Danuel House Should Start Over Eric Gordon
My love for Houston Rockets forward Danuel House is no secret. If you’ve been around me this year, you’ve probably heard me singing his praises at least once per day. That being said, I will still assert that my bias towards Danuel House is not influencing my claim that he should start over Eric Gordon. Here is my reasoning:
There is no denying that Eric Gordon is the exact type of shooter that this Rockets offense needs to spread the floor for James Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, and Kenneth Faried to operate. He’s making 36.1% from beyond the 3-point line at a rate of 8.8 attempts per game, and he’s taking some of them from absurd ranges. That being said, Eric Gordon should absolutely not start at small forward over Danuel House.
Danuel House definitely doesn’t have the reputation that Eric Gordon has as a shooter, but he has definitely improved his shooting ability this year. Last season, House only made 25.9% of his threes on 2.5 attempts a game. In college, he shot around 33.8% on five attempts a game. These are definitely numbers that should classify you as a non-shooter in the modern NBA.
Despite these previous struggles, House seems to have finally put together his shooting touch this year. Since being acquired by the Rockets, he has shot 41.6% from beyond the 3-point line at 4.6 attempts per game. His long-range shooting after the All-Star break jumped to 44.9% at 5.6 attempts per game. This isn’t the volume that Eric Gordon is shooting at, but it does prove that Danuel House is now a serviceable shooter.
So, what is the point of this comparison? How does this show that Danuel House should start over Eric Gordon? I mean, Eric Gordon is widely considered the 4th best player on the Rockets, and you should logically have your starters consist of your best players. While this argument does make logical sense, it's important to know that perception may be different from reality.
Gordon’s reputation as a shooter is widely considered much greater than Danuel House’s, but here are the statistics:
As you can see, Gordon’s claim as a great shooter is questionable. He makes threes at a reliable clip when wide open, but he struggles when there is a defender within six feet. To compound this issue further, Gordon takes 3.1 of his 8.8 attempts per game within six feet of a defender. In comparison, House takes 2 of his 4.6 attempts within six feet of a defender. You can say that it wouldn’t matter because Gordon takes most of his threes while wide open, but when 35.2% of your attempts are within 6 feet of a defender, those shooting numbers begin looking like more of a detriment to the Rockets' chances of winning.
Why does Gordon’s shooting percentag have such a drastic drop whenever a defender is within six feet? I personally believe that his shot form has something to do with it (since it seems to have a very low release point and not a lot of arc). But since I’m not a physicist and can’t prove that easily, I will go with the other factor: height. Eric Gordon is 6-foot-4. While some people believe that height doesn’t matter as much in this current era of small-ball basketball, I’d argue that it still plays a huge factor in today's game. Just a quick look at Gordon’s matchups shows that he is quite often being defended by players who are significantly taller than him. This is largely due to the fact that he is lining up at the small forward position, which is usually occupied by players ranging from 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-9. When you’re shooting and a much taller defender is within six feet from you, that will affect how you take your shot.
Height also brings us to the next point for why Gordon should be benched in favor of House: defense. Gordon has become a much better defender since his days as a Clipper or Pelican, but that still doesn’t matter when he is lined up against people taller than him. Of the five best defensive 5-man lineups used by the Rockets last season, none of them included a three-guard lineup with Eric Gordon. He is in three of them lined up as a shooting guard, which is his natural position. This is exaggerated further when looking at his advanced splits for starting or coming off the bench.
The data definitely shows that he contributes more when he comes off the bench as opposed to when he starts. The defense marginally improves when he starts, while the offense drastically improves when he comes off the bench. Some of this may be due to the fact that Gordon is much better than his competition when he comes off the bench, but moving him back to shooting guard for bench lineups should also be considered an explanation for this.
The difference in height is made more apparent when comparing both players' team impact when they are on the court:
You can immediately see House’s height affecting the lineup in a positive manner. House’s height has led to a higher rebound percentage and Gordon’s atrocious shooting with a nearby defender led to a drop-off in offensive rating, assist percentage, and effective field goal percentage. This is made even more impressive when considering the fact that a large portion of the games House played in this season came when the Rockets were missing Chris Paul and Clint Capela, arguably two of the most important defenders on the team.
This article should not be perceived as a slight against the skill of Eric Gordon. He is still an incredibly skilled shooter and a much-improved defender, but playing him out of position when you have another very capable player sitting on the bench will make tough playoff matchups even tougher for the Rockets. If Mike D’Antoni wants to further push the Rockets odds in their favor, he should bench Eric Gordon and start Danuel House.