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Ben Gordon, not John Kuester or others, deserves most blame for his sour season

In a recent column, Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News spread around the blame for Ben Gordon’s struggles this season. A little for Richard Hamilton’s presence. Some for circumstance. A lot for John Kuester. But in this whole process, Goodwill largely ignores whom I think should be the main recipient of consternation:

Ben Gordon.

To me, Gordon looked unconfident, like a player who still hasn’t regained his touch after the first major injury of his career. He was tentative, passing up shots he used to let fly without the slightest hesitation – and I’m talking about good shots, too.

Gordon had 14.7 scoring attempts per game* this season – easily a career low.

*FGA + .44*FTA, adjusted to a pace of 91.8, approximately the average of Gordon’s teams.


Gordon wasn’t playing in a perfect situation this season, far from it. But he should never be so reluctant to shoot. That’s ultimately on him.

At least, that’s how I see it. Goodwill disagrees, and I’ll respond to a few of his points.

Goodwill’s arguments deconstructed

Remember, he was on his way to a historic 50-40-90 season, which has only happened a handful of times in NBA history.

To shoot that percentage from the field, 3-point line and free-throw line respectively should have made him a valued weapon for a team that struggled to score.

First of all, 50-40-90 seasons aren’t quite as rare as Goodwill said. But they’re still extremely impressive, and it would have been great had Gordon reached that level. Except he didn’t.

Gordon’s numbers for this season – 44-40-85 – are good, but it’s not like he just missed a 50-40-90 year. Of course, that’s not exactly what Goodwill said. Goodwill said Gordon “on his way” to a 50-40-90 season.

Yes, through Dec. 1, Gordon was meeting all three marks, posting a 50-44-91. But I don’t think 19 games is a large enough sample to declare Gordon was “on his way” to sustaining those numbers all year. It was unlikely Gordon, whose career high is a 45.5 field-goal percentage, would come close to holding that level of production. And obviously, he didn’t.

Here’s a chart showing how Gordon’s percentages compared to the 50-40-90 standards, which are marked by horizontal lines, as his season progressed.

Field-goal percentage is blue. 3-point percentage is red. Free-throw percentage is black.


Also, the Pistons didn’t struggle to score – at least relative to how much they struggled to do other things. They ranked 14th in offensive rating.

When Kuester was giving Hamilton every opportunity to improve upon his early season play, Gordon was pulled during times he should’ve stayed in. When Hamilton missed a late December game due to stomach flu, Gordon scored 32 against the Hornets at the Palace, including a 3-pointer that sent the game to overtime.

Gordon scored 25, not 32, points that game. Gordon did score 32 points in another game this season (Oct. 29 against the Thunder) – a contest in which Hamilton played 27 minutes.

Regardless, it’s a bit silly to draw any major conclusions from a single game. Looking at the big picture, Gordon’s shooting didn’t change much when Hamilton missed games. In fact, Gordon’s true shooting percentage was slightly higher in games when Hamilton played (55.2) than games when Hamilton didn’t play (54.5). The biggest change came in Gordon’s scoring attempts per 36 minutes, which dropped from 16.6 per 36 minutes without Hamilton to 12.8 with him.

In those games when Hamilton also played, Gordon played 83 percent of his minutes without Hamilton. So, it’s not like he often had to contend with Hamilton for shots while on the court. Should the presence of Hamilton sitting on the bench sweating have distracted him more than the presence of Hamilton on the bench in a warmup or street clothes did?

Gordon felt like Kuester didn’t use him properly, and the plays that were run for him were more tailored to Hamilton.

It seemed no one could remember what made Gordon such a lethal weapon in Chicago: Isolations and just letting Gordon figure out if he had it going that night.

Gordon certainly understands basketball much better than I do, but this isn’t how I saw the offense unfold. Hamilton doesn’t come off as many screens as he used to, opting for more isolation than in the past. So, if the Detroit had the same plays for both shooting guards, they were fairly tailored to Gordon.

