Monday, August 22, 2011

Of Clippers and Thunder, Gordon and Westbrook

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In Part Two of at least a two-part series I'm doing at ClipperBlog, I looked at the importance of Westbrook and Gordon to their respective teams.  As it turns out, looking at the disparate recent success of the two franchises and the raw production of Westbrook tends to mislead, at least as a predictive tool for the Clips.

Westbrook had career highs in: points (21.9 per game), assists (8.2), and steals (1.9).  He became an All-Star for the first time thanks to increased efficiency from the field (44 percent), from the line (84 percent) and even beyond the arc (33 percent) — up from only 22 percent in his second season.  Still not a strong shooter, he showed promising signs by playing to his strengths, getting a quarter of his looks (6.8/game) at the rim and converting those at a 60 percent clip.
What may not be so encouraging for Thunder fans were instances down the stretch where Westbrook struggled to stay under control.  For all his power and quickness, the guy whose 316 turnovers led the NBA by 32 over the next highest total underwent a very public battle over his decision-making and execution.  He found himself on the bench during the playoffs in favor of Eric Maynor because Maynor took care of the ball, and he seemed to struggle, at times , to understand why.  Unlike fellow 2008 draftee Derrick Rose, he is not designed to be the primary option on his team — that’s Durant.  And unlike Gordon, he seemed unable at times to defer to his star teammate...
Even in a down year, Gordon is the better shooter by far, and it is the area in which he figures to have the biggest advantage going forward.  He is a natural shooter with the athleticism and strength to get to the hoop, whereas Westbrook is a penetrator by trade taking jumpers when defenses give him too much space.  If Gordon can even return to his career form of 37.5 percent from downtown — and he should continue to find openings as teams focus on Griffin — it shouldn’t be a surprise to see his numbers jump into All-Star territory.  For whatever that’s worth.
What makes Westbrook’s journey through last spring even more interesting to Clipper fans is what it can teach us about Eric Gordon.  We saw what Westbrook could do – both good and bad —  over a season in such high usage, but to this point Gordon has not had that opportunity.  He may not be the primary ballhandler next season, but he does have a clear opportunity to assume an even more prominent role with Mo Williams playing to his strength off the ball as a spot up shooter. 

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