In basketball, being a go-to guy isn’t always about who takes the last-second shot. It’s the guy who regularly gets the basketball when things are getting tense in the fourth quarter; the guy expected to calm things down when teammates are getting antsy; the guy called upon to snuff out an opponent’s rally or spark a rally of his own; the guy who’s not just supposed to make shots, but make the right decisions. Bottom line: Who do you want the offense to run through when everything is on the line?
Using the rationale that even the most balanced team has one identifiable if-all-else-fails leader that they look to in crunch time, I’ve picked one player per squad for a final list of 30. Again, ONE PLAYER PER TEAM…
BEN GORDON, Detroit Pistons
Another in the long list of traits shared by basketball and hip-hop: It’s all about the co-sign.
Talented as they may be, you have to wonder where (if anywhere) Drake and Nicki Minaj would be without Lil Wayne‘s initial public stamp of approval. Same goes for Waka Flocka Flame and Gucci Mane, Game and Dr. Dre, J.Cole and Jay-Z.
And by that same rationale, how many times are co-signs used as lethal daggers in basketball arguments? Anybody taking the side that LeBron‘s bounce to Miami was a sign of weakness inevitably uses Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley‘s anti-LeBron quotes as ammo. Or there are the Kobe Bryant followers whom never fail to repeat the list of Hall of Famers that have gone on record naming Kobe as the best player in the world.
Ben Gordon is making a nice living off a co-sign. When the 27-year-old sniper hit the NBA free agency market in 2009, Detroit president Joe Dumars thought highly enough of him to offer a 5-year, $55 million contract. The money wasn’t earmarked for a role player. And if Dumars — who made his bones in the ’80s as a crunch-time assassin with two championship rings and a Finals MVP to show for it — was eager to pay BG like that and effectively take the Pistons out of the running for any of the much hyped big-time 2010 free agents, obviously Gordon has to be a beast, right?
So far, results are inconclusive.
Gordon’s first year with the Pistons was plagued by injuries, and he finished with career-lows in scoring (13.8 ppg) and three-point shooting (32.1 percent), while barely avoiding career-lows in field-goal shooting (41.6 percent) and minutes (27 mpg). Gordon began the season on-track to take Rip Hamilton‘s spot as Detroit’s go-to guy, but by the time it was over, the Pistons had missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years and BG was sharing crunch-time opportunities with Rip, Rodney Stuckey and whoever else may have been hot that particular night.
Going into Year 2, Gordon has even more competition. Rip is back, Stuckey is in a contract year, Charlie Villanueva wants to prove he deserves his big ’09 contract, plus Tracy McGrady is on board and looking to regain his All-Star form. Not to mention Lottery pick Greg Monroe will be given his chances to become a franchise cornerstone. Detroit has talent, and if they can stay healthy, should find themselves in some important games late into the season while they challenge for a playoff spot.
Gordon should be the go-to option.You could chalk up last season’s poor crunch-time stats — BG shot 28 percent from the field and 12 percent beyond the arc in “clutch time,” according to 82games.com — to his injuries and the Pistons’ general disarray. Over the summer Gordon rehabbed his ankle and reportedly looks good in training camp. He’ll aim to regain the form he had in ’08-09, when he was the Chicago Bulls’ best clutch player, hitting 46 percent from the field and 43 percent from three in the clutch, and finishing 15th in the NBA with 36.3 points per 48 minutes of clutch time; higher than Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh, Vince Carter, Deron Williams and Manu Ginobili, to name a few. Gordon also ranked 17th in 4th-quarter scoring that year.
What sets Gordon apart from the typical long-range gunner is that he can be a clear-out player. He has the ball-handling ability and scorer’s — not shooter’s — mentality to create his own looks from anywhere on the floor. He is no stranger to sticking game-winners and crucial shots from 25 feet out, from the baseline mid-range, or driving to the cup. Joe Dumars enlisted Gordon to be his late-game weapon, and when he has full arsenal at his disposal, few players are more spectacularly deadly.
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