Also, since when is it a good idea to let Gordon shoot a lot to figure out whether he “had it going that night”? As I wrote before the season, Gordon had a tendency to shoot too much, regardless of how he was shooting. The Bulls were 24-35 (.407) when Gordon took at least 20 shots and 183-156 (.540) otherwise.

Ben Gordon entering next season and beyond

I think Goodwill raises some good points, especially about Scott Skiles’ structure appealing to Gordon. A new coach can only help the guard next season.

But if Gordon bounces back next year, first and foremost, that will be on him. Just like this year.

13 Comments

  • Apr 25, 20111:33 pm
    by tads

    Reply

    Is there a graph missing?

  • Apr 25, 20111:53 pm
    by brgulker

    Reply

    Dan, this is a really good post. I think you could be even more firm, though, w/r/t the 50-40-90 claim, though.
     
    Ben Gordon has never, ever been close to hitting that mark. To describe him as being capable of being that player is dishonest at best, and downright untruthful at worst. I’d go so far as to argue that it’s delusional to think Ben Gordon will ever be that player over the course of a full season, given his career performances to date, combined with his current age.
     
    I don’t mean to insinuate that Goodwill is a dishonest person, but if you follow the guy on Twitter, it’s clear he has an axe to grind with Kuester. Maybe it’s the case, and maybe it isn’t the case I don’t know for sure, that he’s stretched the facts a little bit here as a result of his dislike for Kuester’s coaching.
     
    The biggest problem with that, IMHO, is that there’s plenty of data that doesn’t need stretching to make the point he wants to.

    • Apr 25, 20112:14 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      I agree 100 percent with you. I think judging from his tweets, he’s a pretty big Ben Gordon proponent as well. All season long, he continuously called for more touches/shots/minutes for Gordon and pretty regularly criticized Kuester when he’d sub Gordon out.

    • Apr 25, 20115:24 pm
      by Dan Feldman

      Reply

      I agree that Gordon needs to a lot more than hold those marks through Dec. 1 before you should realistically believe he’ll have a 50-40-90, let alone say he was on his way to such a season.

      But I think Gordon has a chance at a 50-40-90 year at some point. Not a great chance, but a chance. How many players who haven’t ever posted a 50-40-90 season do you think are more likely to have one?

  • Apr 25, 20113:25 pm
    by Tim

    Reply

    To be a valuable member of the team, Gordon really needs to dial up his 3 point attempts. He is a phenomenal 3 point shooter. He can shoot you out of the game sometimes, but if he is bombing from distance, he could be a big enough asset to perhaps dump on a contender. The problem is he is just a role player, and those are easy to find for a lot less than $11M or whatever he is making. See Dajuan Summers. I think he could be almost as valuable to the team. Worse O, better D, slightly worse handle.

  • Apr 25, 20116:37 pm
    by qm22

    Reply

    I think Gordon gave up because in the past two seasons the Pistons were a Clipper-like organization.
    I still have a burnt image in my mind of Ben Gordon against the Bulls in the early season. He didn’t miss a shot in the first half, had 20 points, was really motivated against his former team. Then Kuester glued him to the bench and he only got one more shot attempt the rest of the game.
    It is Gordon’s fault but it is indirectly because of Kuester. There isn’t really anything different with his attributes as a player, in terms of athleticism and talent. He just lost motivation. I am sure he can be the Chicago Ben Gordon again if the Pistons get a decent coach.

    • Apr 25, 20117:27 pm
      by Dan Feldman

      Reply

      QM, do not come here and make up facts. The play-by-play data for that game is easily accessible:

      http://espn.go.com/nba/playbyplay?gameId=301030004&period=0

      Next time, check your claims before you post them. Here’s the real story of Gordon’s play that game:

      First half: 15 minutes, 5-for-5 with two turnovers

      Second half: 13 minutes, 0-for-5 with three turnovers

      How is that Kuester’s fault?

