Pelicans guard Eric Gordon enjoys best shooting stretch of NBA career

by Jim Eichenhofer

Sometimes the answer to the most vexing question is even simpler than you can imagine. For example, why is New Orleans guard Eric Gordon, who entered this season as a career 36.8 percent three-point shooter, connecting on a sizzling 46.1 percent of his attempts this season, the second-best rate in the NBA? According to Pelicans assistant coach Fred Vinson, a former NBA guard who works extensively with the team’s backcourt players, it’s almost entirely been a matter of Gordon’s improved health.

Gordon has battled injuries since coming to New Orleans in 2011, most often related to his right knee, causing him to miss 100-plus games over four seasons. He’s rarely entered a Pelicans training camp at 100 percent. The fall of 2014 was finally different, however, with the seven-year NBA veteran able to go through training camp and preseason without any limitations. The foundation for a player’s shooting accuracy – the legs, his base – had never been right for Gordon in the recent past, but in the summer of 2014, he was able to work extensively on his shot.

The benefits have been obvious, as the 26-year-old is in the midst of his best shooting stretch as a pro. During New Orleans’ recent 9-2 run, Gordon is 36-for-76 from three-point range (47.4 percent). Over a lengthier span going back 14 games, he’s made exactly half of 96 attempts. He’s also made at least one trifecta in 31 consecutive games. With one month remaining in the regular season, only Atlanta’s historically-great Kyle Korver (50.1) is ahead of Gordon in the league’s three-point percentage rankings.

“It’s his health,” Vinson said. “Just being healthy, it means that his body is in balance. His shooting mechanics are on balance. He’s able to move fluidly, get to a spot, get his feet set and get his balance. Then, having the strength and the power from his legs. That’s a huge part of shooting, particularly from long range. With how deep the three-point line is in the NBA, there is less room for error. You’ve really got to be on-balance, and have the leg strength to get the ball there, so that you’re not shooting the ball just with your upper body.”

“I’ve just been focused. I’ve been a little bit healthier than in previous years,” Gordon agreed. “I’m just taking my time and knocking them down. It was tough (in previous seasons). It was tough to get a rhythm playing basketball each year. It’s been a tough road, but I’m finally starting to get it back.”

Gordon has provided plenty of recent examples, including a 7-for-8 three-point shooting game vs. Utah on Feb. 9 and a 6-for-11 outing at Miami on Feb. 21. At one stage during the Heat game, Gordon (averages of 15.5 points, 4.4 assists in past 11 games) barely had the ball in his hands before launching another successful long-range bomb, highlighting a 105-91 road win.

“He’s a sticker. He can shoot,” said point guard Norris Cole, who made his Pelicans debut in that game, facing his ex-team. “Everyone in the league knows the scouting report: Close out on him. And even if you close out on him, he can still make it. He’s a prolific shooter. Obviously he works on it a lot.”

That too has been critical to Gordon’s improvement. Though he suffered more bad luck Nov. 22 when a right shoulder injury at Utah caused him to miss 21 games, his lower body has been fine all season, providing the basis for a career shooting year.

“What helps is he’s getting the reps up, because he’s healthy now,” Vinson said. “He’s more apt to be in the gym getting up extra shots, as opposed to being in the training room, trying to protect his body and prepare himself to be able to play. Now that he’s healthy, he can get out on the court early before shootaround, or get extra shots in after practice. He’s able to say, ‘OK, I feel good, I can get those extra shots up.’ His health has been huge.”