During the second and third weeks of the NCAA Tournament, much of the roster and coaching changes occurring at mid-major schools across the country tend to go unnoticed. After all, most folks covering the sport rightly have their attention tuned to the action that is still happening on the court. One of the more interesting player moves that was announced during this time was Evan Gordon's decision to transfer out of Liberty. Though players transfer all of the time, Gordon's was unique because of how eerily similar his situation was to that of another former Liberty baller, Seth Curry.
The most glaring connection between the two guards is that they both have older brothers collecting paychecks in the NBA. Stephen Curry, the former Davidson star, and Eric Gordon are rising young players in the League, enough so that they represented Team USA alongside some of the country's best young professionals last summer. Seth Curry, who largely went overlooked as a high schooler by big time programs just like his brother, started his career at Liberty during the 2008-09 season. He was the Big South's Freshman of the Year that season, but he wasn't a Flame for much longer. After his freshman season ended, Curry announced he was transferring, and he parlayed his first-year success - and no doubt his last name - into an offer from Duke.
Evan Gordon stuck around Lynchburg, Va., longer than Curry. He just completed his sophomore year with the team, leading it in scoring and earning a spot on the All-Big South Second Team. Officially, his decision to transfer was influenced by his desire to play the point guard. At Liberty, that position is dutifully occupied by Jesse Sanders, a versatile guard who was the Big South's Player of the Year as a junior in 2010-11. At 6-foot-2, perhaps Gordon could see that he'd need some experience running the point in order to have a shot at the next level like his older brother. But when we see that the younger Gordon has landed at Arizona State, it's hard not to deduce that his successful lineage, much like Curry's, had something to do with his decision to seek a more high-profile destination.
It's always a shame for the mid-major ranks when a good player bolts for the supposedly greener pastures of the power-six conferences. But this occurrence surely shouldn't lead one to believe Liberty is a bad place to highlight one's talents, even if such a vibe might exist because of this situation. Liberty should learn a lesson from these defections, however: do not recruit the younger brothers of NBA players! In all seriousness, there is a chance that the Flames will be better off without Gordon, even if he was the leading scorer on a team that secured an unexpected 2-seed in last year's conference tournament.
As a sophomore, Gordon seemed to connect himself to Seth Curry even further by developing a propensity to jack up a lot of threes, ultimately making him a threatening, albeit inefficient, scorer.Though no underclassman will likely get close to the 294 three-pointers Seth Curry attempted as a freshman, Gordon certainly took his fair share, 208, this past season. Curry connected on just 34.7% of those attempts, while Gordon made 33.7%. In all, three-pointers accounted for 50% of Curry's field goal attempts, while Gordon checked in at 52%, nearly ten percentage points higher than in his freshman campaign. Perhaps both players simply had the green light to shoot, but it is worth noting they played under different coaches.
Across the board, Gordon's heightened role in his second year actually led to decreased efficiency. It's not hard to imagine that Gordon could have come closer to Curry's 20.3 points per game average had he used about the same number of possession.
Clearly, both of these guys proved they could be high-volume scorers at the mid-major level. But is that the best way to develop as a player? As seen in the table above, Curry's production decreased dramatically during his first season at Duke, but he became a more accurate three-point shooter, connecting on 43.5% of his attempts. In the Duke offense, Curry's role was essentially to hit threes: a full 62% of his field goal attempts were from beyond the arc, even more than while he was at Liberty. He also got his Pure Point Rating into the positives, which indicates he was taking better care of the ball. It's tough to predict whether Curry will ever be a featured scorer at Duke because that program brings in new high-profile recruits ever year, but he's certainly become more disciplined, all while gaining more exposure. In essence, his decision to leave seems to have been justified.
In Gordon's case, there will be more to prove, and the spotlight will likely be brighter. At Duke, Curry could fill a niche. At Arizona State, Gordon may very well get his shot to be the lead guy. Historically, his PPR has been wretched, which serves as notice that he'll need to use his redshirt year to improve his ball-handling. Moreover, the young guard didn't shoot the ball at a great clip in 2010-11. The Pac-12 will have longer, stronger defenders on the perimeter and bigger bodies in the paint; thus, he'll have a tougher time connecting on his twos and threes there than in the Big South.
At the end of the day, Arizona State offers the chance to be on television, play in front of scouts more often, and get to the NCAA Tournament more consistently than at Liberty. One can hardly blame a player for seeking such an opportunity. Gordon could very well find ways to score in the Pac-12, and he might just become a more efficient player in order to do so.
In the meantime, Liberty is left needing a player to make up for some of the scoring it'll lose with the departure of Gordon. But if the Flames can input a guy or two to contribute those points on less shots, they could ultimately be better off. If that's the case, next season won't end with the team getting upset by a 7-seed in the first round of the conference tournament.