Ben Gordon, not John Kuester or others, deserves most blame for his sour season


In a recent column, Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News spread around the blame for Ben Gordon’s struggles this season. A little for Richard Hamilton’s presence. Some for circumstance. A lot for John Kuester. But in this whole process, Goodwill largely ignores whom I think should be the main recipient of consternation:

Ben Gordon.

To me, Gordon looked unconfident, like a player who still hasn’t regained his touch after the first major injury of his career. He was tentative, passing up shots he used to let fly without the slightest hesitation – and I’m talking about good shots, too.

Gordon had 14.7 scoring attempts per game* this season – easily a career low.

*FGA + .44*FTA, adjusted to a pace of 91.8, approximately the average of Gordon’s teams.

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Gordon wasn’t playing in a perfect situation this season, far from it. But he should never be so reluctant to shoot. That’s ultimately on him.

At least, that’s how I see it. Goodwill disagrees, and I’ll respond to a few of his points.

Goodwill’s arguments deconstructed

"Remember, he was on his way to a historic 50-40-90 season, which has only happened a handful of times in NBA history.To shoot that percentage from the field, 3-point line and free-throw line respectively should have made him a valued weapon for a team that struggled to score."

First of all, 50-40-90 seasons aren’t quite as rare as Goodwill said. But they’re still extremely impressive, and it would have been great had Gordon reached that level. Except he didn’t.

Gordon’s numbers for this season – 44-40-85 – are good, but it’s not like he just missed a 50-40-90 year. Of course, that’s not exactly what Goodwill said. Goodwill said Gordon “on his way” to a 50-40-90 season.

Yes, through Dec. 1, Gordon was meeting all three marks, posting a 50-44-91. But I don’t think 19 games is a large enough sample to declare Gordon was “on his way” to sustaining those numbers all year. It was unlikely Gordon, whose career high is a 45.5 field-goal percentage, would come close to holding that level of production. And obviously, he didn’t.

Here’s a chart showing how Gordon’s percentages compared to the 50-40-90 standards, which are marked by horizontal lines, as his season progressed.

Field-goal percentage is blue. 3-point percentage is red. Free-throw percentage is black.

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Also, the Pistons didn’t struggle to score – at least relative to how much they struggled to do other things. They ranked 14th in offensive rating.

"When Kuester was giving Hamilton every opportunity to improve upon his early season play, Gordon was pulled during times he should’ve stayed in. When Hamilton missed a late December game due to stomach flu, Gordon scored 32 against the Hornets at the Palace, including a 3-pointer that sent the game to overtime."

Gordon scored 25, not 32, points that game. Gordon did score 32 points in another game this season (Oct. 29 against the Thunder) – a contest in which Hamilton played 27 minutes.

Regardless, it’s a bit silly to draw any major conclusions from a single game. Looking at the big picture, Gordon’s shooting didn’t change much when Hamilton missed games. In fact, Gordon’s true shooting percentage was slightly higher in games when Hamilton played (55.2) than games when Hamilton didn’t play (54.5). The biggest change came in Gordon’s scoring attempts per 36 minutes, which dropped from 16.6 per 36 minutes without Hamilton to 12.8 with him.

In those games when Hamilton also played, Gordon played 83 percent of his minutes without Hamilton. So, it’s not like he often had to contend with Hamilton for shots while on the court. Should the presence of Hamilton sitting on the bench sweating have distracted him more than the presence of Hamilton on the bench in a warmup or street clothes did?

"Gordon felt like Kuester didn’t use him properly, and the plays that were run for him were more tailored to Hamilton.It seemed no one could remember what made Gordon such a lethal weapon in Chicago: Isolations and just letting Gordon figure out if he had it going that night."

Gordon certainly understands basketball much better than I do, but this isn’t how I saw the offense unfold. Hamilton doesn’t come off as many screens as he used to, opting for more isolation than in the past. So, if the Detroit had the same plays for both shooting guards, they were fairly tailored to Gordon.

Also, since when is it a good idea to let Gordon shoot a lot to figure out whether he “had it going that night”? As I wrote before the season, Gordon had a tendency to shoot too much, regardless of how he was shooting. The Bulls were 24-35 (.407) when Gordon took at least 20 shots and 183-156 (.540) otherwise.

Ben Gordon entering next season and beyond

I think Goodwill raises some good points, especially about Scott Skiles’ structure appealing to Gordon. A new coach can only help the guard next season.

But if Gordon bounces back next year, first and foremost, that will be on him. Just like this year.