After I wrote Ben Gordon compared favorably to Vinnie Johnson, a friend of mine GChatted me with gripes. He said I was overreacting to one game (fair), the Pistons overpaid for Gordon (maybe) and Gordon is too inconsistent (let’s see).
The argument boils down to this: Although his season numbers are impressive, Gordon has too many games where he shoots poorly. Because he doesn’t do much more than score, winning those games is extremely difficult.
My friend set the cutoff at 35-percent shooting. But I didn’t think that was fair. Gordon makes his 3-pointers and free throws. Going straight my field-goal percentage sells Gordon short. So I wanted to see what an equivalent true-shooting percentage is to a field-goal percentage of 35.
It didn’t take long. The year before, Yakhouba Diawara shot exactly 35 percent from the field. Thankfully for my research, he shot some 3-pointers, too. His true-shooting percentage was .473.
In what I’ve dubbed the Diawara Line (modeled after baseball’s Mendoza Line), I’ve created a cutoff for individual-game game performance. After rounding, I set the The Diawara Line at .470.
In the last two seasons, there have been 46 individual 20-points-per-game seasons, including Gordon in 2008-09. As someone who believes Gordon can become one of the league’s top scorers, I’m considering 20-point-per-game scorers Gordon’s peers.
Diawara Line percentage
Let’s start with my friends first assertion: Gordon has too many poor shooting nights.
Of those 46 players in this sample, they surpassed the Diawara Line in 76.9 percent of their games.
In 2008-09, Gordon surpassed the Diawara line in 73.2 percent of his games, which ranks 30th.
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That’s certainly not great, but about a third of the sample did worse. As I wrote in Gordon’s The Big Question, I’d like to see him above the Diawara Line in 79 percent of his game, which would have ranked him 20th.
Gordon is streakier than the average 20-point-per-game scorer in the last two years, but he’s far from the most inconsistent.
Diawara Line effect
Now, let’s look at my friend’s second assertion: Gordon doesn’t do enough to help his team win when he doesn’t shoot well.
When those 46 players shot above the Diawara Line, their teams won 57.4 of their games.
When they shot below the Diawara line, their teams won 37.1 percent of their games – a drop of of 20.3 percentage points.
The Bulls won 53.3 percent of their games when Gordon surpassed the Diawara Line.
They won 40.9 percent of their games when he shot below the Diawara Line – a drop of 12.4 percentage points.
That’s the 19th-smallest dip among the sample, better than average.
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So, the Bulls handled Gordon’s poor-shooting games better than would be expected.
Does Gordon get shortchanged for his contributions besides scoring? Maybe. I think he’s a better defender than he’s credited for, but his passing and rebounding are probably accurately rated.
So, I don’t think that’s it (although, I’ll certainly be watching closer to see if Gordon does, in fact, do more than score). I think the real answer is offensive rebounding.
The Bulls ranked sixth in offensive rounding in 2008-09. So, Gordon’s misses weren’t as crippling. There was a well-above-average chance the Bulls would get a second shot when Gordon missed.
Outlook for this year
This is why the loss of Jonas Jerebko is so huge. Aided by his 2.4 offensive rebounds per game last year, the Pistons ranked second in offensive-rebounding percentage.
Without Jerebko, Gordon’s misses will be costlier this year. I don’t expect Austin Daye to crash the offensive glass as effectively.
The simple answer is Gordon needs to play better than he did in his final season with the Bulls. He needs to shoot a little better. He needs to focus every night. He can’t allow a poor start to rattle him. (The flip side of that might mean not allowing a strong start to energize him too much, but I can handle that if it goes both ways.)
I still think Gordon can become one of the league’s top scorers. Proving he can surpass the Diawara Line in a higher percentage of his games would be a key way to do it.