Could Eric Gordon finally be ready to break out in New Orleans?
The Hornets (now the Pelicans) knew what they were getting in Gordon - a high-upside, electrifying scorer who could do great things if he stays on the court, but is a perennial injury risk. Various unrelated injuries had slowed Gordon to that point in his career, so the risk was not quite the same as someone like Andrew Bynum (recently signed by the Cleveland Cavaliers) who has chronic knee problems.
Gordon got off to a great start in New Orleans in 2011-12, racking up 20 points in his team debut while also hitting the game-winning shot with 4.2 seconds left in the game. However, it was soon realized that Gordon had a pre-existing knee injury which he aggravated, and he was held out for a few months after arthroscopic knee surgery. He ended up playing in only nine games that season.
The news got even worse over the following offseason when it was suggested that Gordon may have to undergo microfracture knee surgery, which is a nightmare operation for an NBA player. The four-year, $58 million contract that Gordon received from the Hornets as a restricted free agent that summer may have never been signed if the team had known that microfracture surgery was a possibility.
However, Gordon managed to escape the injury without having to undergo major surgery. He still missed a good chunk of the 2012-13 season, but was able to play in 42 games. He averaged 17.0 points per contest, though he shot just 40.2% from the field - a career-low by 4.7%. Even so, it was just encouraging to see him stay healthy through half the season, albeit on a minutes limit.
Of course, the ensuing offseason brought on more injury woes for Gordon. He admitted after the season that he had been dealing with bone spurs in his ankle since the All-Star break, and he underwent arthroscopic ankle surgery in May. He had plenty of time to recover for training camp, and if it were anyone else it could have been assumed that he would be fully healthy, but because of Gordon's injury history, he seemed like no lock to be healthy at the start of the season.
To the surprise of many, however, Gordon now appears healthy with about two weeks left before the regular season gets underway. He got the start for the Pelicans on Thursday night, and was very impressive in his preseason debut, scoring 21 points on 6-of-9 shooting with one rebound, one assist, and one steal. It was extremely encouraging to see him play so well for 21 minutes and appear to be all in one piece at the end of the game.
What was also encouraging was that Gordon went to the free throw line eight times. Many players with Gordon's injury history would be timid and hesitant to draw contact, but Gordon had no problem thrashing into the heart of the defense. "I just liked that he was attacking the basket and found shots and took them," said head coach Monty Williams. "But when he had a chance to go, he didn't shy away from contact."
Gordon still has to be considered one of the biggest injury risks in the NBA until we see him make it through a full season, but 2013-14 looks like it could finally be his year. Gordon will enter the season healthy for the first time as a Hornet/Pelican, which will be huge for the bad-luck player who just might be on the brink of superstar status. The fact that he is currently healthy does not mean that he won't pick up an injury within the first few weeks of the year, but he certainly has a better chance of staying healthy this year than he did the past two seasons when he was dealing with knee injuries.
Having acquired Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans over the offseason, and with Anthony Davis looking like he could become one of the league's best players in his second year as a pro, Gordon could be the lethal scoring option on the wing that fills out the Pelicans' improved roster. The Western Conference looks as tough as ever, but if Gordon can stay healthy for most of the season, I could see this squad making a run at the playoffs.