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Why Ben Gordon does not fit with the Thunder

Oklahoma City was one of the worst teams in the league – let me check that – the worst team in the league statistically at the shooting guard position this year. Starting Damien Wilkins there 14 times can do that to you. It’s a position Sam Presti is definitely looking to improve this offseason whether it be through the draft or the free agent market. And it seems like a lot of people are on the Ben Gordon bandwagon. For instance, Bill Simmons said in a recent column that the Thunder could “desperately use someone like him.”

Ben Gordon is a dynamic player. Heck, he’s probably bumped that offseason contract up a couple bills based on his outstanding play in the playoffs. He has been fantastic against the Celtics. A true offensive joy to watch. At 6-3, nobody that size gets a shot off in traffic like he does. He’s got a lightning quick release and seemingly can pull up from anywhere. He knocks down threes, has a terrific mid-range game, can get to the rim and gets to the line. He’s the total offensive package.

But he doesn’t fit the Thunder.

The reason? It’s simple: Gordon is a scorer. That’s what he does, that’s what he’s always going to do. Simmons put it extremely well:

He finished [Game 2] with the ultimate Ben Gordon box score: 41 points, one rebound, no assists. This is why nobody touched him last summer. He does one thing and that’s it. He is always happiest when he’s the one scoring. When the ship is sinking, he’s like Billy Zane in “Titanic” — one of the first guys to jump off. This is what scares GMs, and this is why a team that could desperately use someone like him (say, [Oklahoma City]) might be afraid to spend for him. Especially in this economy.

But I don’t think Oklahoma City could use someone like him. He works with a team like Chicago where the scoring is distributed among a couple of players without one star scorer (unless you consider him to be the star scorer).

Don’t get me wrong, he’s a fantastic player. But the Thunder’s already got their stat stuffer scorer – to the tune of 25.3 ppg and rising. And around that, you need complementary scorers. Not guys that are going to be looking for their shot first and taking possessions away from your top gun. Kobe Bryant doesn’t have a guy he’s competing to get shots with. LeBron doesn’t. Dwyane Wade doesn’t. And Kevin Durant shouldn’t. They have guys like Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Mo Williams, Delonte West, Michael Beasley and Jermaine O’Neal to balance the scoring. Jeff Green is a perfect complementary player. Russell Westbrook can score, but he (supposedly) is a pass first guy. Thabo Sefolosha obviously isn’t a scoring-minded guard. Nenad Krstic just takes shots when he’s open or set up. This team is Durant’s and it should stay that way.

And let me remind you for the 250th time – Jeff Green is 22 and Russell Westbrook is 20. These guys can become the complementary scorers and pick up the slack of a poor scoring shooting guard as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’d prefer a productive two as much as anyone, but it’s not like the Thunder’s going to be strapped for scoring. Heck, if things bounce right (or wrong, depending on your perspective) OKC could end up with Ricky Rubio and Westbrook might move into that scoring two-guard role. Problem solved.

This isn’t to say the two guard position is locked down. But I think the perfect fit there is a 10-14 point a game guy with efficient percentages and takes around 8-10 shots a game. Not someone that needs 16 attempts a night (Gordon this year). Again, look at Kobe – he took 20.9 shots a game this year (1,712 total). The rest of the team averaged 85.1 a game (6,981 total) meaning Kobe took 24.5 percent of Lakers’ shots per game. LeBron took 24.9 percent (1,613 of 6,454). Dwyane Wade 26.1 percent (1,739 of 6,646). Kevin Durant 20.6 percent (1,390 of 6,716). And Ben Gordon 19.2 percent (1,315 of 6,848). But take four of KD’s shots away and give them to someone like Gordon and now Durant is taking 14.8 shots a game, averaging way less and is fighting for chances to score and maybe forcing the issue to get his. And that’s not something you want for a superstar that’s supposed to carry your team.

Another thing to consider is Oklahoma City was one of two teams that had three guys take 1,000 shots (New York was the other). Five teams didn’t have anybody take 1,000 (Kings, Timberwolves, Jazz, Suns and Warriors – amazing that two of the fastest teams in the league didn’t have anyone take 1,000). Add another 1,315 to the mix for the Thunder and not only will Durant be fighting for looks, but also Green and Westbrook (not to mention the top five pick OKC adds). Is it possible for four guys to get up 1,000 shots? I think not, so obviously someone’s usage would be cut. Maybe Jeff Green’s. Maybe Russell Westbrook’s (probably needs to cut back on shots a bit as it is). But most definitely Kevin Durant’s. Do you really want a guy as efficient and deadly as KD getting less usage?

Currently, OKC ranks last in the league in field goal attempts at the shooting guard position with 13.5 a game. Thabo averaged 7.6 attempts a game. Kyle Weaver 4.4. Desmond Mason averaged 7.3. Damien Wilkins 5.2. Like I said, I think someone in the 10-12 attempt range is ideal. Durant took 18.8 a game, Green 13.7 and Westbrook 13.4. Those three took 45.9 of OKC’s 81.9 shots a game. That’s 56 percent – the second highest usage of three players in the league behind Dallas’s trio of Dirk, Jason Terry and Josh Howard’s  61.2 percent. (As I said, the Knicks has three guys with 1,000 attempts, but those three combined for just 45.4 percent of the team’s total shots.) Obviously better balance and distribution is needed, but just not in the form of 16 more attempts and a major cut into your cornerstone’s production.

The Thunder can and should absolutely improve that position which was one of the two biggest weaknesses on the team last year. Thabo Sefolosha should get better (he’s just 24), but it’s hard to say if he the starting solution there. Same with Kyle Weaver. The Thunder needs someone there that can hit a shot and score some points, but not to the degree of Ben Gordon and definitely not to the degree of money Gordon will want. He’s going to want at least $60 million this offseason. He already turned down a six-year, $59 million contract from the Bulls before this season started. So, do you really want to shell out that kind of cash for someone that may or may not fit your team? That doesn’t seem like your typical Presti low risk, high reward type move.

None of this is to mention Gordon’s defense which is less than stellar. He is undersized at 6-foot-3 and has trouble guarding bigger two’s. With a Westbrook/Gordon tandem, OKC would have a very small backcourt and could have trouble defending bigger lineups. Granted, if you move Westbrook to the two guard you’re facing this same dilemma, but Westbook is longer than Gordon and a better defender.

I was on the Gordon wagon early in the year. I thought a scoring shooting guard was everything OKC needed. He is an excellent player. An excellent shooter. An excellent scorer. His career stats are very impressive. He’ll make some team very happy this offseason with his abilities. But I hope it’s not the Thunder. Because like a fat guy in bicycle shorts, it’s just not a good fit.