rockets team before finishing his final 22 games in LA. He averaged 12.4 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 44.6 percent overall and 37.1 percent from 3 overall last season but was more efficient once he joined a playoff team. He posted 11.0 points in 24.9 minutes per game for the Clippers, all while shooting 42.3 percent from downtown.
The Suns knocked LA out of the first round of the playoffs in five games, and they now represent the best chance for this 15-year vet to finally win a title.
“To compete for a championship,” Gordon said bluntly when asked why he ultimately picked Phoenix. “I liked the guys, the type of style of play that we can [play] and the direction of trying to be a championship team. I just like my chances there.”
The question — like we already covered with Jordan Goodwin and Bol Bol — is what does Eric Gordon bring to the table at this stage of his career? From his 3-point shooting to his driving ability to the defensive end of the floor, it’s time to take a look at what this long-awaited newcomer can provide for a Suns team with title aspirations.
Eric Gordon, elite floor-spacer
These days, the term “floor-spacer” tends to be overused to describe any capable 3-point shooter. Eric Gordon is a true floor-spacer, in that he knocks down 3s and is a threat to launch as soon as he crosses half-court.
Gordon will not hesitate to pull if he sees daylight. He’s not as athletic as he was in his heyday, which limits his ability to create separation off the dribble. But fall asleep on him for a split-second in pick-and-roll coverage or in transition, and he’ll make defenses pay:
Gordon shot 38.6 percent on pull-up 3s last season, which ranked in the NBA’s 80th percentile, according to The BBall Index. However, playing next to Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook, the majority of his looks came on catch-and-shoot looks, which will likely be the case in Phoenix when he shares the court with the likes of Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal.
In his 22-game sample with the Clippers, Gordon made 41.2 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s and 47.8 percent of his wide-open 3s (nearest defender six-plus feet away). He also drilled 45.2 percent of his corner 3s, all of which is encouraging since he’ll fill a similar role in Phoenix.
So how was the 34-year-old Gordon able to rank in the 92nd percentile in points per possession on spot-up looks? It certainly wasn’t as a movement shooter. Gordon doesn’t run all over the court, flying off screens to generate looks a la Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson. In fact, he placed in the 17th percentile in movement attack rate, including a truly flooring zero percentile in off-screen points per possession.
Gordon is pretty stationary these days, but he makes up for it with his eagerness to fire away from 4-5 feet behind the 3-point line. Who needs to run all over the court exerting energy when you can just post up well beyond where defenses intend to cover you?
Just watch how Gordon’s defender scrambles to account for him after shading too far over to Leonard, George or Westbrook…or how they simply underestimate Gordon’s complete lack of a conscience when it comes to shot distance:
These same looks will be there sharing the court with Phoenix’s dynamic Big 3. Gordon’s average 3-point shot distance was 27.3 feet away from the hoop, which not only ranked in the league’s 94th percentile, but also represented an increase from his 2021-22 season, when he ranked in the NBA’s top-five with an average of 26.9 feet.
Gordon placing in the 71st percentile in “scoring gravity” honestly feels low, especially since such a high volume of his shots came from downtown. A whopping 58 percent of his made field goals and 63.4 percent of his attempts in LA came from beyond the 3-point line. Given his established reputation in the league, that extra 1-2 feet of space he can provide may prove precious in a playoff setting.
Admittedly, Gordon’s shooting dropped off in the postseason. He shot just 34.5 percent from 3 against Phoenix, including 31.8 percent on catch-and-shoot looks. However, he still made 39.1 percent of his wide-open 3s, and once Leonard joined the injured George on the sidelines, the Clippers sorely lacked legitimate offensive threats.
The Suns are hoping their Big 3 will be able to stay healthy for the postseason, and if they do, Gordon’s floor-spacing will either open up driving lanes or punish defenses for paying those guys too much attention.
Eric Gordon in the driver’s seat
Even when he’s not drilling 3s at a 40 percent clip, Gordon is still smart, agile and strong enough to attack frantic closeouts. He’s no Jeff Gordon, but Eric Gordon is still an effective driver.
He doesn’t get to the rim as frequently or finish with as much authority as he once did, but Gordon still ranked in the 80th percentile in drives per 75 possessions last year. His first step isn’t as explosive these days, but he capitalizes on his reputation as an elite floor-spacer with hesitation dribbles and pump-fakes to create advantages.
Both tools threw defenders off-balance to open up driving lanes, and from there, it was a matter of either finishing at the rim or pulling up for a floater (which he hit 44.4 percent of the time, according to NBA.com).
Again, Gordon isn’t some high-usage, automatic bucket around the basket. He was only in the 32nd percentile in total shots at the rim per 75 possessions, and his 64.2 percent shooting at the cup placed him in the league’s 72nd percentile.
