Eric Gordon Thrives Coming Off Rockets’ Bench

In a game against the New Orleans Hornets on November 24, 2008, Eric Gordon made the first start of his NBA career. It was his 14th game in the NBA, and after coming off the bench during the first 13, he did so just five other times over the next 410. Then came November 7 of this year, when after starting the season 3-3, Mike D’Antoni moved Gordon to the bench, a role he’s thrived in, though not one he expected to be in.

“When I first came here, I never thought that that would be my role as coming off the bench, but with me, I’ll do anything to win,” Gordon said after the Rockets 122-118 win over Brooklyn Monday night. “I’m fine with anything as long as we win”

The Rockets are 14-3 when Gordon comes off the bench with the guard averaging 18.1 points in those games, shooting 46 percent from the field and 47 percent from behind the 3-point line. He has drained at least three triples in the Rockets last ten games, including six in their narrow win over Brooklyn Monday night.

“(Gordon is a) professional, true professional,” James Harden said. “He wants to win. He was in a not so happy situation where he was coming from and now he’s happy. He’s winning, everybody’s smiling, so that’s all that matters.”

As easy as Gordon has made it look, coming off the bench after spending close to the entirety of your career, as a starter is tough. Jamal Crawford won the Sixth Man of the Year Award seven years ago in his first season as a member of the Atlanta Hawks. Crawford. Up until that point, Crawford started close to two thirds of his games in the NBA, but was signed by Atlanta to lead a bench unit, and he knew they’re would be an adjustment, so he prepared for it that offseason.

‘That summer, we’re playing pickup, I let the 10 guys play first, and I would just sit on the bench, and just kind of wait, just so that I could get my mind like this is how it’s going to be,” Crawford told Adrian Wojnarowski on the Vertical podcast last month.

Even with that mental preparation, figuring out how to play off the bench wasn’t easy.

“I go to Atlanta, and first game, I take two shots, and I’m like man, I feel weak,” he recalled to Wojnarowski. “They’re looking at me in the crowd and wondering what’s going on, he’s coming off the bench. I’d never done this before in my life.”

Crawford obviously figured things out, and owns two more Sixth Man of the Year trophies; an award Gordon wouldn’t mind adding to his mantle.

“For me to try to get an award like that, you have to win,” he said. “That’s what I’m here for. I want to play at a high level coming off the bench. If I would get that, I would love to have it.”

After five injury-riddled seasons in New Orleans, Gordon signed a 4-year, $53 million contract with the Rockets in July to help a Rockets team that became too reliant on Harden and had struggled to score with Harden off the floor in the past.

Season Points/100 possessions Harden on the floor Points/100 possessions with Harden on the bench
13-14 110.7 103.6
14-15 107.7 93.7
15-16 107.2 99.1

Overall, the Rockets offense has been much better when’s Harden’s been out there so far this season, but since Patrick Beverley’s return from knee surgery 14 games ago, the Rockets are scoring 111.1 points per 100 possessions when Harden’s been on the bench, compared to 114.3 when he’s played. Gordon is a big reason for that success, though he admits, it’s different.

“You’re playing with more energy guys off the bench, some that are inexperienced,” he said. “You’ve just got to have more energy, and pick your points when you need to score.”

When Gordon first enters the game, he’ll share the floor with Harden for four or five minutes, and he says that allows him to ease in the game a bit, but he knows that his presence can make things easier on the Rockets’ star.

“When he has the ball when I’m in there, I try to open the game up for him. It should be opened up even more for him during the game when he comes off pick and rolls, so I just try and be more of a force when he’s out there.”

In 520 minutes, the duo is outscoring opponents by 6.7 points per 100 possessions, but when Harden sits near the end of the first quarter, and the Rockets have a lineup that includes Gordon, Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, and Corey Brewer, the team is outscoring opponents bench squads by 13.7 points per 100 possessions.

When Eric Gordon signed with the Rockets in July he might not have thought he’d be used as a bench guy, but now that he is, man is he good at it.

More from Adam Spolane
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