By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted Jan 7 2009 6:56PM
The rookie season can be looked at like a round song. Remember singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat as a little kid?
One group starts off from the get-go while another patiently waits for its turn. Once they get the signal, everybody is singing at the same time, but the first group is already at "life is but a dream" by the time the second group gets to "merrily, merrily, merrily."
The same thing happens every year in the NBA when a handful of top draft picks get starter's minutes in October, while others remain practice dummies until a trade, an injury or a coach's lineup decision puts them out on the court.
The Clippers' Eric Gordon, the No. 7 pick, was one of the guys who made friends with the bench before he was thrown into the fray. The 20-year old didn't manage five minutes of PT in his first four games.
Fast-forward to January and Gordon is firmly entrenched in L.A.'s starting lineup, topping 40 minutes in 10 out of his last 13 games. He's making the most with the minutes, scoring 10 or more points 12 times, 15 or more 10 times, 20 or more six times and 30 or more twice -- establishing back-to-back career highs with 31 and 32 in his last two games.
At 6-foot-3, Gordon is shorter than the average shooting guard. But his muscular frame moves well horizontally, making up for anything he's giving up vertically.
Gordon's game brings to mind the best aspects of other "undersized" guards, who did nothing but overwhelm opponents. Think Ben Gordon's stroke, Allen Iverson's quickness, Rodney Stuckey's strength and Travis Best's defense.
His scoring ability has been apparent since the preseason when he got extended playing time in his second exhibition game and flipped in six 3-pointers en route to 33 points. But his effort on the other end of the floor is what prompted coach Mike Dunleavy to give Gordon the chance to row the Clippers' boat.
"I think he's just [done] a great job defensively every single night with who we put him on," Dunleavy said. "He's been terrific defensively. That's very unusual, very rare for rookies.
"He's learned a lot."
Gordon's teammate Marcus Camby just wants the league's referees to learn the rook's name so he can start getting to the line more often.
"Hopefully as we go on through this season he can start getting that respect and have it carry over year after year because he's going to be in the league a long time," Camby said.
With L.A. down to eight healthy bodies against the Pistons on Sunday, Gordon lifted his game to another level, pumping in 31 points against defensive-minded Tayshaun Prince and almost winning the game at the buzzer.
Even if Gordon has to wait to get calls from officials, that move by Pistons coach Michael Curry to put Prince on Gordon was the highest level of respect a player can get. When you draw the opposing team's best stopper, you know you've arrived.
"It definitely was the best game I've played this year, not just by scoring, but I was more poised and trying to make plays for my teammates," Gordon said after the Detroit game.
His next time out, he scored 32 against the Mavericks, made even more plays for his teammates with six assists and got to the foul line for 15 attempts.
Los Angeles lost the game, but it seems as if Gordon gained a little more respect.
There's no way to make the Clippers' 8-26 season sound good, but at least they have a rookie who has found harmony in his game.
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Eddie Gottlieb Rise of the Week: M. Gasol MEM (+3)
The Next 10 (alphabetical order): Roy Hibbert (IND), George Hill (SAS), Kevin Love (MIN), Luc Mbah a Moute (MIL), Anthony Morrow (GSW), Greg Oden (POR), Anthony Randolph (GSW), Brandon Rush (IND), Marreese Speights (PHI), Jason Thompson (SAC)
Portland's Noah Vonleh corrals the missed shot and gets the putback up and in late in the fourth quarter.
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Meyers Leonard fires a cross-court pass to a cutting Damian Lillard for the lay up.