But once he returned to LA to close the season, 70 of his 81 made field goals and 152 of his 175 attempts were either 3-pointers or shots at the rim. That’s basically 86 percent of his offense coming from two of the three most important areas of the floor (the other being free throws)!
Furthermore, Gordon doesn’t get tunnel vision once he breaks through the perimeter defense. He rarely looks like a flashy passer making advanced reads out there, but he has enough experience and skill to know where the defense is rotating and where the ball needs to go.
Coupling that hesitation dribble with his shifty, herky-jerky movements, Gordon can change directions in an instant to open up new angles for dump-offs or dishes back out to perimeter shooters.
His drive assist rate (54th percentile), potential assists per 100 passes (76th percentile) and passing creation quality (73rd percentile) aren’t off the charts by any means, but they should be a helpful addition to a Suns squad that’s already stacked with high-level scoring, willing playmaking from their stars, and complementary shooting.
“I think my skill-set just rubs off with those guys, ’cause I could jell with anybody,” Gordon told PHNX Sports. “It’s all about how we can figure out how we can play well at a high level together, and with me, I’m easy. I’m able to fit in with those guys that we have on the team. So just looking forward to it.”
Of course, if there are no available dishes or driving lanes, Gordon doesn’t mind carving out his own. He’s built like a boulder, and his penchant for embracing contact as he attacks the basket will feel like a breath of fresh air compared to last year’s free throw-averse Suns squad.
Gordon ranked in the 66th percentile in foul drawn rate and the 81st percentile in contact finish rate. If he gets a step on a recovering defender — or even if he doesn’t! — this guy doesn’t mind overpowering people to get to the rack.
It remains to be seen how much of the Suns’ 0.5 offense will stay intact under Frank Vogel, but assistant Kevin Young is staying on to tackle that “offensive coordinator” role. So if the system remains contingent on quick decision-making, secondary-playmaking and tons of pick-and-rolls, Gordon will be a seamless fit.
He won’t serve as a lead playmaker, but Gordon still ranked in the 95th percentile in points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler last year. Most of his assists were simply a matter of moving the ball to the open man, rather than making brilliant reads or jaw-dropping dimes.
But Gordon understands how to probe the defense in pick-and-roll situations, weaving through the paint to draw in help defenders before rewarding his roller or cutters with a well-placed feed:
Gordon may need to shy away from these type of low pocket passes, however. The jury’s still out on Drew Eubanks, but Deandre Ayton has typically fared a lot better handling higher passes on his rolls if they’re coming from anyone not named Chris Paul.
Mason Plumlee is no DA, but these are ambitious passes to expect any big man to catch:
Gordon was asked to do too much once the Clippers’ superstars went down, and LA never got to see what he was capable of in more of a supporting role. The Suns will hopefully get that chance, and Gordon should benefit from being empowered to do more off the bench, rather than being forced to do more as a starter.
“They’re getting a good, solid vet,” Clippers writer Justin Russo told PHNX Sports. “He knows his role, he’s not going to overexert himself and try to take a role that isn’t something he’s comfortable with.”
Defense and rebounding
Gordon is build like a 6-foot-4 Chevy Buick, but despite his strength, he doesn’t offer much in the rebounding department. In his 15 years in the NBA, he’s never averaged more than 2.7 rebounds per game in a single season. The BBall Index gave him a D or F grade in nearly every rebounding metric on both sides of the ball, so don’t expect much help on the glass.
However, Gordon will be another switchable player in a defense that should lean into its switchability.
“When you add Eric Gordon, who can slip a little bit defensively but obviously can guard up a position because of how strong he is, that’s another switch guy,” said Nekias Duncan of The Dunker Spot.
Gordon fared surprisingly well as a perimeter defender according to The BBall Index’s metrics. He placed in the 81st percentile in on-ball perimeter defense, 94th percentile in off-ball chaser defense and 91st percentile in ball-screen navigation.
However, Russo and Duncan agreed he’s prone to slip-ups on the perimeter, so this is not another point-of-attack defender in the mold of Jordan Goodwin or Josh Okogie by any means.
“I think also the one thing that got lost with Eric is he’s better defending 3s and sometimes switchable 4s than he is on guards,” Russo said. “You don’t want him really out on the perimeter defending against speedy guards, but he plays up a position.”
That strength and ability to hold his own against 3s and even 4s will be crucial for the stretches where Phoenix tries switching everything. With Okogie, Goodwin, Gordon, Booker, Beal, Durant, Ayton and Keita Bates-Diop all capable of guarding multiple positions, the Suns should be better on defense than they’re being given credit for — especially under Vogel, a coach whose teams have almost always defended at an elite level.
“I’ve gone against Frank for a long time,” Gordon said. “Really good defensive-minded coach, and we have good offensive talent, so if we can jell all of this together, it should work out well for us.”