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Clippers' Eric Gordon is no laughingstock

The target of teasing by fellow Clippers rookies is no joke on the court.

February 17, 2009|Lisa Dillman

The basketball magazine definitely fell into the wrong hands the other day in the Clippers' locker room, inspiring hilarity and providing fodder for rookie-on-rookie teasing for hours.

Days, maybe.

It looked like a foreign comic book and featured an overblown caricature of Clippers guard Eric Gordon. His head was huge, like some giant balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Gordon, 20, seemed to take the teasing in stride from fellow rookies DeAndre Jordan and Mike Taylor. After all, he has been dubbed "The Hobbit." So what's a flimsy comic book after all that?

"At first, he wasn't handling it too good," Taylor said of rookie hazing this season. "I think now he's comfortable with it."

Funny, but that's almost an accurate assessment about Gordon -- on the court -- in what has been a standout rookie season that exceeded expectations before the All-Star break.

The seventh pick overall in the 2008 draft, Gordon has been one of the bright spots in a checkered Clippers season dotted with injuries.

January belonged to the multifaceted Gordon, and now comes the homestretch as he looks to avoid the Rookie Wall and tries to put down building blocks for 2009-10.

Gordon averaged 21.9 points per game in January and was selected the Western Conference rookie of the month; he also became the Clippers' go-to guy (admittedly, a small selection given the injuries to marquee players) and entered the conversation for NBA rookie of the year. If he was not on the same page as the likes of Chicago's Derrick Rose and Memphis' O.J. Mayo, then he at least appeared in the same chapter.

"Derrick's got the ball in his hand the whole game," said Neil Olshey, Clippers assistant general manager. "So does O.J. for the most part. Eric's out there with All-Stars. He's sharing the ball with Baron Davis, Zach [Randolph], Marcus Camby and Al Thornton.

"Were Eric getting the same number of attempts and touches in attack mode, as he did in January, for the rest of the year, then I think February, March and April would be up for grabs, believe me."

Said Jordan: "He's a monster."

The 6-foot-4 Gordon is averaging 14.7 points per game, and had 41 points, a Clippers rookie record, against Oklahoma City.

He played more than 20 minutes only once in his first 11 games, and didn't grab a spot in the starting lineup until Nov. 24, after Cuttino Mobley's departure and Ricky Davis' knee injury.

In contrast, Rose, a point guard, is averaging 17 points and 6.3 assists and has been in the starting lineup all along. The same holds true for Mayo, a guard who is averaging 19.3 points.

The three young stars have another thing in common: playing for bad teams. Chicago has the best record of the three at seven games under .500.

Such highly touted youngsters aren't used to long losing streaks. Gordon played one season at Indiana and the Hoosiers were 25-8, which was considered a disappointment. This season, the Clippers lost eight games by Nov. 15.

Welcome to the NBA, kid.

"It's tough," Gordon said. "It's tough for us as a team. It's hard. A lot of things don't go your way. You just need to change it, and it's hard to bring it back up sometimes."

Gordon was talking before the All-Star break. In Phoenix, he played in the rookie-sophomore game against teammate Thornton and scored 19 points. He beamed when he recalled what it was like taking the court against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in the Clippers' season opener.

"It's the real thing now," Gordon said.

Gordon remains hard-pressed to talk about himself. It doesn't seem to be shyness but perhaps innate Midwestern reserve. ("The quietest Clipper," Taylor says.) His father, Eric Sr., played for Liberty University, and the young Gordon has watched film of his dad.

"He's got a similar game, you can see," Gordon said. "But it's funny. There's the short shorts and he had a 'fro. That's the biggest difference between me and him."

Said Mike Dunleavy, Clippers coach and general manager: "He's very quiet. It's hard getting him to blink his eyes."

But for all of Gordon's quiet ways, he did become a headline in December when he told the Indianapolis Star that drug use by some players helped ruin his last season at Indiana.

"They tried to figure out anything about IU, but it's over and done with," Gordon said. "It was already talked about when I was there. They said the coach couldn't handle it, but the coach has to handle it. He cares about our players. That's why we had a good season, but toward the end when he [Kelvin Sampson] was gone, a lot of different things went on and we didn't do good."

That interview created a stir but hardly seemed to distract Gordon on the court. Maybe the outspoken Jordan and Taylor were starting to rub off on the third rookie.

"Clowns," Gordon said of them, joking. "They're funny guys. They need to become more like me."

--

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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