      • Apr 25, 20118:09 pm
        by qm22

        Reply

        The numbers make it look like Gordon got almost the same opportunity, but if you count it in more than shot attempts it is clear BG was used less (he had a lot of FTs in the first, which is how he had 20 first half points). The type of attempts he had in both halfs were different.
        I was wrong to say “glued to the bench”, but he should have been used more. In the link you posted we had an 8 point lead when Gordon went out in the 4th quarter and he returns with only 2 minutes left when we are down by 3, and that is certainly one time he should have been used. He clearly was hot but we went away from him. Perhaps it stings more because of the Bulls 34-9 4th quarter.

  • Apr 25, 20117:10 pm
    by Faraz

    Reply

    Good Stuff Dan.
    A couple days ago I actually emailed Keith Langlois, asking him what in blue hell was wrong with Ben Gordon. Of course, Keith never says anything negative, and sometimes leaves out the truth to make everything look as positive as possible. 
    I’m glad you were a bit more realistic

  • Apr 25, 201110:14 pm
    by Laser

    Reply

    there isn’t a problem with the organization right now for which dumars isn’t first in line to collect blame, leaving mere scraps of blame left over for anyone else… and this is no exception. in almost any situation he buck should stop with the president, but especially so in this case there was no shortage of specific mistakes. it’s not like he brought in pieces that looked right but just fell short of meshing for one flukey reason or another and just has to take the blame because he’s at the top. he f*cked this sh*t up RAW.
     
    in gordon’s case, i give him an unusually large share of the blame because he chased a fat paycheck all the way to a system where he had a predictably bad situation. but the blame left over is still basically negligible. he was signed as a role player, because there was no room for him to be anything else. we saw what happened with iverson, and there was probably reason to believe gordon would be more cooperative in a similar situation, but let’s not forget that the problem with iverson’s attitude stemmed from the fact that he was asked to be a role player and play 18 minutes a night. dumars is the one who paid him like a franchise player when anybody could see the logjam.
     
    not surprisingly, these articles just reek of dumars apologist hogwash. there’s a ton of it going around, and it isn’t going to slow down any time soon. some people can’t face the realities of supporting a losing team and just look for excuses. but the simplest answer is usually the right one. not enough minutes or shots for the guy. plain and simple.

  • Apr 26, 20118:22 am
    by detroitpcb

    Reply

    Gordon was a mistake to sign and is the worst contract the Pistons are currently laboring under. Every possible option should be explored to trade him. His carelessness with the ball alone is enough to make me wish never to see him in a Pistons uniform again. His inability to get around screens, his lack of size, his matador defense, and the fact that he has not knocked down his shot while in Detroit…….what can i say? I am not a Ben Gordon fan and would like to see the Pistons get rid of both Gordon and Rip but if one has to stay, let it be Rip.

  • Apr 30, 20115:25 pm
    by ekm999

    Reply

    Sorry know Ben personally and he didn’t chase the big fat paycheck, he actually had accepted the Bull’s 55 mil 6 year contract during his 2008 season with them, but they pulled it from table. His agent also called after Ben spoke with the Pistons and told them what Pistons were offering. They did not give a counter offer despite having gone on record as saying they were making resigning him their top priority for 2009. Truth is they didn’t want two stars on the team. They went with D-Rose. As far as Ben being a starter sixth man or role player…he just wants to get out there and play his best every night despite his injuries. I think what hurt his performance was not being able to get out and get in to his groove with enough minutes on the floor…also Ben was looking forward to showing he has more versatility than being just a 3point clutch shooter with the Pistons but his injuries with both the Bulls and Pistons were a new experience for him and he had to adjust. Remember he played through his first season with the Pistons despite needing surgery on his ankle to remove bone spurs and other waste in the ankle area…One thing I know bout the boy is he puts his heart into basketball and its a really big heart! He doesn’t have that tattoo for decoration. It’s his belief!

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