Ah, the shooting guard in a point guard’s body. It’s been a conundrum for pro leagues for decades – even outfits like the late ABA and CBA that (at one time or another) were happy to get any modicum of consistent scoring from any player at any position. Even if that player doesn’t really have a position.
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Ben Gordon and Flip Murray are taking a less frantic approach than Von Wafer came through with earlier in the offseason, but both would like to be back in the NBA if you wouldn’t mind. At ages 33 and 37, respectively, both are undersized shooting guards that can handle the ball in a pinch (Murray produced a solid assist rate at one point), but prefer to do their work as scorers and shooters while pining for that extra two inches of height that Jamal Crawford (still chugging along at age 36) was blessed with.
Murray hasn’t played in the NBA since his Chicago Bulls lost to LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers – LeBron James’ old Cleveland Cavaliers – in 2010. Ben Gordon sat out all of 2015-16 after the Golden State Warriors cut him in training camp.
Gordon, who is about to suit up for Great Britain’s Men’s Basketball Team (Ben was born in the UK) in the 2016 Olympics, is first with his resume. From a talk with ESPN’s Ian Begley:
Q: You’ve been training over the past year. How would you describe your game right now?
A: I can still hit [the 3-point] shot with consistency. My shot hasn’t left me. I’m still a good shooter. That’s one of those skills that, you put so much time in over your career, after practice, before practice, that’s not something that leaves you easily. I’m still honing that skill. It’s still a very important part of the game obviously. It’s still something I love to do. So the shot is still there.
Q: What was last year like for you while you were waiting for another chance to play?
A: It was tough man, I was training. But it was the first time where I was training but it wasn’t for a team. I was training to stay in shape and waiting for a call from your agent to see what happens. It was very different. I went through a period when I was training and I took time off, and started training again. It was a long year. I did get a chance to spend more time with my family, so that was very rewarding. But I look forward to getting back on the court this year, hopefully it’s with an NBA team. If not, I have to see what my options are. But I definitely look forward to continuing my basketball career, to continue playing.
Murray, who is coming off of a first round loss in ESPN’s ‘The Tournament’ program (featuring ad hoc teams made up of former fringe NBA players, ex-NCAA prospects and minor league talent) with his ‘Liberty Ballers’ squad, talked to Alex Kennedy at Basketball Insiders:
“I would definitely bring a lot of veteran leadership because I know the game of basketball,” Murray said. “The way the game is now, I feel like I could fit perfectly in. I could be someone who comes off the bench and produces for the team. I’d also like to mentor the young guys and pass on some of the experiences and lessons I learned from playing against some of the guys I matched up against during my time. If I come in right now, I could bring a lot of veteran leadership and still be able to produce on the court.
“The way the game is set up now, I think my game fits perfectly for the NBA. The way the game is going now with a lot of pick-and-roll and a lot of iso and [creating your own shot], that opens up the floor for the spread fours who can shoot the three. With a lot of isos, it opens the floor up a lot so you are able to make plays for yourself as well as others. I believe I could come in and fit perfectly.”
Flip is perhaps best known for a sterling 2003 NBA Summer League showcase for Seattle, one that led to a starting shooting guard gig to begin the following season. With the recently-acquired Ray Allen out with injury, Murray peeled off a series of 20 points-plus nights for the SuperSonics before dutifully diving to the bench once Allen returned after 13 games. He would go on to average 9.4 points per game that season in 24.6 minutes a contest, only returning to the starting lineup (with great personal success) when Allen sat due to injury.
Murray bounced around to six other teams following his departure from Seattle, he played with eight NBA clubs in total, before heading overseas to play in Turkey during 2010-11. During the NBA’s owner lockout that followed that campaign, Murray fractured his hip; limiting his NBA prospects as he turned 32 during the labor stalemate. He’s spent his time either in the D-League or with teams in the Ukraine and Lebanon in the years since, putting up stellar scoring statistics along the way.
If Murray’s exclusion from the NBA at age 31 was unlikely, a comeback at age 37 after this long out of the league (he received a tryout with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2012) is even more questionable. It’s true that the league has opened itself up to hybrid guards that like shooting from the outside, but though Murray’s game has trended to the perimeter (he took 9.4 treys per game in his last season in Lebanon), he was a career 30 percent shooter in the NBA, only approaching average during a 36 percent three-point turn with the Atlanta Hawks in 2008-09.
That brings us to Ben Gordon’s big selling point. Or, what we thought was Ben Gordon’s big selling point. Gordon (whose scoring game the Bulls attempted to replace midseason by acquiring Murray during Flip’s last year in the NBA) saw his once-reliable three-point stroke leave him during his last few years in the league. That decrease isn’t going to cut it in the modern, three-happy NBA.
It started during his first season in Detroit, just after signing a since-derided five-year, $55 million deal prior to 2009-10. Once a reliable fixture among the league’s top-five in three-point shooting percentage, Gordon dropped down to 32 percent as a Piston. His shot recovered, but Detroit dealt him in a salary dump with Charlotte (a move that eventually helped Charlotte acquire Nicholas Batum). His last three seasons with the Bobcats/Hornets and Magic saw Gordon shoot just 37.3 percent from outside the arc.
That’s nice, but not good enough when you contribute little else from the floor. Ben was never a defender, not even against players his size, not much of a passer, not a huge threat to get to the free throw line or break down the defense, and his high turnover marks were alarming for a contributor that was mainly asked to use a screen and fire away.
At age 33, Gordon has a better chance at hooking on with a team than Murray should that three-point stroke move back up over the 40 percent range. He’s a bit of a health nut (and it shows), and he does have 29 playoff games to his credit.
Still, the Charlotte franchise was so frustrated with his play in 2013-14 that they cut him following the NBA’s waiver deadline for playoff-eligible personnel, purposely making it impossible for Gordon to latch on with a postseason team after a campaign that saw him hit just 26 percent of his treys. That’s how much they wanted to get back at him.
With Leandro Barbosa and Jamal Crawford signing contracts that combined to total $50 million this offseason, it’s understandable that Gordon and Murray would want back in. The issue now is the same as it was when they were trying to find a role in the NBA during their primes – how does one thrive as an undersized shooting guard? Even in this perimeter-crazed league.
And now they’re in their 30s. It’s going to be a tough return, if afforded to them.
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