Ben Gordon hit rock bottom in 2009-10. While he started by showing off precisely what Joe Dumars saw in him, he fell to an ankle injury that culminated in an off-season surgery in April. Will the injuries return in 2010-11, will he return to his Chicago form or will he regain the heat he started with as a Piston? Pistons fans should be prepared for all three... but hope for the best. Kevin and I examine the details below.
Kevin Sawyer: For a spell, it looked like little Ben was another Joe Dumars triumph. Through the first nine games, he was scoring at will, forcing defenses to make NFL-like second half adjustments on defense. He did it with versatility, combining his lethal long range game with a penchant for getting to the line.
Then the Dallas game happened. Gordon was a woeful 1-16 as the Pistons blew a halftime lead. This began a string of terrible games, culminating in the Cleveland game, where he left with an injured ankle. My guess is that the ankle started bothering him right around when his stats took a dive (he even went 3-6 from the stripe against Dallas). His season never really recovered.
Touted for his outside shooting, Gordon shot an anemic 32% from beyond the arc, after shooting 41% or better in each of the last five seasons. With his outside shot failing to drop, teams resumed their tactic of simply packing the lane and begging the Pistons to beat them with jumpshots.
Assuming the ankle is recovered, and that the first nine games were a bit of a fluke, we should expect more steady output from Gordon. While other Piston players saw their numbers suffer from lack of ball movement, Gordon is historically adept at creating his own shot. It's not like Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich were diligent about getting him looks in Chicago.
On the defensive end, Gordon should be a step quicker. It's only in recent years that he has earned a reputation as a defensive slouch, so it's not unreasonable to expect a modest improvement in this area.
At this point, however, I would be content with the Ben Gordon who can score efficiently off the bench, and I think he will. There is really no reason why the Piston offense should be stagnant this year, and certainly no reason why Detroit should rank last in three point shooting, as it did last season.
Mike Payne: Do you like rainbows? I got your rainbows right here. While this series of previews has been roundly a bit sunnier than some would expect, the fact is that Pistons fans should see improvements out of the players that were much maligned last season. Ben Gordon was one of them, putting up career worst scoring numbers and looking like a shell of the player he once was.
Was it post-contract complacency? It's tough to argue it was, since the young fella exploded out of the gate with 24 points per the first nine games on 49% shooting, 42% from three with 4 assists and 3 rebounds. After a long fight with a nagging ankle, he came back to finish the season with April numbers that were pretty damn close to those he started off with. The Ben Gordon that Joe Dumars signed did show up last season, and it's tough to suggest it was a lack of commitment that led to such a nasty decline in his production.
You can get a decent picture of Gordon's decline by looking at his seasonal averages. He fell off from behind the 3-point line, shooting a career worst 32%-- the first time his averages have ever dipped below 40%. But like I said, I got rainbows-- two of them in this little preview (so intense!). According to Synergy Sports, Ben Gordon was ranked the 11th best isolation player in the league last season, scoring 49.3% eFG on the 173 plays where he was in control of the ball in isolation. He ranked 18th at executing plays when coming off screens, scoring 48.3% eFG across those 147 attempts. In that same category, our own Richard "Off Screen" Hamilton ranked 83rd. There were a lot of positives in Gordon's offensive game last season, but they were obviously weighed down by absolutely abysmal numbers everywhere else.
So what does this all mean for next season? There are three primary potential outcomes:
- Ben Gordon had ankle surgery this summer, and while the ankle is supposedly healed, he remains an injury risk as a result. It is possible that Gordon misses time again, and the shooting slump continues for a team that's already weak from three. This isn't the most likely scenario, but fans should be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best.
- Ben Gordon returns to the averages he was putting up in Chicago, contract year aside. While that kind of production may not warrant a full $11M/yr. deal, it's better than the above alternative and can still present a solid building block for this roster.
- The last potential outcome is that Ben Gordon returns a better player than he was in Chicago, and shows that he's capable of putting up the November and April numbers he did last season. This is the least likely outcome, but Dumars did sign Gordon just as he was getting into his peak years. It is unlikely, but possible, that 2010-11 could be Gordon's best season yet. If the Iso/Screen game stays hot and he can find his outside shot again, it's reasonable to expect Ben to finally show off his offensive ceiling.
The problem with Ben Gordon is that if he doesn't boost his offensive efficiency back to career averages, he'll be a net loss on the court. Even though Richard Hamilton produced a worse offense than Gordon, he was still a net positive player while on court. I don't need to continue into Ben Gordon's defensive woes, they've been detailed here and elsewhere ad nauseum. But here's the thing, if Gordon can't reclaim and maintain 45%+ shooting per season, he'll continue to be a net loss player. Fortunately, the start and finish of last season -- and the isolation game that was his saving grace -- show enough data to hint that a return to form or an improvement are possible.
In short, these double rainbows were served to suggest that there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Ben Gordon this season... guarded, but optimistic.