by Christian Mordi / @mordi_thecomeup

“What a steal,” were the words that came out of my mouth on that breezy evening of June 26, 2008.

Tears were shed by the Gordon family and every Clipper fan alike that summer night of the NBA Draft. Gordon was the perfect fit, a combo guard built like a tank with range for days and surprising athleticism. On that night the L.A.-Gordon marriage began.

Shortly thereafter, new three-word sentences began to spew from the mouths of fans and commentators in reference to Eric G’s game. “He’s a beast,” or “He’s the future” and on occasion when he displayed his bunnies, “Lord have mercy,” often summed up his high-flying assaults in the Staples Center.

EG improved each year during his tenure with the Clips, stepping his scoring up from 16.1 to 16.9 to 22.3 points per game. Gordon also improved in steals and rebounds while shooting a better percentage from the field. Even more important, the Clippers were getting better as their wins totals jumped from 19 to 29 to 32. Yet on a cold December afternoon, the Clippers shipped away its budding star in a package deal for Chris Paul.

The following year was easily the hardest of the Indiana native’s career. Eric suffered from a knee injury and played a career low in games. He seemed unhappy and wanted out of New Orleans. For the first time ever, doubts of Eric’s durability and his game began to swirl.

Questions like, “Is he our guy?” and “Why pay him?” were moaned from the New Orleans faithful. My answer to those questions is: Please refer to the SportsCenter clips titled “Eric Gordon,” under the section “Lord have mercy,” and while waiting for those to load, please take a gander at his career stats. Thanks.

While hurt, Gordon still limped his way to close to 21 points and 4 assists per night. Eric also had a slight improvement in steals and maintained his average on the boards. The X-factor of Gordon’s game is, despite his sweet three-point shot, he loves to get to the rack. The former Hoosier continued to improve there as well, getting to the charity stripe 7 times per game.

There are many reasons to expect Gordon to exceed this ranking at 33. He’s got a killer offensive game with no limitations; he can launch from just about anywhere on the floor; and he knows how to get to the line. He is also a solid defender, and will pull his steal numbers closer to two per night this year. With Jarrett Jack outta town, Gordon will play a little more 1 to get the young thunder cat Austin Rivers on the floor some. Eric has proved in the past he can distribute the ball (4.4. dimes per game in his third year), so expect him to give you around that number or even higher.

The Hornets despite having some very versatile pieces (Ryan Anderson could be a special player, Anthony Davis and Rivers can play both backcourt spots), none are really proven go-to options, so expect them to lean on Gordon heavily, giving him the chance to put up gaudy point totals this year. Up-tempo or half-court game, Eric Gordon can deliver.

So while many New Orleans fans will weigh its hopes on Anthony Davis, let this be clear: The New Orleans train will only go as far as Eric Gordon takes it. Down one, the ball is in Gordon’s hands. Look for one of the NBA’s brightest young coaches in Monty Williams to dial up Gordon’s number as much as possible this year.

So as the Hornets fans walk out the New Orleans arena this year, fans will cheerfully say three-word sentences about Eric yet again:

“He’s only 24?” and “Money well spent.”

Where should Eric Gordon rank in the SLAMonline Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Greg MonroePistonsC8
49Tyreke EvansKingsPG14
48Brandon JenningsBucksPG13
47Stephen CurryWarriorsPG12
46Ricky RubioTWolvesPG11
45Al JeffersonJazzPF14
44Anthony DavisHornetsPF13
43Serge IbakaThunderPF12
42Al HorfordHawksC7
41Ty LawsonNuggetsPG10
40Danny GrangerPacersSF6
39Tim DuncanSpursPF11
38John WallWizardsPG9
37Monta EllisBucksSG8
36Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF10
35Roy HibbertPacersC6
34Tyson ChandlerKnicksC5
33Eric GordonHornetsSG7

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.