Gordon rare bright spot for Clippers
Eric Gordon has been productive as a rookie for the disappointing Clippers
The crowded NBA schedule has been an eye-opener for Gordon
The Clippers never got it together this season despite having nice talent
The Clippers will close the season as one of the NBA's most disappointing teams. Next month there will be another lottery, and in June another high draft pick. They will hope to do as well in the draft process as they did a year ago in choosing Eric Gordon.
Gordon, the seventh pick in the 2008 draft, is averaging 16.0 points and shooting 45.2 percent from the field, impressive numbers that have gone unrecognized during another miserable season for the Clippers, who will finish with the second- or third-worst record in the league.
"You have your ups and downs in a season, and it's hard being tired,'' said Gordon, who entered the NBA after one season at Indiana. "You have plenty of games like that where you're tired. What really gets you is your first game back at home after a road trip. Because you're playing so many games in a short amount of days, you'll have like seven games in 10 days on the road, and then you have to travel a long distance to get back home and play a couple of games back home.''
After those trips he would come back home to Los Angeles, though it didn't really feel like home and there wasn't time to relax anyway. The games arrived one after another like a swarm of defenders that wouldn't stop coming. As a shooting guard, he found himself matched up against the biggest names in the league night after night.
The 6-foot-4 Gordon drifted to No. 8 in the draft because some teams wondered if he was too small for his position, and too much of a scorer with too little potential as a combo guard who could make plays for others as well as himself. But the 222-pound Gordon showed that he had an NBA-ready body with the first step to shift past defenders and the girth and strength to muscle his way inside.
"Some nights he goes in there and he doesn't get the calls,'' Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "He holds the ball and takes hits and does a great job of finishing, but so many times he expects the whistles and he just doesn't get them. He gets a little frustrated with it, but he definitely keeps going.''
For an NBA rookie, the longest of all seasons begins with predraft training in the spring, followed by workouts and interviews with prospective employers that culminate in the draft itself; then suddenly there is summer league in July, which for Gordon ended after two games when he injured his hamstring; and then rehab and training camp in October running straight into the unpredictable, what-will-today-bring rhythms of the 82-game season. Gordon began playing fewer than five minutes per game in the opening week before concluding the first month as a starter following the trade of Cuttino Mobley to the Knicks.
What has become of the Clippers? Baron Davis missed 17 games, Marcus Camby missed 20, Chris Kaman didn't play in 51 and Zach Randolph didn't arrive until a month into the season. Dunleavy was unable to decide whether the impressive talent he has accumulated actually can succeed together. Can this roster -- if healthy -- contend for the playoffs next season?
"We have to take a look at it,'' Dunleavy said. "All of our guys, when they have played, they've played pretty well. We have to figure out if these [injuries] are an aberration or not. Is there something we're not doing right training-wise, or do we have players who are injury-prone? Other than that, on paper, I like our team.''
The mood around the team has been unavoidably negative amid rumors of personality issues between Davis and Dunleavy as well as speculation of an offseason trade involving Camby or Kaman. But Gordon appears to have been unaffected by the toxins. He and improving second-year small forward Al Thornton (16.8 points) have created promise.
"If you play strong and aggressive, the majority of things might go your way,'' Gordon said. "The NBA is about timing, about getting your own way and being able to do the things that you want to do. College is all about sprinting hard and running hard and doing everything as hard as you can. But in the NBA, you've got to switch gears.''
That was as well as he could explain what next season's rookies are going to face. They won't understand until they experience it for themselves.
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